When my friend came over to visit with her kids, I decided to go all out. So I set up paints, glitter, and sparkles, and treated her two daughters and my own to a pre-schooler's art studio. Unfortunately, I treated my friend to a guilt-trip as well.

Soon the three girls were hard at work creating their masterpieces. In between watching the girls, I watched my friend. Her mixed emotions were written clearly on her face. As she watched her daughter's paint, she was experiencing both pleasure and pain; pleasure over their obvious enjoyment, and pain at having deprived them of this experience at home. After a while, she admitted, "I don't do this with them at home. I like the house to stay clean."

I treated my friend to a guilt-trip as wellI gave her some tips at how I managed to keep things under wraps, but I could see that rather than reassuring her, it was becoming more guilt-fodder. So I cut to the chase. "Listen," I said, "I hate being under the hot sun. I can't make it to the park in the summer until late afternoon. So I sit at home with the air conditioning on full while we do arts and crafts. But I see you heading out to the park straight after day-camp gets out in the middle of the day. You are not thinking about your comfort. You are thinking about theirs. That's what makes you a good mother."

My friend was surprised by my assessment. "What does going to the park have to do with painting?" she said. "It has everything to do with painting," I assured her. "Painting is an excuse to keep me and my kids out of the heat. She's happy. I am cool. It works for us."

What works for one mother may not work for another, and mothers get themselves into trouble when they try to conform to an overly narrow and constricting definition of what makes a "good" mother. My definition of a good mother is a person who practices good mothering. Good mothering means creating an environment where Mom can be calm and relaxed while her kids are happy and safe. This is the type of environment that allows a mother and her kids to enjoy being together. The act of taking pleasure in being together is what truly mothers our kids, creating a psychologically strong and sound, safe base.

We'll do collages together, but I won't bake with my kids. I'd rather focus on fun when I know I won't need to eat it afterwards. Yet when I go to the park or gymboree, I sit on the bench and watch. Other mothers I know may sit on the couch at home, or disappear into the kitchen to wash dishes, but at the park, they are standing up the whole time, pushing swings. The way we create shared pleasure with our kids, the activities we do, are less important than the act of enjoying being together.

But there is no checklist, no standard set of criteria that says that to be a good mother, one must do it all – painting and baking, and pumping on the swing next to her kids. Rather, a mother must make choices based on her limited time and options about what works for her family. What works with one child may not work for another. What works for Mom may not work for Dad. What works when some kids are around may not work when the whole family is together.

It is important to not lose sight of our ultimate purposeWhile it is important to expose our children to a wide range of enriching activities, it is equally important to not lose sight of our ultimate purpose of creating an environment as enjoyable as it is enriching. That renders certain activities that would stress us or our children out in such a way as to no longer make them enjoyable, inappropriate and out of bounds for a home setting. Introducing our kids to the world that we know, the world that gives us pleasure, and watching them learn to delight in it as well, is one of the greatest pleasures of parenting.

For Jewish parents, our task is made easier with Shabbat, a day already designated for family togetherness. Shabbat provides us with countless opportunities to tune out the adult world, and tune into our children. After a week that rushed past us in a blur of work, bills, and responsibilities, Shabbat is a second chance to be that mother who participates fully in her children's lives.

What's important is to not make Shabbat another arena for self-criticism and guilt. Forget about trying to create a very scheduled and regimented Shabbat experience for you and your kids. Shabbat is not intended to become a mothering triathlon.

To be a good mother, forget about measuring up, and just practice good mothering. When it comes to mothering, practice never makes perfect. And our kids don't need us to be perfect. They need us to enjoy them, and take pleasure in the act of mothering them so that they can learn that they are enjoyable beings that are worthy of love. Long after the paintings are taken down from the walls, or the Shabbat candles have burned themselves out, this is the message they'll take with them for life.