We all have an idea of the Perfect Mother in our minds. This Perfect Mother is different for each of us, depending on our education, our country, our family or our social background. What we have in common is that we all have one.
Maybe your Perfect Mother is a mix of tv shows and ads. Maybe it’s your mom, or on the contrary, the total opposite. Maybe you created your own fantasy of her based on a role model.
The question is: how come you never became that Perfect Mother of yours?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother. Even though my husband (who was my boyfriend then) would swear he’d never have any. I also knew what kind of mom I would be, and my first criteria were « nothing like my own mom ».
When I got pregnant, at 24, I decided that I would be the most loving, sweet and nice mother in the world. Not a yell, not a word higher than the other…
God, how far from reality I was!
Today, I am content with the mother I am. Of course, there is always PLENTY of room for improvement, and I work on it every day. An important step was to find out what ideals were guiding me. From there, I learned ways to put them into action, so that my everyday life reflects my aspirations.
The mother I am is definitely not the ideal mother I had in mind when I was pregnant. And for good reasons!
Why Ideal Mother Doesn’t Work In Real Life: Reason 1
She makes you feel guilty and holds you in check.
I mean, what’s the point of having ideals if, instead of inspiring you, they hold you back and make you second-guess yourself.
Until not so long ago I was so far from my « ideal mother » that I thought I was not a good mother. I felt guilty and ashamed. I was even angry at myself for having children when obviously I wasn’t able to raise them well.
The worst part of this was that I didn’t have anybody to discuss it. Obviously, my husband didn’t get it. Though loving and supportive all he could say was “come on now, you are a great mother”.
I tried to speak about it with my mom and with some friends but they would minimize what was a big problem for me. They didn’t recognize my pain.
Some of you might already be at peace with the mother you became. Motherhood, like any cycle of life, has a maturity stage. If so, remember the distress and guilt that passing your motherhood under review can bring. Look around you, be supportive of younger mothers.
You cannot be at peace with the mother you are if you are comparing yourself to your Perfect Mother, she will always have something to criticize.
If our Perfect Mother doesn’t help us be a great mother, it is because she is a smokescreen. You will understand why.
Why Ideal Mother Doesn’t Work In Real Life: reason 2
In western societies, we live in a cult for happiness.
From ads to tv shows, from self-development books to success stories, if you’re not happy, you’re not in. And this applies to motherhood too.
As if being a mother would bring endless joy upon you, 24/7. Well, of course, it does, but it doesn’t mean we’re not discouraged sometimes, angry a couple of times a day, actually boiling a couple more…
In the past years, we’ve seen less perfect mothers in movies and tv shows. But somehow, they are still funny, smart, always good-looking and in the end they are Perfect Mother all the same.
I am not a perfect mother. Not even by the “let’s-have-fun-of-motherhood-tv-shows” standards. In the past 12 years, there have been days where I was not happy. There have been days when I had no energy to offer to my children. There have been days when I’ve been scared to death for them. I haven’t had 4380 days (yep, that’s 12 years) of pure bliss. Not even of happiness.
This lie we are being told about happy mothers keeps us from our true nature. We are women, we follow cycles, sometimes we are full of energy and we do more than an army of guys could ever do, and sometimes we need to slow down.
This cult for happiness is a marketing lie, and this oh-so-happy-mother thing too. Let’s remember that and free ourselves from it.
Why Ideal Mother Doesn’t Work In Real Life: Reason 3
The Perfect Mother doesn’t survive every day life
Your Perfect Mother is a showcase. She isn’t real, and she brings you back to Reason 1 all the time: guilty.
I’m sure that you have noticed how mothers are not allowed to express their feelings without being judged? This is definitely a problem and WE, mothers, maintain this system with our idea of an ideal mother.
The Perfect Mother is never tired, she never needs time for herself, she feeds her children with perfectly balanced meals, her house is never messy, she never gets mad, she never forgets to sign a school form and she never needs help, she can do it all.
Can you see how bad it is for us poor mortals to have such goals? I mean, feeding your kids pasta one night because you’re tired, not having vacuumed the living room last Thursday or/and enjoying a night out with your girlfriends doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. It actually seems quite nice.
Maybe one day men will create a robotic mother who can do it all, save the love and the warmth, the good memories and the care. That day, all the practical parts of motherhood will be covered without a flaw. Great. But what about the things we really offer as mothers?
We are much more than a clean house and well-dressed children. We are much more than steamed vegetables on the table and a thousand volts smile. We are pure love.
And our idea we have of the Perfect Mother often shades that point. When we think of her, we think of all the things we imagine we don’t do well enough, and we forget to see all the love we give.
In the end, children grow thanks to love and they will remember shared moments way more than clean clothes.
Why Ideal Mother Doesn’t Work In Real Life: Reason 4
She wouldn’t raise healthy adults
Think of that Perfect Mother, always here for her children, ready to sacrifice everything for them, to answer their slightest needs, devoted unconditionally.
Now think of what it takes to grow up. After the first few months of life, you realize that your mother can leave you (even if she just gets out of the room). By experimenting that, even though it comes with fear and pain, you learn that you are a person in your own right. Kind of useful isn’t it?
This is the first step towards autonomy. Little by little, when given the chance, you will find out that you can take action, that you can have an impact on your life, and since you will love that, you will keep developing your autonomy.
A Perfect Mother would never allow that. She does everything for you. She makes sure you will never be able to do anything by yourself.
Throughout your childhood, you will live many emotions, those emotions will build you. As a child, you need to experiment with anger, frustration, happiness, sadness, envy,… That helps you understand yourself and the world. By learning how to deal with your emotions, you will have better and healthier relations with your peers.
