For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of being a mommy. My favorite photograph is of a pig-tailed 7-year-old “me”, pushing around my toy carriage. I had 8 or 9 dolls in tow, and my little pink night gown was stuffed with pillows, indicating more little dollies on the way. “Oh, yes,” I exclaimed confidently, “one day I am going to have 100 children!” Although this magic number (thankfully!) decreased as I got older, my love for children and my desire to be a mother never waned. I often referred to myself as the “second mother” to my sister 7 years my junior, and was a beloved and much sought after baby sitter through middle and high school, and even college. I even earned the nickname “baby whisperer” as I could seemingly soothe any baby to sleep. My studies in child behavior and development in college and graduate school, as well as my work thereafter, only solidified my dreams of having children of my own. There was no doubt in my mind that between my love of children and knowledge of child development, I could (and would!) be the “perfect” mom.
And then baby number one came along…! After enduring a difficult pregnancy (that was very different than the one I had imagined), my son entered the world 4 weeks early. He truly was not ready for life outside the womb. He spent several days in the NICU, had a lot of difficulty latching on to breastfeed, gained weight slowly, and had no rhythm/schedule to his eating and pooping. Unless I held him day and night, this baby cried and never slept. After a couple months, not only did I realize that I was no baby whisperer, but I was exhausted and had no energy to do all the things a “perfect mom” would do, i.e. go to mommy-and-me-classes, make homemade baby food, do the recommended amount of” tummy time”, lose all my baby weight, and have dinner on the table for my husband each night. Most days I was lucky if I even took a shower.
In an era where some of the best-selling parenting books are entitled “Happiest Baby on the Block,” “Super Baby Food” and “Teach your Child to Read in 100 easy Lessons,” it is not surprising that many parents, like me, feel an inordinate amount of pressure to be “perfect.” We expect that we should be able to “fix” all our children’s physical and emotional wounds, worry that we are harming them if we are not feeding them only homemade, organic baby food, and unfairly judge our parenting abilties if they are not reading by age 4 or 5.
Once upon a time (and still existing in some earthly places), parenthood was/is not filled with these enormous expectations. Parents were allowed to be three-dimensional beings. They were “expected” to love and nurture their children, but were not boundless. In the 1950’s, some of the most highly-regarded readings were those of British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who developed a theory called the “Good Enough Mother.” (Of course, this can and should be applied to father’s as well!) This excerpt is a good representation of his writings:
“A mother is neither good nor bad nor the product of illusion, but is a separate and independent entity: The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure. Her failure to adapt to every need of the child helps them adapt to external realities.”
For many years, I struggled with (and still do at times) letting go of the glossy ideals I held in my head of me and my children, but now I make a continual and constant effort to just be “good enough.” I have two children, each with their unique temperaments, strengths and challenges. They each need different things from me, and the image of the “perfect” mom for my older child looks very different than that of my younger child. I have learned that in order for me and my children to grow and be happy, I have to cut us all some slack and learn to accept (and even expect) some “failures.” I have accepted that I am imperfect and my children are imperfect. I have even embraced the idea that this is a good thing, as it will help my children learn to adapt better to an imperfect world. I have truly come to believe that- even on the days that that my kids have to stay late at extended day, have a little too much screen time, and do not eat their fruits and vegetables (even the non-organic ones)- at the end of the day when they smile at me and tell me that they love me “infinity plus one” they really mean it. And I mean it back, even on the days that they have nearly run me into the ground.
So, the moral of this story is: go easier on yourself and take solace in the notion that being “good enough” may, in fact, be better than being perfect. Here are a few tips that might help you along this journey:
- Lower your expectations of yourself and your children. Try to be satisfied with you (and your children) doing “the best you/they can.”
- Increase flexibility in your thinking. Life doesn’t usually go exactly as planned; try to roll more smoothly with the punches.
- Stop comparing yourself to other parents. You are not parenting your friends’ kids, and they are not parenting yours.
- Keep your own interests and dreams alive; don’t forget to nurture yourself.
- Accept that it is “normal” to have ambivalence about parenthood. You can be loving and selfless at times, but it is okay to sometimes be selfish and resentful of all the demands of parenthood.
- Learn to ask for help when you need it; this is an enormous STRENGTH, not a weakness.
–Posted by Kathy Voglmayr