Like many well-meaning first-time parents, I entertained grand ideas of what an amazing mother I was going to be when my first child was born. I wanted to be loving but firm, teach her strength but also compassion, and spend hours reading to her, while also providing the perfect materials to stimulate her creativity in art, science, and math. Oh, and I also had to feed her organic meals, give her an adorably-decorated nursery, and of course make sure that every birthday party she had was picture-perfect! I held myself to these lofty, often ridiculous ideals through the first few demanding years of motherhood, oftentimes to the detriment of my own happiness.
Fortunately, just as my three children have grown older over the years, I’ve grown in my role as a mother as well. I’ve come to realize that forcing myself to do everything I thought a “perfect mother” should do was incredibly unrealistic and often harmful. Even the idea that we as mothers can achieve “perfection” is an absolute myth – it simply doesn’t exist!
Every child born into this world is unique, with wants and needs different than even a sibling in the same family. Similarly, every mother is unique as well. We all react to situations differently, find particular behaviors either hilarious or terribly grating on the nerves, and possess a wide range of values that we hope to instill in our children. Because of these differences, mothers have to be fluid and ever-changing to accommodate those children’s needs, which isn’t compatible with the rigid ideals of perfection. When we ignore this fact and attempt to act in a way that we think a “perfect” mother should, we’re automatically setting ourselves up for failure because nothing we do can ever be “good enough.” This results in damaging feelings of inadequacy and defeat which are unwarranted, as we’re actually just giving our children exactly what they need.
Unfortunately, this quest for perfection is not only harmful to us as women, but to our children as well. If our job as a mother is to prepare our children for life outside of the protection of our home, but we spend all our time trying to project a picture of perfection to the world, we’re robbing them of the chance to see us as real, fallible humans. They need to see our mistakes in order to learn from us; to understand that while you might fallen down 10 times, the real strength lies in the 11th time you stood up, dusted yourself off, tried again, and succeeded! We owe it to our children to set an example of what it means to succeed when things feel too hard, and to see the beauty in the parts of ourselves that are different or flawed. Our children don’t need to see us as perfect, and they definitely don’t need to witness us feeling frustrated and defeated when we aren’t living up to the impossible standard of perfection we set for ourselves.
In the end, you can try your hardest on any given day to achieve your idea of perfection, but in motherhood, we’re ultimately dealing with the unpredictability of sleepless nights, sick children, running a household, and/or working outside the home. In these situations, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to make peace with the chaos and be flexible in our goals. Meeting the unique needs of our children and taking care of our own health and happiness is far more “perfect” than striving for an ideal that doesn’t even exist!
Lauren Swan is a freelance writer and mother of three