Are you enough?

“Mama, you are enough.” — omnipresent inspirational mom memes.

When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I toured the hospital where I was planning to give birth. Renowned for its low rate of C-sections and its army of beloved midwives, it was the place to have one’s “natural” childbirth experience. 

The tour guide led us into the “water birth suite” — one of the prime selling points of the hospital, of course. She proudly informed us that any mother who wanted to deliver her baby in the water would be given the opportunity. My eyes fixated on a flimsy paper sign taped up over the giant bathtub. It read: “She believed she could, so she did.” 

The message was clear — when it came to childbirth, it was just a case of mind over matter. 

Needless to say, despite my “belief” in natural childbirth, I ended up having one of the emergency C-sections that would besmirch the hospital’s statistics for 2011. 

Unwanted inspiration 

For one reason or another, modern motherhood is overrun with inspirational messaging. For every straightforward article offering advice about how to get your baby to sleep, there are at least five others urging us mothers to “breathe,” “fill your cup first” and “embrace the chaos.” We’re also ordered to “ask for help,” but at the same time reminded “you are enough.”

You are enough. 

That one always makes me cringe a little. What does that even mean? OK, I know what it means. All kinds of motherhood-focused websites with names like “Abundant Mama” and the “The Balanced Mamas” are on hand to tell us what it means. 

As far as I can tell, “you are enough” is a battle cry for all the mothers out there trying to “do it all” who feel like they’re failing. It’s for women who think their mothering is somehow subpar, and their children will be messed up because of it. Basically, when someone reassures you that “you are enough,” they’re urging you to not feel so guilty about everything — that really, you’re doing just fine. 

I can’t really argue with that message. It’s pretty good, right? So what if you ordered takeout for the third day in a row, if you forgot about the laundry until it went all mildewy, if you didn’t sign your kid up for that enriching activity everyone else is doing. Remember: You’re doing the best you can! You are enough! 

But am I really? 

There’s something a little desperate about this urgent affirmation. Before some blogger informed me that I was “enough,” I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I might not be. Now I take the affirmation to task: When I let my kids watch three hours of Netflix garbage while I work: Is that enough? (I have a sneaking suspicion it’s just me being lazy.) 

And what about mothers with real problems — women who are dealing with poverty, mental illness, crushing grief? Maybe these mothers don’t need to be told they are “enough.” Maybe they need actual, real-world help. 

I feel there are some unpleasant truths being pushed under the rug when we’re fed these messages about how we’re just fine the way we are. 

Like, by being told that we’re “enough,” we’re also kind of being told that we shouldn’t want anything more. I mean, sure, I’m enough right now. But I’d be so much better with subsidized childcare and government-mandated maternity leave. Give me that, and it will be way easier to “breathe” and “embrace the chaos.”

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to