I need to do better…
I need to be more present…
I cannot do this…
I am failing…
I am going to mess him/her up…
Sound familiar? If you are a mother and have found yourself with these thoughts running through your head, then find rest that you are not alone. The pressure of caring for a tiny human, or humans, is a heavy load to carry and can feel like an impossible task at times. As moms, we are constantly feeling the weight of that load and feel as though we are expected to carry it all with a smile on our face because, hey, we asked for this right? Wrong! Whether it be society, upbringing, tv, the church, etc. mothers have been pictured to have to do it all and do it right.
I do not know about the rest of you reading this, but I was not handed a manual after labor with instructions on what to do or what not to do in the attempt to not mess up my kid. And yet, I felt I was looked at by my husband, the nurses, friends, and my family, to just know what to do and do it and as a first time mom this felt like a lot of pressure. Many women take that pressure and immediately internalize it to be the perfect mother. Spoiler alert…no such thing. Carla Naumburg puts it so blissfully in her article discussing how our children need us to fail them sometimes and that perfection actually should not be an option. What powerful words! Often amid trying to be the best we navigate into deeper waters of pressuring ourselves to do and say all the right things in the hopes our children will never have to experience upsets or pain. Or perhaps we are hoping to break generationally curses through perfecting our parenting to not parent like our own parents did. Maybe if we are perfect we have a better chance at not having our children corrupted by the world? If you find yourself resonating with any of this so far than stay with me, because I am about to unlock a pretty wild concept of, the good enough mother and how she can help, hopefully, ease some of that pressure.
First, I want to acknowledge that you are not a bad mom for trying to be perfect. Trying to do everything right and exactly what is best for your child(ren) is a beautiful testament to your heart as a mother. You clearly only want the best for them and there is nothing wrong with having that on your heart. However, often in our efforts to be the best most perfect mom, we actually do the opposite and become so overwhelmed and absorbed by fear, anxiety and control that we drain ourselves of any true compassion, empathy and patience. Research has even shown that our own expectations of being a mother can have an impact on how we emotionally adjust and attune to post-partum motherhood. This research means that if we expect to do it all perfectly correct and fail (which we undoubtedly will as humans) we are ourselves creating breeding ground for shame, setting expectations that most likely cannot be met. This often leaves mothers feeling like they are not good enough.
What is interesting is that “failing” our children is adaptive in ways. No, I am not insinuating that you neglect your child in a dangerous and abusive manner. What I am trying to focus you in on is the concept of the good enough mother and how this concept does not just mean “do your best” and “try your hardest”. In my opinion, those thoughts and phrases only apply more pressure. In fact, trying to be the perfect mom can actually create more harm than good. We have to let them be on their own at times to learn. For example, if we smother our children with too much attention and are constantly by their side 100% of the time, they may struggle to experience and develop true independence from us which later in life can lead to relationship and interpersonal issues of lack of self. My hope is you are starting to see that imperfection as a mother is not a negative or shameful concept but a healthy and life giving one. If that still is a bit vague than lets continue reading for some more information and examples.
What is the good enough mother?
Donald Winnocott was a British pediatrician who first introduced the concept of The Good Enough mother. The idea is that a child adapts and learns best when given a solid foundation and secure attachment and then given, well, a little room. What does this mean for mothers? It means helping your child learn they are loved and cared for through affirmations, accessibility, and modeling as infants so that as time passes, they learn to be self-sufficient and navigate the world on their own, knowing they have a secure base to access and return to if needed. It is not our jobs as mothers to be 100% accessible all the time as this is not sustainable. We as mothers have to do the best to show our child they are loved just enough to leave. Helping our children to know that they are loved enough for them to have the strength and attachment to feel free enough to explore the world and adapt and come home if needed. Crazy I know! But a healthy attachment is not one that is attached at the hip but more so strong enough to withstand distance and time.
So, what might being good enough look like?
First, we must set realistic expectations for what we as mothers are capable of. If we think we will be able to keep our children safe from every scratch, nightmare, milestone delay, etc. we are setting ourselves up for some massive pressure and anxiety. Having realistic expectation has even been known to help with emotional adjustments post-partum. In other words, how highly or lowly we expect our self to perform as mothers can have a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing. Setting unrealistically high expectations of perfection, and then obviously not meeting those expectation, can make it feel like we are failing. Instead, we can adjust our expectations of ourselves as moms and remember we are still human and it is okay, even healthy, to let our children down sometimes (in a healthy non abusive way of course). It is okay to want to be super mom for your little one. You love them! It is important to remember, though, if you must leave them with a loved one so you can have a minute to shower, use the bathroom, heck get your hair done, THAT IS OKAY! Allowing them to socialize and take space at times is healthy. And let me tell you, it is needed!
One practical way you can feel confident you are doing enough to allow yourself some peace of mind is making sure your child’s most basic needs are met. Are they fed? Are the clothed properly? Do they need a diaper change? Often focusing small on basic needs can help shift the focus away from things we cannot control to what we can. Another way is to notice what you are doing right and pray for guidance from the Lord that he will make your path known as a mother. It is super easy to compare ourselves to social media, the media, etc. and feel as though we aren’t doing enough. However, it is key to remember every single child’s journey and every mother’s journey is different and just because someone somewhere is telling you how you are parenting is not how they parent, that does not mean your way is wrong! There is more than one way to raise a child and praying for guidance and having realistic expectations can help ease the pressures of navigating life as a mom.
If you are struggling with unrealistic expectations and feeling the pressures of motherhood, you are far from alone! Wanting to be the perfect mother shows the deep care and love you have for your child and there is nothing wrong with wanting them to live a life sheltered from harm, heartache, and injury. However, we must remember what our job versus God’s job is. As humans, we only have so much capacity to do what is best for our children and knowing that God has the final say in rearing our children and protecting them is, in my opinion, oh so comforting at times. In the times we still struggle to trust in Him, remember you are human and that it is okay to fall short sometimes and remembering it is in fact helpful at times to do so! Allow yourself grace and surround yourself with friends, family, counselors, etc. who will cheer you on in being just good enough !
Erin J. Henshaw, Rachel Fried, Jenni Beth Teeters & Emily E. Siskind (2014) Maternal expectations and postpartum emotional adjustment in first-time mothers: results of a questionnaire survey, Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 35:3, 69-75, DOI: 10.3109/0167482X.2014.937802
Naumburg, C. (2021, June 17). The gift of the good enough mother – seleni – maternal mental health institute. Seleni. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://www.seleni.org/advice-support/2018/3/14/the-gift-of-the-good-enough-mother