The Fallacy of the Good Mom and the Power of Apology


It was a long and difficult winter inside with a four-year-old, the shockingly bright sun offered a break in the spring rains. After a quick scroll through Instagram’s toothy, smiling Good Moms stirring empty mixing bowls in their white kitchens while surrounded by unrealistically perfect crafts, I felt a glimmer of determination inside that whispered that it was time to be a Good Mom for a bit.

The Good Mom whisper isn’t honest, by the way. The fallacy of the Good Mom is a tricky little bugger who ignores all the real good mom things you do like cooking the food, cleaning the house, or cuddling the skinned knees into submission. Those aren’t enough for the fallacy of the Good Mom. Her whisper demands more.

Want to go for a bike ride on your cool new bike?” I ask, immediately feeling awkward as I inwardly acknowledge how stupid and clueless my son will think I am in about five years. 

But Good Moms love Cool Bikes, says the whispery voice of the fallacy of the Good Mom!

“Yay! Okay!” Says my son, still too naive to know that I have zero genuine knowledge of what is cool vs. uncool.

I cringe at my fakeness as I go into my overstuffed garage, shoving boxes aside and dragging the brand-new Spider-Man bike he got for his birthday into the glaring sun. I spit out the spiderwebs and sneeze off a blanket of dust on my shoulders, continuing to feign confidence in my Good Mom abilities. 

Look at this real-life Good Mom! No depression here! This is no fallacy of the Good Mom. It’s just me, out here seizing the day! Carpe di-Mom!

Mom with red, curly hair holding her 4 year old son's hand. They are outside.

“Why don’t we ride the bike to the park today?” I suggest, smugly basking in my genius. The park is 3 blocks away, what could possibly happen to make this afternoon anything less than picture-perfect?

Look out, Good Moms, there’s a new lady joining the flock, and she’s got lots of empty mixing bowls!

My boy happily pops on his helmet, then realizes this means he will have to actually sit on the bike. He becomes more subdued. After a minute of us both quietly dreading the reality of what this experience will entail, I help him get on the bike.

He hates being off his feet, and he always has. 

As an infant, he would glare at us with distrust when we tried to hold him on his back for a diaper change, demanding to be righted and to feel his feet resting confidently on our ribs. When he got his first walk, bounce, and ride toy, he would only use it to walk. Nary a ride nor a bounce were to be had. 

He’s never wanted to push pedals and doesn’t trust anything outside his own body to transport him. 

For five minutes, we stood, frozen in time. Him, nervously staring at the bike handles, and me, nervously staring at him. The fake Good Mom in me is silent too.

After another two minutes, I realize that the Good Mom spectacle I’m trying to put on will only work if we look like we’re having fun. Fun that is so obvious and stereotypical that anyone passing by will recognize it. Not that I’m thinking about other people’s opinions, of course…

“Put your feet on the pedals,” I say, trying so hard to match the fallacy of the Good Mom I keep trying to live up to while feeling something much more sinister swimming for the surface from the depths of my soul’s darkest parts. Another three minutes pass. “Put your feet on the pedals, baby, and then push the pedals to move the bike.”

“Okay…” he says nervously, as he gently toes the pedals with no force, anxiously glancing at the safety wheels, as if he was willing them to say, “Don’t worry, kid, I know my role.”

“Come on, baby!” My voice cracks desperately. 

The sun is so bright. It is so hot. I don’t want to be here. But the Good Mom has been riding high and doesn’t want to stop now. I don’t know how to stop this spectacle of fun. I’m fully invested in this role and the show must go on. Won’t people judge me if it doesn’t? Can they even tell the difference between real me and this distorted fallacy of the Good Mom?

“You’ve got this buddy!” 

My voice echoes regretfully through the neighborhood as if announcing to the world to come out and watch me forget my lines. The Good Mom in me falters.

For two more minutes, he doesn’t move. Another two minutes. He just pretends to lean on the pedals as if he hopes the world will somehow spin fast enough to give the illusion that he is powering the moving bike along the sidewalk.

“Push the pedals, honey,” a sharp, impatient voice comes out of me, clawing at my chapped lips, “Push. The. Pedals. With Your. Feet.” 

