The rise of imperfect motherhood
efore I became a mother, I had lots of ideas about how I’d do things. As anyone who has kids knows, these ideas tend to change quite dramatically, once you actually have a child! And as much as you can prepare practically for having a baby, you can never fully prepare for the reality.
How each of us parent varies massively, but the one thing that unites most people is their wish to get it right for their children. But what does getting it right actually mean?
For years getting it right, was based on a ‘disneyeque’ ideal of motherhood, painting a picture of a perfect mother and the importance of meeting every one of your child’s needs. Setting unrealistically high standards of how you ‘should’ be as a mother and what you ‘should’ want for your children.
In truth, that’s not what ‘getting it right’ means. Of course I want to protect my children from life’s difficulties, I always do my best for them and they take highest priority in my mind. BUT I don’t try to be a perfect mother and I don’t think I’d be doing them any favours if I did.
Which is why I’m pleased to see that there is finally a backlash against years of perfect Instagram mummies, who have curated perfect-looking lives and seem never to put a foot out of place.
To me (in the words of Winnicot) it’s about being a ‘good enough’ parent and recognising that it’s ok not to get it right all of the time. In fact, not only is it ok not to be perfect, it will actually give your child benefits in their journey through life.
I’ve listed five reasons below why not being a perfect parent will equip your child with skills for life and help them gain independence, confidence and self-esteem.
Life isn’t perfect
I remember when my son was little, the first time he had a HUGE meltdown. The reason for his upset? A cereal bar that when opened wasn’t in one piece. I’d always try and ensure they weren’t broken, carefully carrying around his snacks, until I realised that I wasn’t doing him (or me) any favours. Everything in life is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be wonderful. Sometimes things break or don’t work, sometimes things aren’t as you expected or hoped. Imagine what a shock it would be when you went into the real world and discovered biscuits break? Managing disappointment is, sadly, a necessary life skill.
When any of my children cry, my body and mind respond and my first instinct is to make them feel better. But in some cases making them feel better now, will not help them in the long run. Whether it’s getting upset not being able to do a puzzle or finding it hard to stick at something new they want to learn. Jumping in too soon prevents your child from learning that they can tolerate frustration, get through those hard bits and come out the other side. Perseverance teaches you that you can do it (even though you felt like you couldn’t) and learn how good that feels. It boosts confidence and self-esteem and is a good reminder for the next time you face difficulties.
Sometimes I can just see that saying no and asking my children to wait for something is going to end in upset. It can be so tempting to give them what they want and avoid a tantrum. ‘I want’ could be never ending. But as much as I might want to give in for an easy ride, there’s a lot of truth in the saying ‘good things come to those who wait’. Patience is another skill that makes real life a lot easier to deal with. I pick my battles (keeping them to as much of a minimum as possible) and side step where possible, but I don’t think it does my kids any harm to have to wait.
As much as we might wish to, no-one feels good all of the time. All of our emotions serve a purpose and they’re an important way to communicate. It’s ok to feel sad, angry, nervous or scared, that’s part of how we process things. It’s only by experiencing these emotions that you can learn that feelings pass, that they don’t last forever or break you apart. When your child cries, instead of trying to make it stop and make it immediately better, try sympathy and understanding. You’ll probably find, they feel a lot better just from being heard.
While I do my best to be patient, kind and understanding when I’m with my children, I definitely don’t manage it all of the time (especially when we’re getting ready for the school run!). I would love to never get grumpy or cross, but I reassure myself that I wouldn’t be doing my children any favours. If I was always able to meet their needs, calm and never annoyed, I’d be modelling a relationship that future partners or potential friends could never live up to!
I’m a long way from having it all worked out (and admittedly I do try to give food in one piece or cut in the correct way), but as my son says: “Nothing in life is perfect, mummy”.
Originally written for the London Mothers Club