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Why Is It So Easy to Be a Good Dad?

Moms seem to get a bad rap in fiction and in life

Published on: October 04, 2017

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NBC

If you're anything like me, you're completely obsessed with NBC's "This Is Us." But as the second season gets underway, I've noticed an all too familiar trend: Mom never knows best.

If you've never seen the show (why?), it tells the story of the Pearson family. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) are the parents of three children: twins Kate and Kevin, and their adopted brother with the same birthday, Randall.

While there are many guesses as to how (spoiler alert!) Jack dies, there is one thing that almost all viewers agree on: Jack is an amazing father to all three of his children. In fact, during a conversation with Randall in the season two premiere, Rebecca actually says, “Our marriage wasn’t perfect, it’s true. But none are. Your father wasn’t perfect either, but he was pretty darn close.”

Conversely, both Rebecca’s fictional children and the television audience in general seem to see Rebecca’s mothering as pretty flawed.

After the series finale last year, a viewer wrote on the show's comment board: “Am I the only one who hates Rebecca? I've never liked her. She's always been selfish to me.”  Another wrote, “Rebecca is a taker” and  “Rebecca was supposed to stay at home for own duties as wife and mother.”

One of the main plot lines in last night’s episode (BIG, HUGE SPOILER ALERT) was about Rebecca’s relationship with her daughter Kate (Chrissy Metz).  Although both mother and daughter profess their love for each other, there is clearly tension between them. In flashbacks, we see Rebecca trying to do the right thing (encouraging her daughter to sing in the talent show, beaming with pride, making her a new dress) and yet somehow all her efforts result in her making Kate feel less confident (and ultimately deciding not to perform).

By contrast, Kate’s father Jack always seems to know the just what to say (or not say) to make her feel loved and special. Even when Jack admits he has his own demons — alcoholism — he's never diminished in Kate’s eyes.

Of course, this is a fictional show with a written script. But still, hearing the way most TV viewers love Jack and hate Rebecca makes me wonder if in general society tends to be harder on mothers than on fathers. I believe that both characters love their children and want to be good parents. Do we find fault in Rebecca because we have a higher expectation of a mother? Are we more forgiving of a father's mistakes or inadequacies, especially if we think he is trying his best?

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and co-author of the book "Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends," says that in general, mothers are more judgmental of themselves and other mothers than they are of fathers. One reason is because today’s parents tend to compare themselves to their own parents. “Moms today are often working parents who had stay-at-home moms, so they think, ‘I'm not doing all the things my mom did!’ and may feel guilty.  In comparison, Dads today are likely more involved in childcare that their own fathers so they tell themselves, ‘I'm doing so much more than my dad!’ and feel pretty good," she says.

Are we more forgiving of a father's mistakes or inadequacies, especially if we think he is trying his best?

Another issue is that mothers tend to feel responsible for everything in their child’s lives, more so than fathers do. Kennedy-Moore says: “The standards for what ‘counts’ as good parenting have also increased ridiculously. Nowadays, parents are supposed to be responsible for their children's academic, athletic, social, emotional, etc. success. Since moms tend to be the ones doing the heavy lifting in these areas, they may feel like their failing when their kids are, inevitably, less than perfect in any of these areas.”

In 1953, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, coined the phrase “the good enough mother” in his famous book "Playing and Reality." The premise was that a mother needed to meet a child’s needs, but only to a point. Sometimes allowing the child to get frustrated would lead to the child trying to meet his own need and that would actually help the child to be better adjusted in the long run.

Simply put, mothers don’t need to be perfect, but instead should strive to be good enough. Yet more than 50 years later, mothers are still trying to do everything right and then feeling bad about themselves when they are less than perfect.

So what do you think? Was Kate too rough on her mom? Do real life mothers dislike Rebecca’s character because we hold ourselves and other mothers (even fictional ones) to a standard that is just too high? Or is Jack just too darn perfect?

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