A Perfect Mother would never allow that. She will keep you from any kind of frustration or anger, and the day you meet with kids, and they don’t want to share their toys, you will throw a tantrum. Your Perfect Mother will accuse the other kids. She will protect you and by doing this, she’s keeping you to herself, because the other kids won’t play with you anymore for sure.
I could go all the way to adulthood but I guess you get the idea. A Perfect Mother raises dependent, antisocial people.
Let’s not do that.
Why Ideal Mother Doesn’t Work In Real Life: Reason 5
She is not us
To me, this is the main reason why the Perfect Mother is what she is, an idea. We are who we are, and our flaws, our doubts, our limits, our ups and downs, this is us.
Nobody can play a role for long. If you have doubts. Go read my blog post about being polite to your children vs to your guests. You can make it up to your guests because they are here only for a short period, but your children? They are here all the time. They see you wake up, not yet awake, they hear you swear when you hit your toe, they feel your pain when you are sad.
There is no lying to them. And since you cannot lie, you cannot be someone you’re not. I don’t see it as a problem though.
What better way can we teach our children the will to surpass themselves, the desire to be good to others, the wish to develop qualities like generosity or humility, than by doing all those things ourselves. Because that is what we do. We are not perfect, but we do the best we can.
This is much better than a fake Perfect Mother.
What to do of that Perfect Mother then?
As I said, every one of us has her own picture of a Perfect Mother. In the article, I used the common ideas generated by poets and advertisers, since the main traits of characters are often quite similar.
It is important, if you want to distance yourself from this ideal you will (and should) never reach to work on it. Why is that? An ideal is a good thing usually, isn’t it? Yes, when it is yours, truly, and not something made up who found a way to your unconscious.
Let’s do an exercise to move forward in our life.
Take a nice piece of paper, a pen, and describe in as many details as possible how is the Perfect Mother, according to you. Take your time, do it on a real piece of paper. Some things need more reality than a list on a smartphone.
When you’re done, read your description and ask yourself:
Are those features the things you want for your child?
Or are those features the things you would love or would have loved for yourself?
Often, the ideal mother we create reflects what we crave, or what we didn’t get.
My ideal mother is caring, never angry, no a word higher than the other. She takes time for her children and she’s interested in them. When I was a child, my mother used to work a lot, as an educator, and I had to share her with many children. She was quite authoritarian (which makes sense with her job) and didn’t care much for a shared moment with me. I don’t remember playing with my mom, or cooking with her. I know she loved me, but as a child, I sometimes failed to see it in her behavior.
Our inner child is very present when imagining a Perfect Mother. All the things we missed as a child, or we hoped for, all the traumas and misunderstandings come out.
When you decide to free yourself from this Perfect Mother presence, a first step is to acknowledge her. You did that by writing down her description.
With the realization that you are the child of that Perfect Mother, comes the realization that this child is hurt. Even a great mom (like mine even though it might not look like it) has her flaws. She is human. It is important to remember that everyone does its best at a given time.
The Little Box Exercice
You wrote a description of the Perfect Mother and you could reflect on what she actually means to you, and to your inner child. There is no point in holding grudges here. The past is in the past. We cannot rewrite it. But we can free ourselves from it.
I invite you to find a nice little box. You can either rummage around your house, build one or buy one, it’s up to you, as long as you like it and it looks precious to you.
This little box will be for your Perfect Mother. Because she lived with you for a long time and she deserves a nice place to rest.
You can put whatever you like in your nice little box: your description, photos, a collage, a letter addressed to her, small objects, a letter addressed to you when you were a child,…
This is your box to fill as you like. We call this a ritual. In our society, we’ve lost the habit of rituals, which is sad because they are powerful and important in one’s life.
You became a mother, and in order to be the mother you want to be, you need to leave behind this Perfect Mother.
Go through with it. It might take a while to find the right box or to make one, it doesn’t matter. As long as you do it with care and mindfulness. Find a spot of your choice for your box, and feel free to come back to it.
With mine, I did put love for the child I was and forgiveness for my mother. Not for her sake but for mine.
The Mother You Want To Be
How do you feel now? It’s quite a lot of emotions, isn’t it? You can always save this post and come back to it later if you need.
There is one last step I would like to take with you. You have had a reflection on the Perfect Mother, and this part is done. You did a great job, remember that every step you take for yourself is a step you offer to your children.
“A woman has the greatest opportunity to provide the best outcome for a baby and its potentialities. Not only by having a conscious and definite will to form the child accordingly to the highest ideal she can conceive, but first and foremost having the aspiration to work on herself.”
— Sri Aurobindo
Now, let’s see what mother YOU want to be. You will write again, on a piece of pape. Here is what you will write:
You are 60 years old (and still amazingly beautiful). There is a big celebration for your birthday. Your children wrote a letter about you to read out loud, about the mother you were when they grew up and the mother you keep being.
What do they say…?
I am not a perfect mother. My kids will have plenty to say when they’ll be adults. Maybe they will be angry at something I did, or didn’t, said or didn’t say. It is all right. The important for me is to know that I’m doing my best, that I never stop questioning myself (not second-guessing, questioning), learning, again and again, being the mother I wish to be with integrity and humility, and giving them my best efforts.
About that letter you just wrote…
This, is your ideal mother. Or I should say, the ideal you as a mother. Having ideals is a great way to approach your role as a mother. If it is YOUR ideal.
An ideal, a purpose, is higher in our mind than our values, our beliefs, our capabilities or our behaviors. They will have influence on all those things.
This letter you wrote, this mother you aspire to be, take her as a guideline, and you will see yourself with new eyes.
Your children will too.