What Makes a Good Mother? Only You Can Decide

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the qualities of a good mom? How much does society decide what makes a good mother?

Untamed author Glennon Doyle realized that she had been participating in cultural practices and belief systems that did not reflect what she believed true about herself and the world. When asked what makes a good mother, Doyle argues that understanding and being true to your values matters most.

Read on to learn a new perspective on what makes a good mother according to Doyle’s realization that women are held “captive” by social conditioning.

Deconstructing What Makes a Good Mother

Try this first. Think about the areas of your life where emotion, intuition, and imagination are suppressed. By deconstructing those areas, you can let these powerful aspects of yourself shine. Deconstruction requires dismantling old beliefs and practices that you have inherited from your culture, giving you a clean slate upon which to reconstruct a new life that better reflects your current values and goals. (Shortform note: Deconstructing your beliefs not only allows you to create a new life that’s more aligned with your values, but also allows you to more easily engage in change and creativity. In Think Again, Adam Grant says that the crucial ability to rethink your beliefs allows you to develop new solutions and ideas for breaking free of old mindsets.)

Marriage, Motherhood, and Family Structure

In this section, we’ll explore how Doyle deconstructed her beliefs and practices about marriage, family, and what makes a good mother.

Original Beliefs 

When thinking about what makes a good mother, Doyle learned from her conditioning that the best way a woman can love the people in her life and her community is to selflessly serve others and put her desires last. She tried to be a dutiful wife, a selfless mother, and maintain a traditional family structure. 

(Shortform note: You may not be ready—or willing—to completely reject this aspect of your selfless nature. In that case, you might take a slightly different approach: cultivating a balance between selflessness and self-care. By balancing your selflessness with rejuvenating self-care practices, you can both honor your needs and fuel yourself for the emotional work of caring for the people in your life.)

New Beliefs

Marriage: Doyle deconstructed her beliefs about what it meant to be in an intimate relationship. She abandoned the idea that she must be pleasing and performative—instead forming a new belief that she deserves pleasure in her intimate relationships. (Shortform note: While many women feel obligated to put their partner’s needs before their own, rethinking these beliefs can lead to more fulfilling sexual experiences. One way to become more aware of your desires is to check in with yourself before being intimate with another person.  A self-check-in can help you assess what you want and can help you express your desires.) 

Parenthood: Doyle deconstructed her beliefs about what makes a good mother. She wanted to model happiness and fulfillment for them rather than self-sacrifice. (Shortform note: Many authors and researchers agree that seeing happy adults provides important benefits for children. In Modelling Happiness, Reen Rose says that when children see adults being curious, pursuing new ideas, and engaging in enjoyable activities, they witness both what it looks like to be happy and learn skills (such as resiliency, bravery, and confidence). These skills will help children to pursue their happiness as they mature.) 

Family Structure: She deconstructed her beliefs about family structure. She realized that family structure can diverge from a nuclear family and still provide love, support, and stability. (Shortform note: Doyle’s assumption that the nuclear family should be maintained at all costs likely comes from societal messaging that this family structure is “best”—but studies show that many believe that any family that provides love, protection, and support is “best.” A larger societal trend towards accepting a wide range of family arrangements mirrors Doyle’s experiences with what makes a good mother. Research shows that an increasing percentage of the American population accepts and supports non-traditional family structures.)

What Makes a Great Mom? Doyle’s Advice

Doyle’s experiences have taught her a great deal about how to rebuild life on her terms, and she calls her readers to do the same. She asserts that the world needs more wild women, and suggests four ways you can begin rebuilding your life to align with your truest self. 

1) Let go of your old assumptions, beliefs, worldviews, and social conditioning. Be committed to holding on to nothing but the truth. Start a journal to reflect on how your ideas about gender, sexuality, family life, religion, and race have been influenced by society’s messaging.  

(Shortform note: Committing to letting go of old beliefs and writing about your social conditioning can be overwhelming if you try to tackle too many beliefs at once—focus on just a few of these beliefs at a time when you think about what makes a good mother. In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony Robbins provides a useful process for addressing just a few damaging beliefs at a time. He suggests writing down all of your beliefs and then identifying the ones that have had significant negative impacts on your life. Robbins says that you then choose just two of these negative beliefs—and focus on thoroughly deconstructing each one. If you’re thinking about what makes a good mother, then keep revisiting this exercise as needed until you deconstruct each negative belief on the list.)

2) Be willing to lose the things in your life that are good enough. When you create a more beautiful vision of your life, you should never compromise that vision by tolerating the things that are just “good enough.” 

(Shortform note: There’s some debate around the value of “good enough” things. While Doyle encourages you to reject “good enough,” other authors argue that you should embrace it. In Good Enough, Kate Bowler suggests that the expectation that your life should be in a state of constant pursuit of “the best” is an unrealistic goal—and this commitment to only the best can make it harder for you to handle setbacks or disappointment. Bowler says that you should instead embrace the “good enough” life. In terms of what makes a good mom, this means striving for what is possible today, while acknowledging that there may be setbacks in the future that you may not be able to control.)

3) Be willing to disappoint people who don’t understand your new priorities or see your vision. Trying to please others will compromise your reconstruction if you’re trying to learn what makes a great mom. 

(Shortform note: Being willing to disappoint people often involves getting rid of people-pleasing tendencies—which can be stressful for you and trigger unpleasant reactions in others. In The Disease to Please, Harriet Braiker suggests focusing on being considerate of others—that is, listening to them attentively and considering their views—while sticking to your vision and asserting your perspectives. This balance helps the people in your life not feel alienated from you and come to terms with their potential disappointment about your decisions.) 

4) Write new messages to yourself about what you believe and who you are as a person. These new messages can be expressed in a journal or carried deep within you. Revise these messages as needed on an ongoing basis for the rest of your life as you continue to think about what makes a great mom.  (Shortform note: In The Success Principles, Jack Canfield says that you should begin the process of writing new messages to yourself by writing down the things that make you happy. Reflecting on what you write down is a great way to better understand who you are and what defines you as a person. The combination of a positive focus and a deeper understanding of yourself can empower you to create optimistic messages for the future.)

What Makes a Good Mother? Only You Can Decide

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Glennon Doyle's "Untamed" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Untamed summary :

  • Glennon Doyle's story of freeing herself from society's rules and expectations
  • Why you should rebuild your life using emotion, intuition, and imagination
  • A look at how young women are taught to repress their emotions and desires

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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