The Perfect Mom
Are you a Pinterest-worthy mother? Do you create edible dioramas, crafted only out of bamboo shavings, low-glycemic fruit, and unconditional love? Have you found the perfect tipping point in meditating alongside little one, balancing modeling a spiritual practice and self-control, while attending to the ever-flowing needs of baby? Do you playfully conjugate verbs in your child’s third language to and from school, unless you’ve established a more teachable political, philosophical, or entrepreneurial point for that day? If not, you’re probably comparing yourself to a number of unrealistic standards that exist around motherhood today. We internalize these expectations from social media, mom blogs and mom groups, and exposure to a culture that demands full-time, expert performance from mothers and women in general.
Here are just some of the expectations that modern mothers face:
- You choose between working mother and stay-at-home-mom, and whichever your choice, you have some regrets and a number of people who judge you for it.
- Of course you breastfeed, and you do so for at least a year, ideally two.
- You baby-wear, based on your personal attachment to attachment parenting.
- You never let your baby cry, especially before sleep. Instead, sleep onset is a deliberate, hours-long operation of rocking, singing, and chanting, culminating in an expert transfer of the sleeping infant, a precise maneuver, the likes of which are witnessed only on neurosurgical operating tables.
- You prepare nutritious, organic, whole food for your children. You practice baby-led weaning, which you researched long before your child was born.
- You don’t use screens as “babysitters” and avoid any screen time until your children are at least two, ideally older.
- You parent peacefully, focusing on natural consequences. Discipline is unnecessary if you’re doing this correctly.
- You are never “that mother” with “that kid” at Target.
- You purchase only products and toys that enrich your child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being. Better yet, you provide all that enrichment yourself.
- You potty train your children not a day before they’re ready but of course before it’s required for school.
- You are “room mom” in your child’s class and effortlessly coordinate teacher gifts, holiday parties, fundraisers, and the like.
- You provide your children access to a variety of stimulating and skill-building activities. You encourage, but never force, participation in classes for which you’ve signed up, despite any anxiety about the scheduling and financial commitments you’ve made.
- You invest in your child’s emotional development and well-being and listen patiently and understandingly when your child screams, “I’m mad at you!” each time you gently suggest a shower. You reply that you understand how your recommendation would trigger this emotion and quickly default to your philosophy of bodily autonomy.
- You understand that you are there to guide, not control, your children, even if that means a 30-minute socks-and-shoes motivational inquiry when you’re already late for school, work, and life.
- You consistently put your children’s needs above your own.
- What energy you have left, you invest in your partner, if you have one, because it’s even more important to nourish that relationship when parenting. Date nights, visiting the in-laws, etc. are priorities, even if you’re tired and desperate for some time to yourself. If you’re flying solo, this time is better spent doing anything above even better.
The Good Enough Mom
Long before Pinterest was worthy, British pediatrician/psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term the “Good Enough Mother.” Winnicott’s theory suggests that mothers can fail their children at times, not meeting each and all of their needs, and that, essentially, that’s okay. In fact, Winnicott contends that as babies grow, their development is enhanced by some delays in mothers meeting their needs (maternal “failures”). Infants begin to understand that they are not the center of the universe and develop more realistic expectations of others and the world around them. According to Winnicott, a mother does not have to be perfect, just “good enough.”
So, what does a “good enough mom” look like in real life? She need not adhere to all of the above standards in order to mother a healthy, resilient child. In fact, the good enough mom might:
- Make a practice of attending to her own self-care.
- Get as much help and support as she can.
- Remember that she is a multi-dimensional being, not just a mom, and invest in growing herself in different arenas.
- Forsake comparisons with other mothers.
- Make mistakes and then amends, focusing on repair, not perfection.
- Evoke that old, airplane-oxygen-mask analogy (i.e., adults’ masks go on first).
- Consider that each stage of childhood requires a new maternal role with an evolving set of demands and responsibilities and is patient with herself as she learns the ropes.
- Do the best she can.
- Remind herself that she is doing the best she can.
For help with navigating maternal expectations and demands, along with the distress this can elicit, and with practicing becoming a good enough mom, please contact us at Gatewell.