Recently, at the age of 31, I discovered that I have been believing in a fairytale. It’s not the fairytale of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus (which I discuss in The Great Santa Debate). I have believed in the Myth of the Perfect Mother. It is a fantasy that I never knew I believed until I myself became a mother. And as I talk with other mothers, I have realized that there are many women who also believe in this same myth.
What is the Myth of the Perfect Mother? It is the made-up fantasy that we as mothers need to be perfect, flawless, and limitless. This “Perfect Mother” might take on different forms, but in essence, she is an impossible, unrealistic version of the mother that women strive to become. Since the Perfect Mother is an unattainable expectation, real mothers are left discouraged and frustrated, feeling the tension of the mythical being they are trying to be, and who they actually are.
In my own life, I personally struggle with shame, guilt, and anxiety whenever I am confronted by my own expectations of becoming the Perfect Mother. I envision the perfect mother version of myself: a woman who delights in spending every moment with her children, who can effortlessly multitask, who feeds her children only organic vegetables and sandwiches cut into hearts, who never needs to ask for help, who mops her floor every day, and who does everything with a smile and impeccable style. Oh, and she never, ever bribes her children’s good behavior with TV or candy.
In reality, I am certainly not the perfect mother. Not even close. Here’s who I really am as a mother:
sometimesfrequently need help. My husband, family, babysitters, friends, preschool teachers, books and websites written by people who know a thing or two…I need all of these people and resources in order to be a capable parent.
- I have survival mode days. There are exhausting days when I reach my capacity to parent like a superhero. I get tired and cranky. My kid gets tired and cranky. On those days, I turn on Sesame Street for my son, order dinner from our favorite Thai delivery joint, and count down the minutes until his bedtime.
- I need breaks from my kid. I realize that there will come a day when my affectionate, social, no-personal-space son will become an adolescent who rejects his parents’ efforts to connect with him. But for now, I cherish some time apart from him. I get bored with playing hide-and-seek and reading the same books over and over. I enjoy time in the bathroom by myself, evenings with my husband, and days when my son is in preschool.
- I make mistakes. Sometimes I yell at my son. Or I forget to give him a bath until it is too close to bedtime, and so he goes to bed with a dirty face and feet. Or I am inconsistent with discipline. I have parenting failure moments, and often need to apologize to my son and ask for forgiveness.
- I am learning as I go. Most of parenting (if not all) seems to me like trial and error. Half the time I feel like I am conducting experiments as a parent, hoping that I don’t completely screw up my child in the long run. And just in case, my husband and I have already agreed to set aside money for our kids’ therapy funds.
Here’s the reality: mothers, like everyone, have limits, flaws, and weaknesses. Mothers need grace. And help. Every mother has her own unique ways of parenting her unique children, and should be free from the perception that there is one perfect way to do it. I know this because I am an imperfect mother. I am surrounded by other imperfect mothers.
Today I embrace my imperfections as a mother, and choose to believe that it’s enough to love my kid and try my best.