As every mom knows, the pressures of motherhood are endless. You’re surrounded by opinions on how to do everything right. Internet forums, bestselling books and seemingly everyone you talk to all have strong (yet conflicting) voices about what’s best. The result: Everything you do seems wrong.
Plus, every decision you make — and every mistake — will apparently have a lifelong impact on your children. You didn’t introduce solids at the right time or in the right way? Your kids will forever be picky eaters. Didn’t provide the right balance of nutrition? You’re setting them up for obesity. Didn’t breastfeed them long enough? They’ll be lucky to survive to adulthood.
Even that first big decision you make shortly after your baby’s arrival — their name — will endure far beyond their lifetime. If you’re like me, perhaps the weight of this decision kept you waffling for way too long. I couldn’t help but envision my descendants 200 years from now looking up that name on Ancestry.com and passing judgment.
Let’s face it: Before your baby’s even a year old, you’ve probably already made a dozen missteps that will stifle their natural talents, triple their risk of health problems and land them in therapy for decades.
News-flash: There is no “perfect” mother
Nobody can live up to the ideal of a perfect mother because — guess what? — there isn’t such a thing. Like the perfect body, the perfect mother is something that exists solely in the imagination of our culture and media. It’s what companies play on to get us to buy their products. And it’s the byproduct of an era when every question we bring to Google makes us doubt whether we’re doing the right thing.
Trying to live up to this phantom ideal will only flood your life with stress and anxiety. So how do you get out from under these pressures and get around to the messy business of mothering?
For me, a lifelong perfectionist, I learned to embrace a new mantra: “Good enough.”
With my first child, it didn’t take long after my water broke to realize that motherhood wasn’t going to unfold in accordance with my expectations. I got an epidural, which I had been deadset against. I struggled with breastfeeding. I made the guilt-wracked decision to supplement with formula and eventually quit breastfeeding entirely. None of these outcomes squared with my well-researched prenatal plans.
I stopped trying to excel and instead focused on getting through each day. As long as the baby was fed, clothed, cleaned and safe, I considered that day a success.
I inevitably made mistakes — including some off-the-chart blunders like forgetting to buckle my son into his carseat (a discovery I made, with horror, only after we safely arrived at our destination). But I didn’t let my shortcomings derail my confidence.
And you know what? By accepting imperfection, I was freed up to truly savor those magical days as a new mom.
Letting go by focusing on what matters
If you, too, have been plagued with the stifling anxiety that often goes along with perfectionism, consider embracing the philosophy of “good enough.” You don’t need to be a supermom. Your child doesn’t need to be the next Mozart or Einstein. You can admit it when you feel like a juggler with one too many balls up in the air — and sometimes even let them fall.
Here’s where all those well-meaning cliches come into play — adages like “go with the flow,” “take it one day at a time,” “go easy on yourself” and “don’t worry about what others think.” Yet they’re all true.
One of my favorite bands, Cloud Cult, has a lyric that’s especially true of mothers (and, if you’ll permit me the stereotype, of Minnesota mothers): “[S]omeone tell the devil we don’t need no hell / We’re all pretty good at beating up ourselves.” Maybe it’s because we spend so much time and energy nurturing new life. We hold ourselves to such high standards that we forget we’re still human.
Why waste these precious days worrying about what you’ve done (or could do) wrong? Why spend time and energy “getting it right” instead of just spending time with your kids? Why give one whit about the judgment of others when you’ll find all the affirmation you need in your child’s loving gaze?
Sure, people can question the choices I make: whether I let my son cry for too long (or not long enough), whether I’m firm enough with him, whether I let him watch too many Baby Einstein videos so I can get a few chores done in peace. Ultimately, though, there’s one thing they can’t question – my love. The unconditional, unlimited, undying love of a mother for her child.
In the end, that’s all that matters.