If you’re feeling the pressure to be a “perfect mother,” know that you’re not alone. This article will walk you through tips to examine – and overcome – the desire for perfection.
The transition to becoming a mother is a vulnerable experience, especially when considering both physical and mental vulnerabilities. We are put in charge of caring for this delicate baby while we are evolving into a mother.
And, for many mothers, perfectionist tendencies can appear either suddenly or over time during this phase of life.
What is perfectionisim?
Perfectionism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.”
Even though there is so much information about the negative consequences of perfectionism, it is still considered a positive trait.
- Our employers may praise our attention to detail and how spectacular a project is.
- Our friends may comment how we seem to have it all handled.
- Our family may take note of how put-together we always look.
And as well-meaning as those comments are, they often are given without knowing all the struggles it took to get that project done or appear to have it all together.
The anxiety and negative self-talk behind the desire for perfectionism are often hidden from others, but the internal struggle still exists.
Perfectionism and motherhood
When it comes to being a mother, perfectionism can show up in many forms. Check out some of the examples below of what it can look like.
- Dressing yourself and your family in the best way possible and beating yourself up mentally with negative self-talk when you don’t have it together.
- Blaming yourself for why your child had a tantrum or is struggling to make friends at school.
- Doing your kid’s project so it’s the best in their class (and not involving them in it).
- Staying up till late hours in the night, making sure that every detail is perfect for an event – birthday, class party, etc. – you are hosting with others to make sure it’s perfect.
- Not sharing honestly with your partner that you are struggling and need help.
While everything on the outside may look great, the internal struggle on the inside is far from greatness. It can feel like intense unhappiness for not being able to be the “perfect mother.”
Perfectionism can make you feel like a failure every day because you are not meeting the expectations you set for yourself.
Outwardly, you may encourage others to have realistic expectations for themselves and be kind to themselves, but don’t hold yourself to those standards.
What is the “perfect mother”, anyway?
Seriously, take a moment to reflect on this. What does “the perfect mother” look like for you?
The reality is that if we asked several different moms to describe what makes a mom “perfect,” and they would likely say something different.
And I think that it is beautiful and a massive sigh of relief that the “perfect mother” looks different for each of us, so the standard thus is different.
Now, if I could, I would dissolve the “perfect mother” expectation with a flick of my wand, but alas, I cannot (I am still waiting for my Hogwarts letter – I know it’s just lost in the mail).
3 steps to overcome perfectionism in motherhood
I want to encourage you to slightly change the mindset of what the “perfect mom” means to you. Shut down the noise of what you think a perfect mom should do and think about what it means for you.
Sometimes something we lacked growing up is what we want to give our children so they “can have a perfect childhood,” or something we wished we had.
Sometimes we look at others on social media or around us in the pick-up line and tell ourselves a story of what their lives may be like and – therefore – makes them perfect.
Whatever it is, there is no judgment in this reflection.
1. Define what the “perfect mother” looks like to you
Then, take a piece of paper out and write about the perfect mom and what she looks like to you. Don’t censor yourself.
And after this reflection, I want you to ask your children – if you can – what defines a “perfect mother.” If they can’t tell you because they are too young, reflect on what brings them the biggest smile.
2. Keep your expectations in order
I often like to remind my clients that what we want our children to remember about their childhood may not be what they remember. We have different memories that we hold on to, even if we share that memory with the same people.
Our brains remember differently and can’t predict what our kids will remember. Trying to remember that can be freeing in putting pressure on specific events to create the perfect memory.
I know it can be tough to move away from that, and at the same time, I want to highlight that you are keeping a young person alive. That is one of the hardest things. So you can go through tough things.
3. Take a closer look at your definitions
Lastly, I want you to reflect on your definition of the “perfect mom” and what your child/children definition is. Are there any similarities? Any differences?
There is no right or wrong answer. The point of this exercise is to get you to break that perfect mom narrative slowly. It will take time and even constant reflection and redirection, but you can do it.
You may find that your little one remembers the impromptu Tic Tac Toe game you play with them while waiting in the carpool line; or the special meal that you may have on the table when they aren’t feeling well.
You will often find that the expectation your child has of you is nowhere near the high expectation you have for yourself.
It’s not all about what your child wants from you, so let’s try and find a balance between your children’s expectations and your expectations.
Write it out, and you may find that even that new expectation is entirely different than the unrealistic expectation you have been holding yourself to. Give it a shot, mama.
Need more support and laughs? You might enjoy You Are a F*cking Awesome Mom
Final thoughts on being the “perfect mom”
Most importantly, remember that you are the best mama for your little ones.
If you feel comfortable, share in the comments what you discovered from your reflection. Let’s work together to break the “perfect mother” narrative by noticing how different our answers may be.
Yet, they are all the best answers for each of you.
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Dr. Veronica is a licensed clinical social worker. It's her passion to help mamas - both new and seasoned - navigate the challenges of parenthood. She has specialized training in working with mothers, especially supporting mothers of color. Supporting women through various walks of life is one of her guiding posts and something she continues to strive for through her work daily.