Praise for the Mom Who Perseveres

Originally published Wednesday, 12 August 2015.

"You're such a good mom." 

What does that even mean?

We say this to each other all the time. We say it when the kids are crazy and mom is on the verge of tears. We say it when mom has a spotless house, adorable lunches, and super creative outings & educational activities.

"You're such a good mom!"

I hear it at the park, at church, read it on Facebook & Instagram, even see it in TV shows and movies.

"You're such a good mom."

It's also a phrase we use to put ourselves down. We say it to someone else, "You're such a good mom..." but finish it in our own heads... "so much better than me." Because we see another mom's strengths and only our weaknesses. And we classify her as a "good" mom.

"You're such a good mom" also insinuates there are only two kinds of moms. Good or bad. 

But what happens when you fail (and we all do)? What if you meet a challenge that brings you to tears? How do find strength to try again when you don't feel like a "good" mom?

My son has been learning new stuff like a crazy person. Just one of those weird "learning spurts," I guess. Of
course, this often elicits comments like, "You're so smart!" from proud family members.

In response to this type of praise, my uber-informed husband mentioned an article he read recently about how children respond to praise. I had to look it up and read it for myself, and I found this study done by the University of Chicago which states:

"Praise that is focused on the child’s characteristics, such as 'You’re a big boy,' [or 'You're so smart'] sends the message that a child’s ability is fixed and results in decreased persistence and performance."

On the other hand...

"Praise focused on effort, called process praise, 'sends the message that effort and actions are the sources of success, leading children to believe they can improve their performance through hard work.'"

Dang. Ain't this true for mamas?

"You're such a good mom." 

I've heard those words myself. Spoken them to others. But I can instantly write them off with a damaging inner monologue chronicling my failures. Even if I let the words sink in, speak them over myself, repeat them in my heart, it doesn't last for long. "You know, what, Marie. She's right! 

You are a good mom!" And I believe for about…


Oops. My kid just bit another kid. Or wouldn't nap or eat or listen or obey in general because of his darn sinful streak. Or another mom happens to be better at discipline, or more put together, or calmer or cuter or whatever-er. And there it goes. In one ear, out the other. Those encouraging words. "You're such a good mom!" just floats away, unattainable, untrue. 

I've failed. I've struggled. So how could I possibly be a "good "mom?

But what this study says about "process praise"... that hit home.

"praise that emphasizes... effort, actions and strategies"

That kind of praise might actually empower and encourage!

What if we threw out the old and started new? What if we stopped talking about "good" moms, and broadened our use of the English language. Use all the adjectives we could think of to praise the effort, actions and strategies of one another in motherhood.

Sweet sister. You're not a "good" mom... your are so much more.

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