The Good Mom didn’t say this. Her voice is missing. It’s just me and I am not enough to get this bike moving. I am failing. Failing at “fun” and failing at imparting usable life skills and just failing. Why can’t I do this most basic thing?

“I AM,” he retorts.

We’re both frustrated. 

“No, you’re not! Just push the pedals,” I snap, and then the Good Mom’s mask falls off, revealing the poisonous demon of insecurity, that crawls out of my throat and utters ghoulishly, “It’s not that hard.”

It’s not that hard. But isn’t it?

I didn’t like riding bikes when I was a kid. I was terrified of being off my own two feet. As an adult, I have zero interest in bikes. Sure, wind in your hair and flying down a road at an inhuman speed seems exhilarating, but all that romance falls flat when you get road rash. 

And yet, here I was, pretending this isn’t who I am. Pretending I have the definitive knowledge about what is or isn’t hard. Telling my son that what he’s experiencing doesn’t matter, because I’ve decided his experience is not that hard. Believing the fallacy of the Good Mom and not being the mom I actually am.

Now, he wants to prove to me that he can do it, because “It’s not that hard”. He pushes the pedals as hard as he can, and starts to pick up speed.

“Yes! That’s it! You’re doing great buddy!” 

My tone lightens as I try to rectify my behavior while pretending I didn’t actually bully him into having fun. No, I am a Good Mom! Really! Masks up, ladies! I try to convince myself this is ok.

“Yeah! I’m doing it! I’m doing…” he swerves by accident as he still hasn’t fully grasped managing the handles while pushing the pedals, and the bike hits a downward slope of a driveway. He falls off. He cries. I scoop him up.

“It’s okay, buddy. It happens, that’s what happens sometimes when you ride a bike, but it’s okay.” I feel so performative and false, like a paper straw pretending it’s saving a sea turtle as it slides down a storm drain. The fallacy of the Good Mom is no help now. The mask has fallen and it’s just me and somehow a person I don’t know is comforting my son in a way I don’t understand. Is it okay? How do I know? If this is “what happens” and it’s “not so hard”, why am I not also riding a bike? 

Is this a reasonable challenge for a four-year-old or am I a hypocrite? The fake Good Mom tells me to just keep him going. Keep him moving to the park. Soon, we will look like we are having fun, and that makes it all better.

He gets up and back on the bike, having lost all confidence, but feeling the desire to prove that he can be someone who somehow knows that this is “not that hard” and “what happens”. True or not, he wants to please me.

Again, he pushes, again, he picks up speed, and again, he falls. This time, he cries in a tone I recognize from my own tears as a once-four-year-old. He sounds defeated. “I don’t like this bike, I don’t want to DO THIS.” 

“Oh, come on, buddy. You got this. You can do this!” My voice wavers with false confidence. I feel like a used car salesman selling a known lemon. I’ve been sugaring the gas tank that is today’s experience… But I’m a Good Mom, right? The fallacy of the Good Mom tells me to push on.

“NO, I CAN’T!” He refuses to look at me because he is feeling angry and ashamed. But why is he ashamed when he’s simply doing what I do every day, which is refusing to ride a bike? Is his shame deserved or is it something I brought upon him?

I feel my inner child stir. 

A new whisper in my mind, “You know, when our mom got frustrated with us like this, we would have really liked an apology.” The voice speaks quietly, still as nervous as when she was both on the inside and the outside. Fearful of the raging defense I might use to justify my Good Momming. 

But the softness of the words makes them more powerful as I realize how deeply I fear holding myself accountable to my child. That little girl inside of me, begging me to stop trying to be perceived as “good” and instead take on the actions of “goodness”, is not the one who is being betrayed by this moment. 

My little boy, with his tiny-but-not-so-tiny four-year-old hands and his confident-but-not-so-confident three-foot stature, is who I am failing. 

I’m supposed to be his main partner in this Wild West world. 

And here I am, desperately seeking the outside world’s approval of my parenting as I ignore his needs. Doesn’t this prove that I am, in fact, NOT a Good Mom? This is the fallacy of the Good Mom. This is when we parent like we think we should instead of responding to our child’s (or children’s) needs.

4 year old boy runs down a suburban  sidewalk in the spring

My son angrily stomps ahead of me pushing his bike towards the park. I walk behind him, feeling the voices of different traumas and ages of myself shouting across the roundtable within.

