What qualities make a good mother?
I have been ruminating upon your question for days. It is a deceptively simple inquiry. I can think of a host of qualities - starting with patience, kindness, love -- that make someone a good mother, and yet, none of these characteristics seem to encompass the awesomeness of that role, or unravel the complexity of the definition that you're seeking. I know scores of patient, kind, loving women who have berated themselves for not being a ‘good enough’ mother, or who have been so completely shredded and rebuilt by the process of birthing and raising a child that it requires great pause to even begin to describe themselves again.
When my daughter was a few-months-old, I walked into my therapist's office carrying a dessert cookbook. I am not a baker, but language had betrayed me in those early days of new motherhood and it felt impossible to describe the panic and grief that I was experiencing at the time. "The lemon squares on page fifty make me feel calm,” I told the counselor one afternoon, handing over the book which sat on my night table next to the bible. It was a humbling moment to admit that ritually looking at pictures of beautifully curated lemon bars was the most effective way for me to stave off the chaos inside me, but there it was, an unexpected antidote to a terrifying new motherlove.
That and the Hashkiveinu prayer, which I recited with my husband, every night before bed. Dear God, please let us lie down in peace and wake up again to life. Guard our coming and going for the sake of your goodwill mercy and compassion. Please protect us from famine, plague, destruction, hatred, terror, fear and from our own yetzer hara. Shelter us in the shadow of your wings, O God, now and forever, over all your people, Yisrael.
I had never recited this prayer before becoming a mother; for me, the words encompassed the surrender necessary to separate from my baby and into the unknown each night. And separation is a very important quality of a good mom. Just as essential as love.
That might be it, in fact. A generous balance of love and separation. The rest is commentary.
Thank you for your question, Curious, and for giving me much to reflect upon.