Perfectly imperfect mothers: breaking the “Good Mom Myth”

In western, contemporary societies, a woman is considered a “good mother” when she is at all times emotionally present and selfless, placing her children’s desires and needs before her own. Although this image of “good mothering” is often reproduced and thereby affirmed in children’s literature, so-called “alter-tales” – counterstories that voice different experiences of motherhood and alternative perspectives on what being a mother means – are becoming more popular. In this article, Frauke Pauwels examines how picturebooks can help in addressing the societal desire to dispel the “Good Mom Myth” and share genuine experiences of motherhood. By presenting the reality of being a mother in a format that is intended for children and adults, picturebooks showing alternative ways of being a mother can help tell stories of simple ways of resistance against the myth.

The Swedish picturebook Samtidigt i min låtsasvärld (Meanwhile in My Imaginary World, 2018) by author Lisa Bjärbo and illustrator Emma AdBåge depicts a mother’s daydreaming while sitting at the messy kitchen table with her two children, disrupting the expectation of the perfect mother through the usage of “childness” or “the quality of being a child” (Peter Hollindale). In her textual and visual analysis of Samtidigt i min låtsasvärld, Frauke Pauwels uses ideas from sociology, age studies and children’s literature studies, reflecting on how picturebooks can help to create an intergenerational understanding of real-life daily situations. Consequently, picturebooks that show the disparities between how motherhood is personally experienced and socially represented can play an important part in doing away with the idea that there is only one way of being a good mother.

Pauwels, Frauke. ‘Sharing Maternal Fantasies: Reading Samtidigt i min låtsasvärld as an Alter-Tale to the Good Mom Myth.’.

Barnboken – Journal of Children’s Literature Research, vol. 46, 2023, pp. 1–21.

doi: 10.14811/clr.v46.825