“Hey, buddy?” I call out to him.

“What?” he says, with that forgiving innocence that we are fortunate to have in our children.

“I’m… sorry. I shouldn’t have been impatient and frustrated with you. I know you’re just trying to learn, and me yelling and snapping at you doesn’t help you when you’re already feeling uncomfortable. If I snap at you in the future when I’m getting impatient, while you learn something, just know you are welcome to tell me to knock it off. It’s not okay to push you when you’re already trying. I’m sorry.” 

I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt when I first started the apology. 

Apologizing to your child means acknowledging your faults. You might as well throw away that Good Mom award. It can be tempting to not apologize when you have the power to control the narrative. You can refuse to admit that your shortcomings are present and visible. 

Children learn their concepts of right and wrong from their parents, and I could just as easily have let him believe that my way of handling this moment had been right and that any pain he felt was his problem, not mine. But as my imperfect words began to tumble out, I felt a soaring joy and relief within. The little girl inside me clung to that apology and held it as her own, knowing that her mother wasn’t willing or able to teach her that she deserved apologies, too.

“Yeah, I didn’t like you getting frustrated,” he said, followed by, “I’m ready to try the bike again.”

He got back on and pushed the pedals, picked up a little speed, and rode about ten feet before falling back over.

“Okay, I don’t want to ride the bike anymore today,” he said, dusting himself off and glancing towards the park as if he felt the bike had been an obstacle in the way of achieving true happiness: the playground.

“That’s totally fair. I’m super proud of you for getting back on the bike on your own and giving it another try. You kept trying, that was brave.”

“Thanks, I’m gonna go run in that big puddle.”

4 year old asleep on the playroom floor, wearing a homemade jetpack.

As I watched him create tidal waves of destruction for the community of wood chips beneath the jungle gym, I thought about how I would carry his bike home, run a hot bath for him, and start a quick load of laundry with his wet clothes. Then, I thought about how much I dream of an apology from my mother. 

How many times had she left me to pick up the pieces when she couldn’t stop her inner Good Mom from rising and throwing the shrapnel of shame and rage at me? When we stopped speaking, how many times did I fantasize about her looking out her kitchen window, thinking “I really should just write my daughter a letter and tell her how sorry I am for being obsessed with her weight, for pulling her out of high school instead of helping her navigate her depression, or for blaming her for every obstacle she faced?” 

I thought about all the moments I cried alone, knowing the more time that went by without an apology from my mother, the less likely that apology became.

Then I thought about how hard it was for me, at first, to apologize for pushing my kid to try harder with no regard for how hard he was already trying. It sounds right to acknowledge my failing, but apologizing when you’re doing your best can feel as hopeless and heavy as shoving a massive boulder blocking a cave entrance. But then you do it anyhow, you open up that passage and apologize. And you get to convey that important message of, “I am worthy of an apology. I deserve to have room for my struggles. I know you love me because you value me” to the person who needs those words the most: your child. 

We will all mess up with our kids. 

It’s what has to happen when you are an imperfect being who overeats sometimes and sharts on occasion. We are human and just learning. 

And there’s this tremendous anxiety around the fragility of children, but they are not made of glass. Their development is fluid and adjusts through each moment, rather than being forever changed in one instant. Both the instant and what comes after are equally impactful.

Those errors we fear can often quickly be repaired with a genuine apology, with truthful remorse, and with practiced love.

“MOM!!!” His shout pulls me from my thoughts. I look at him in the middle of the six-inch puddle at the bottom of the slide. He blows a raspberry at me. “Mom! You farted so hard I fell down!” He plops down in the puddle, laughing at his comedic genius.

I noticed a blissful silence in me from Good Mom. Because instead of buying into the fallacy of the Good Mom, and performing fun for the world, I was a great mom for my son.

Guest Author Casey Grim

Casey Grim is the co-creator of the comedy duo A Couple of N3rds. She’s performed at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, San Jose Improv, and NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club. When she’s not recording her A Couple of N3rds podcast, you can find her painting, cooking, and momming. Follow her on Twitter @acoupleofn3rds and Instagram @acoupleofn3rds

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The Fallacy of the Good Mom and the Power of Apology

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