“So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.” -Rebecca Solnit
I recently read this quote in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. It’s so perfect for how I feel about the quest to be a perfect mom. I am a recovering perfectionist and motherhood has really tested everything I ever believed about myself. There is a part of my ego that is cringing right now, but I am publicly proclaiming that I am NOT a perfect mom. (Ok, so those of you who have seen me in action or at the grocery store need to just shhh right now because I know you’re thinking, “tell us something we don’t know, girl.”)
For those of you who don’t know me and for that stubborn part of my ego, it needs to be said; I am not perfect.
I actually don’t think that there is such a thing as a perfect mom, but I often fall victim to comparing myself and holding myself up to the image of the perfect mom I have created in my head. This looks different to everyone, but I believe we all know who I’m talking about.
My image of the perfect mom is someone who is always present, a great cook who enjoys cooking for her family, buys only the best and most natural ingredients for her family, is always patient, and her house is always clean.
When I write it out, it actually looks kind of funny. It’s funny because there is at least one thing on this list that will probably never be true for me. While I may learn to love cooking one day, I will probably never be a great cook.
These are just some of the things that come to mind and most of them are based on insecurities that arise when I feel I am not meeting them. I “embraced” the fact that I don’t cook a long ago when I made sure that I married a man who could, but there is still a part of me that feels guilt and shame for that on a daily basis. Other things on my list I am good at, like cleaning, but I experience a lot of stress because living with a toddler pretty much guarantees that my house will never be clean unless I clean nonstop, all day, as soon as my daughter puts her hands on something.
It’s important to note that I don’t hold other moms to this standard. I am actually much more forgiving and understanding (i.e. realistic) when it comes to thinking of other moms. Everyone’s image of a perfect mom is personal and sometimes we don’t even know what she looks like until we identify qualities in other moms that we like or aspire to be more like.
These days we have so many ways to compare ourselves to other moms and to visually see what we may believe to be the perfect mom.
Even when we know that we can’t “compare our insides to someone else’s outside,” it is still easy to get caught up in the comparison game. Facebook and other social media sites can be both a blessing and a curse to moms. Interacting with people online through social media can alleviate the isolation of motherhood, but it also plays a huge role in fueling comparison and perpetuating images of perfection.
There were several times throughout the past 2 years when I had to take social media breaks because my postpartum depression convinced me I was the worst mom and all the smiling pictures of moms I saw online meant it was much easier for everyone else. I was convinced I was failing at something that seemed to come so easily to others. I felt this despite the fact that I was also posting smiling pictures during this time and despite the fact that, because of my own experiences, I knew better.
I believe it is natural to compare ourselves to others, but because it is natural and so easy to do in this day and age, I have to work harder to shift my focus from perfection to individual greatness.
Inherently I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be the best mom I can be, but the difficult part kicks in when my image of the perfect mom prevents me from embracing and celebrating the mom I already am and the successes I bring to being a mom every day.
Instead of aspiring to be a perfect mom, I want to be a great mom.
Just because perfection isn’t the end goal doesn’t mean I’m not always working to do my best; it means I’m not holding myself up to an impossible standard. I am accepting the gifts I have, striving to do better when I fail, and forgiving myself for being a flawed human (or trying to, at least).
The truth is, people are going to continue to put out images that fuel someone’s idea of the perfect mother, but at the end of the day, I know that all my daughter needs is a mother who loves her completely and unconditionally. In giving her that love, I may be the “perfect” mother for her, even if I never reach my own or other people’s standards of perfection.