As a therapist for over twenty years, one of the most common recurring themes that comes up in the therapy hour is moms striving to be a perfect mother.
I take it on as a clinical mission, to help moms let go of is the notion of being a ‘perfect mother’ and embrace ‘imperfection.’
Simply stated, there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
The definition of ‘perfect’ is to be flawless, complete in all aspects, and demonstrating excellent skills.
When we are ‘perfect,‘ we have no need to grow or advance any further.
When we strive to be ‘perfect,’ we fail our children.
Why? Because we begin to show our children, model through our beliefs and behaviors, that anything less than perfect is a failure.
The idea of being the perfect mother is not only overwhelming, it’s also unrealistic.
Perfectionism is a detrimental ideal and unrealistic standard.
And many moms buy into this belief they have to be perfect, hiding any flaws or mistakes, striving to present a picture perfect exterior.
Perfectionism in motherhood is a set-up for disappointment, unhappiness, and stress.
Perfectionism detracts from personal well-being.
Perfectionism creates a mindset of isolation. When we believe there is a standard of perfection to achieve, we lose our ability to be vulnerable or open to ourselves and others.
Our children need to see through our example, and nothing is perfect. Part of the process of growing up is learning, which means making mistakes through trial and error. As a child grows up, so too does a mother, gaining wisdom and experience along the way, including making mistakes, experiencing trial and error, including failure.
Motherhood is an individual journey with many universal shared experiences and feelings: moments of worry, fear, anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, exhaustion heartache, embarrassment, joy, gratitude, happiness, and contentment.
When we buy into perfection, we lose an opportunity to understand how challenging emotions, the ones that stretch us and push us, are the feelings where we learn the most about ourselves.
The more moms are willing to share how she feels, what she needs, or what may be going on beneath the picture perfect surface, the closer she gets to improving her well-being and happiness.
When a mom is focused on perfection, what you’ll likely find beneath the surface, is a mom so scared of being judged, or failing her children, that’s she’d rather strive to be perfect than to be vulnerable.
Here are ten ways to be a good mom, and none of it has to do with crafts, cooking, creating the perfect birthday party, play dates or vacations. I think of those as ‘add-ons’ or ‘nice to have,’ but not necessary.
- Take Care of Yourself. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your family is to take care of yourself; your body, mind, feelings and spirit. So many women are used to putting themselves last on the to-do list. They become focused on giving everything without ever having a limit, that they either get sick, become resentful, or forget what it’s like to nurture themselves. By taking the time to care for yourself, you create a healthier stronger way of being which in turn, allows you to care for the children and other people in your life more fully and with enjoyment.
- Love and Accept Yourself. Mothers are amazing at being able to unconditionally love their children. But what about unconditionally loving yourself? How often do you have a critical voice in your mind, judging your efforts, putting yourself down and criticizing yourself? Quiet the critic and increase positive self-talk in the same way you’d talk to a friend or your child.
- You are the World to Your Child. In the span of a lifetime, your child will have many relationships. Being a mother to your child is by far one of the most, if not the, most impactful relationship. Understand that mothering a child is a lifelong commitment to nurturing, teaching, caring for, guiding, loving and supporting another person’s growth through the lifespan. In and of itself, being a mother to a child is the role of a lifetime.
- Create a Life for Yourself Separate from Your Child. Your child will need you in different ways across the lifespan. A baby needs its mother to be attentive at a moments notice to feed, change, and cuddle. As the child moves into toddlerhood and childhood and the teenage years, the needs change. Being available to your child is critical, but so is having a life of friends, interests, and activities separate from your child is essential.
- Learn to Apologize. When you make a mistake, do something hurtful, lose your temper, forget to do something, it is important to learn the skill of apologizing. This is not to be confused with the overuse of saying “sorry” experienced by women for asserting themselves or having a thought or feeling. I’m not talking about saying sorry for anything, rather, learn to apologize when you make a mistake or engage in behavior that hurts someone else or impacts a situation with your child.
- Be Open to Your Childs Feedback. Children communicate many things through behavior as well as words. Listen to your child when they have something to say, focus your attention on them. You may not agree with their feedback, but giving your child the time and space to hear their thoughts goes a long way in their development and self-confidence.
- Spend Quality Time with Your Children. Parents are busier than ever these days. As mothers, we are pulled in different directions to support our children that have little to do with spending quality time with them. Your child needs regular and routine quality time with you. Make this a priority every day.
- Don’t Personalize Your Child’s Behavior. You’ve heard the expression “growing pains” well that not only includes children, parents also feel the growing pains in reaction to the push-pull of independence and autonomy as a child grows up. Independence and growth often result in conflict; your agenda versus the agenda of your child. Sometimes it’s easier to understand a toddler saying “no” and throwing a tantrum than it is when a tween or teen does the similar behavior. In moments of frustration with your child try to see the message your child is trying to communicate with you and don’t take his/her behavior personally, it likely has more to do with child development than you as a person.
- Show Your Feelings But Don’t Overwhelm Your Child. Modeling or showing through your behavior, how to manage your emotions is an important lesson for children. Children can be very sensing of a parents emotions. When you’re feeling an emotion, for example having a bad day, own your feelings if it is impacting your behavior. Saying to your child, “Mommy is feeling upset about something that happened today so I may be a little quieter, I just want you to know.” Not only does this type of dialogue and interaction help model healthy mood management, but it also allows your child to understand your behaviors and feelings are not the results of something they did. Children often like to fill in the gap to make sense of the world, and they do so by sometimes making assumptions it was their fault.
- Allow Your Child to be Who They Are. Personality and temperament are strong characteristics of a child. Of course as mothers, we want to influence, shape and expose our children to many opportunities. Children often know who they are and what they want. Part of our job as parents is to find a balance between encouragement and influence and exposure and independence. Allow your child to be who they are with guidance, love, and support from you.
A healthy mom is the foundation of what makes for a good mom.
A healthy version of you, not a perfect you.
Your child needs You!
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2017