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How to Be a Good Mother: 17 Tips From Experts

It's a lifelong practice, therapists say.

Embarking on the path of motherhood is equal parts scary and exciting. Becoming a parent is likely a lifelong dream—but it comes with enormous responsibility. Now that there's a child in the picture, it's your duty to keep them happy and healthy and to guide them toward becoming the best adults they can be. While you do it, you may be confronted with changes to your physical and mental health, which can make parenthood even more challenging. Fortunately, you don't need to read countless articles and books about how to be a good mother. Therapists and parenting experts say you probably already have most of the tools you need. Keep reading to learn their best tips for coming into your own as an incredible mother, no matter your child's age.

RELATED: 67 Quotes About Family That Perfectly Capture Your Special Bond.

What Defines a Good Mother?

Different people will have different responses to this question, but there are a few key things you'll want to strive for in motherhood.

"In my opinion, a great mother is someone who fosters a secure attachment with her children, creates a safe and nurturing environment, and models resilience and empathy," says Becca Reed, LCSW, PMH-C, perinatal mental health trauma therapist. "It's about being present, emotionally attuned, and responsive to your child's needs while also taking care of your own well-being."

Why Is Being a Good Mom Important?

With kids in the picture, your behaviors no longer impact just yourself—now, you have little eyes watching you and learning from you. This means taking care of your reactions and well-being is more important than ever.

"Moms who are reactive, stressed, and burnt out not only model this way of being for their kids but also often inadvertently send a message to them that parenting is burdensome," says Renée Zavislak, a California-based therapist and host of Psycho Therapist: The Podcast. "Since our ideas about ourselves and the world root most deeply between birth and age seven, it is particularly important that moms of young kids have practices for keeping their nervous systems healthy."

By doing so, you'll set your child up for the best possible future.

RELATED: Setting Boundaries With Family: How to Do It Right.

How to Be a Good Mother in 17 Steps

1. Learn to regulate your nervous system.

female sitting on couch in lotus pose meditating
fizkes / Shutterstock

This is critical for ensuring your child grows up in a healthy environment.

"The greatest gift a mother can give her child is her own regulated nervous system," says Zavislak. "Modern parenting is challenging; most of us don't have community support, and almost all of us are carrying either our own trauma or the intergenerational trauma passed down through our DNA—or both—and as a result, the normal frustrations of parenting are amplified."

You can learn different techniques for doing this in therapy; maintaining them is a constant practice.

2. Embrace imperfection.

mother embracing her little daughter at home.

"You aren't a perfect person, and you won't be a perfect mother, so do your best and operate out of love," says Ariana Cardozo, LCSW, a mother and senior clinician at Mountainside Treatment Center. "This creates a more forgiving and nurturing environment for both you and your child."

It'll help you maintain high spirits even when the going gets tough.

3. Find a community with other parents.

group of smiling women having drinks and talking around a fire pit during an early evening party in the lush garden of a home at dusk
mapodile / iStock

Sharing your parenthood journey with others can help to normalize your experiences.

"This may be a mom's support group or mommy-baby exercise group, or it might be parents of the children in your kids' activities or school," says Alisa Kamis-Brinda, LCSW, LCADC, owner and psychotherapist at Serenity Solutions. "Those parents are also great supports for when you need advice on how to handle a new situation as a parent—they've been there and can help."

4. Get curious.

Mom with her two children sitting on the kitchen table and eating candies.

Treat your child like any other person you're meeting for the first time—they're very much likely to surprise you.

"So many of us have ideas about who our kids will be or what they will be interested in, and while these expectations are largely unavoidable, they can be oppressive to the child while also setting up the parent for misplaced disappointment," says Zavislak. "Rather, harness wonderment, be curious, and be ready to have your expectations dashed in the most lovely ways."

RELATED: 9 Signs You Have a Toxic Mother, According to Therapists.

5. Practice active listening.

girl child talking to adult mom

In order to show curiosity, you'll need to perfect your listening skills. By being present, you'll foster more open lines of communication and trust.

"Give your children your full attention when they speak, showing that you value their thoughts and feelings," says Kelsey Thompson, LMFT, owner of Light Within Counseling. "Put your phone down; I get it, it's hard, but we are so glued to our phones, and this has a huge impact on your child's developing attachment style."

6. Model good behavior.

Children Helping Unload Boxes From Van On Family Moving In Day
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Your words and actions are on full display. "Children often emulate their parents, so demonstrate the values, attitudes, and behaviors you want your children to adopt," says Thompson. "Show kindness, respect, and resilience, and learn to manage distress in a healthy way so your children also learn healthy distress tolerance skills." Again, therapy can help.

7. Learn to apologize.

Mother hugging smiling child

Zavislak says this is among the least popular pieces of advice she distributes to parents and is also one of the most important. "Our egos get in the way and try to protect us from the reality that we make mistakes, largely because there is so much pressure on moms to be perfect," she explains.

