When Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House, a reporter asked her how she would manage such a big job. Her response, “Are you kidding? Being the Speaker of the House can’t be more difficult than raising five children.”

As a mother of twins about to turn two, I can see where she’s coming from.

Nancy knows there are no approval ratings when it comes to raising kids. For me, this is one of the hardest things so far about being a mom. In school I knew I was doing a good job when I got a good grade. At work, I knew I was doing well when I got a raise. When it comes to mothering my kids? Crickets.

In The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, Martha Beck introduces the concept of “adipose assumptions.” In a nutshell, an adipose assumption is the brain’s tendency to “fill in the blanks” when we can’t know everything there is to know about reality. As a mom, I often find myself filling in the blanks.

Dichotomous thinking, or the brain’s affinity to think in terms of “black” or “white,” is a kind of adipose assumption. I do this one a lot.

I have, for example, in my mind, an image of the perfect mother. Let’s call her the prototypical “good” mother. When my mothering meets the bar, I too can call myself a good mother. This might include reading to the children, cooking them a warm meal with all the food groups (made out of entirely organic non-processed food), exposing them to nature, a hot stone massage after bath time, etc.

There are days though when all I want to do is plop them in front of the TV with a PB & J and hope they keep quiet long enough for me to browse the latest issue of People. Bad Mother.

“The Everybody” is another kind of adipose assumption I use a lot when longing for a little on-the-job feedback. I wrote about this a few posts back.

Just to review, we take the ascribed thoughts and opinions of a handful of people and combine them with the ascribed thoughts and opinions of various social groups (e.g. our family, peers, the media, Jennifer Lopez, etc.) and create what
psychologists call “the generalized other” or what Martha calls “The Everybody.”

So, for example, when my mother-in-law praises me, I am a good mother. If my husband makes a negative comment about something I do with the kids, I am a bad mother. If I get “a look” from another mother while out in public, I am a bad mother.

Adipose assumptions, according to Martha, are “very fattening ways of thinking.” They can also drive a mom bonkers. I find it impossible to live up to the “good” mother in my mind. Nor can I ever know what other people really think so trying to impress them with my skillful mothering is like trying to hit an invisible target.

What’s a mom to do? Ironically this lack of on-the-job feedback has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It has forced me to look inside and come up with my own criteria for good mothering.

Here are a few I came up with:

  • Am I having fun with my kids?
  • If no, am I keeping a sense of humor?
  • Am I taking care of myself while also taking care of the kids?
  • Did I learn something new about my kids or myself today?

When I don’t meet a criterion, I don’t make it mean I’m a bad mother (there are shades of grey after all). It just means there is room for improvement. When I find myself wondering what the prototypical “good” mother would do or what my mother-in-law, husband, the other mothers, [insert member of Everybody here] would think, I just try to notice these thoughts and remember to look inside. I’m a happier mom for it, and a better one too.

Related posts:


Leave a Reply