Trial and Error Parenting

What Makes a Good Mom?

Do you have a running reel in your mom brain?  You know what I mean.  Words that you say to yourself, questions you are constantly posing, reprimands with which you punish yourself?  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I should be called Sybil.  Who knows?

My running reel is lengthy and complicated and persistent, and includes a pesky question that really has become my mantra for motherhood.  “What would a GOOD mom do?”  I am not sure about other moms, but quite often I’d come up blank on that question.  Typically when coming up short with an answer, I’d ask anyone who would listen to the situation what THEY would do if they were experiencing something that I was with my teen boys.  I was perpetually gathering knowledge with that constant question dogging me; “What would a good mom do?”

But lately I have been pushing against that question.  I guess you could say I was questioning the question.  I am starting to believe (after extensive research on my part…after all I have been mothering those boys for 17 years) that it may not be the correct question to ask when trying to parent or solve those adolescent problems and dilemmas that often show up.  As I said previously, if I came up blank when trying to solve or do the “right” thing for my boys, I would go out into the world and ask other mothers.  But I wouldn’t just do that, I’d read every book, article, and website on the subject, and I would try it all—like cutting open Grandma’s feather pillow in a windstorm…I’d fling out my good intentions and hope, pray, that one of those feathers would land in the right spot.

And that is just it…when searching for what a “good mom” would do I would get as many answers as there are feathers in that pillow.  Could all the moms, books, articles, websites, be right?  Could they all be wrong?  When trying to mother under the guise of “What a good mom would do,” most of the time I was more confused than when I started searching for answers and strategies.  And I am sure that to those two boys of mine I seemed schizophrenic, non committal, flighty.  I mean if one thing didn’t work within what seemed to be a goodly amount of time, then those rules went out the window only to be replaced with something else.  And if that didn’t completely work…which often times it wouldn’t…some new technique would come to take its place.  When those boys are thirty, I hope against all hope that they’ll be able to look back at this trial and error type of parenting with a fondness and understanding that I was trying.  REALLY.  I was trying.

Nowadays, I am still trying-just in a different way.  Recently, when speaking to someone (who happens to have more wisdom in her pinky nail than any Oxford scholar) about the dilemma of seemingly not having a “mom compass,” she pointed out something that was so logical…but to me, Earth shattering as well.  She said, “When trying to parent from the perspective of ‘What would a good mother do,’ you are thinking about yourself.  Instead,” she gently added, “if you mother from the perspective of ‘What does my child need at this moment?’ it might make your job easier.”

“What does my child need at this moment?”  Now THERE’S a question that could help a mom with no compass.  After all, dear Readers, each situation, each child, each moment is different.  Something that little Johnny responds to next door, might not work with my Gannan because it might not be what he needs.  By asking myself what it is that I think he needs might just bring about the results that we moms are constantly striving for.

As you all know by now, my youngest son, the 14 year old, no longer lives with me, moving in with his father back in October.  I have spent the better part of the year being pushed, shoved, rolled over by that indefatigable question, “What would a good mom do?  What would a good mom do?  What would a good mom do?”   Under that phrase’s spell I pushed counseling; I sent inspirational phrases and songs to his Facebook mailbox.  I fought and bickered and insisted with his father.  I pleaded with his school, his teachers, his guidance counselor.  My mind never rested.  My eyes drank in every word of every book about teen rebellion and kids that were out of control.  I cried tears that would fill up 4 oceans.  I lost months and months worth of sleep trying to quiet the tireless “What would a good mom do” question.  But not one of those windblown feathers ever landed where I desperately needed it to land.

But now…now…a new question.  “What does Gannan need?”  A shift in my thinking like this took some practice.  At first the answers were still about me.  “I think he needs counseling.  I think he needs a no tolerance policy. I think…I think…I think…Well, blah blah blah.”  The question is “What does HE need?”  And while it took some time, I am satisfied that I just may have come up with an answer that might possibly be okay…for now. After all, as any parent knows, what their children need changes as fast those feathers fly in a windstorm.  For the sake of his privacy I think I will not include my decisions in this column.  But I want you to know that parenting in this way of studying the child and making decisions based on what they need at the moment feels empowering.  Refuting the “my kid should be, or my son ought to…and the all encompassing-but if he would just do it my way…” and instead focusing on providing solutions, opportunities and support for what a son or daughter needs rids us of that constant search for the perfect one-size-fits-all method (as if one exists).  Thinking about what our children need at every bend in the road called adolescence is exactly what a GOOD mom should do.


Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.

3 Comments on “Trial and Error Parenting

  1. Being a mom in the midst of turmoil is tough – I’ve had those moments where you wake up crying and praying at the same time. Trying to see my sons as God sees them, loving unconditionally – and standing in Faith that God is in charge of the plan – that is what has sustained me. I have learned that in order to get the support I need, I need to take off the mask. When you do, you find other women willing to take off that mask and support you through faith and prayer. You don’t need anyone dissing anybody – you need people encouraging, believing and praying – it’s all about the end result. The end result only comes with waiting. waiting. waiting. And while you are waiting, believing and loving one day at a time!

  2. This is really great, I thing we all as parents come to a point when we question our parenting skills, and asking ourselves what does our child need is the perfect way to look at things.
    Thanks for sharing your story and feel free to drop by my Blog at

  3. I was JUST talking about this with a mom at my office (although not about teens but about baby’s sleep pattern) and we discussed this very thing. She stated that after a long day of work/day care that she didn’t want to put her kid to sleep when they needed it, because she missed them. I think as parents (myself so very inlcluded) we are so very selfish. We worry about what other’s think about us as parents, because no one gives us honest feedback. And you know if those kids do ONE thing wrong, who do they blame, the moms!! But in the end, I so agree with your friend—it is ONLY about what our babies, kids, teens and even adult kids, NEED. It is not about us. Not even a little.

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