However, she says the most damage is done when we make mistakes and shift the blame to our kids. "'I'm sorry I yelled, but you know you are not supposed to be on the iPad,'—that is not an apology, and, worse, it teaches our kids to do the same, to be reactive without responsibility," she says. "Rather, try this: 'I am sorry I yelled. I know that must feel scary, and I want to make you feel safe, not scared! I am going to work on keeping calm. Maybe you and I can help each other stay calm?'"

8. Practice gratitude.

Happy woman dressed in beige smiling with her eyes closed while holding a journal
Daniel Hoz / Shutterstock

A gratitude practice can help keep you even-keeled and remind you what really matters, and it just takes a few minutes in the morning or evening.

"Be sure to say the following in your practice: I am grateful for my children; I am grateful for my instinctual ability to know what my children need; I am grateful for my access to resources and support to meet my children's needs; I am grateful for my ability to learn and grow alongside my co-parent (if you have one) and my children," suggests Kayla Nelson, Psy.D, of Glacier Psychology Services.

9. Reinforce positive behaviors.

small child talking to mom in front of school

This will build up a positive rapport. "Acknowledge and praise positive behavior, even for things they consistently do," says Rachel Goldberg, MS, LMFT, therapist at Rachel Goldberg Therapy. "For instance, say, 'I notice I never have to ask you to put your dishes in the sink. I love that you are so great about that;' or, 'I noticed how you resolved that issue with your brother the other day. I thought I would have to intervene, but you handled it so maturely.'"

RELATED: 6 Times You Should Never Give Money to Your Adult Children.

10. Encourage independence.

child waving from car

Ultimately, your job as a parent is to prepare your child for the real world.

"Allow your children to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes," says Thompson. "This helps them develop problem-solving skills and confidence in their abilities and also helps your child not develop anxious attachment or possible anxiety disorders."

11. Validate your child's feelings.

mother consoling her sad child at home

"Acknowledge and validate your child's experiences, even if, as an adult, you don't see them as significant in the bigger picture," says Goldberg. "Let your child have their moment."

This is true for something as small as an injured stuffed animal or as big as a playground bully.

12. Reflect on your actions.

Young woman looking deep in thought and smiling while lying back in a deck chair on her patio on a sunny afternoon

"Spend a moment at the end of the day to reflect on your parenting decisions," says Nelson. "Any moment you are not proud of, practice acceptance and empathy for yourself in that moment."

By making a conscious note, you may be able to alter your behavior in the future in a judgment-free way.

13. Trust your instincts.

black mother kissing baby in pink carrier
Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

They're there for a reason! "If you have done your own work, then you have inside you everything you need to be a great mother. I coach parents to learn how to feel their way through parenting before they think their way through," says Zavislak. "It is important to note, though, that you must have resolved any of your own childhood trauma first, or else it will be nearly impossible to distinguish between instinct and anxiety."

14. Stop over-researching.

mother sitting in bed using smartphone and working on laptop

"When mothers feel anxious about how well they are doing as a parent and go to the internet for advice, support, and validation, they typically end up feeling bad," Kamis-Brinda explains. "They find articles stating all the things they should be doing that they are not doing, leading to them feeling worthless and overwhelmed with all that they need to do and change."

RELATED: 8 Topics You Shouldn't Ask Your Grandchildren About, Therapists Say.

How Can I Be a Good Mother When Tired, Sick, or Depressed?

You've probably heard the phrase that there are no days off when it comes to parenthood, and it's true. Caring for your children is required no matter how you're feeling, whether you're tired, sick, or confronting a mental health disorder. Here are some strategies to make your way through.

15. Schedule self-care.

Two females walking out of a yoga class, talking and smiling

Maintaining a self-care practice can help prevent burnout-related issues and help you navigate them once you're confronted with them.

"I know we are all tired of the oxygen mask metaphor, but the message is critical: In order to take care of others, we need to take care of ourselves first," says Zavislak. "There is an unfortunate trope that paints the best moms as frazzled and unkempt, as if great parenting demands losing oneself."

On the flip side, she says the best moms prioritize caring for themselves. "This means scheduling time to rest, move, and connect to oneself and close friends just as you do the kids' soccer practice and your mammograms—self-care is a non-negotiable schedule item."

16. Ask for help.

Millennial mother sitting in an armchair holding her three month old baby son, her mother kneeling beside them

It takes a village. "Whether you live near friends and family who can help or you need to hire people, getting help will benefit your parenting and your children," says Kamis-Brinda. "Ask for help with the actual caretaking, with other important tasks that are being neglected due to your focus on the child, and for things that will help you and your well-being."

For example, you could hire a babysitter so you're able to hang out with friends, go to doctor's or therapy appointments, or even just get a massage or manicure.

17. Seek therapy for yourself.

Woman during a psychotherapy session

"The therapy could be focused on supporting you as a mother and giving you new parenting tools, or it could be one of those things that you do for you and your relationship with yourself," says Hannah Yang, PsyD, founder and licensed psychologist at Balanced Awakening. "When mom is happy with who she is, children certainly are as well!"

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Learning how to be a good mother is a lifelong practice that requires patience, introspection, and, in many cases, an incredible therapist. For more relationship and parenting advice, visit Best Life again soon.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more