The Perfect Mother
Written by PHA Board member Dr. Amanda Freeman. Amanda is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in private practice. She is passionate about making the experience of motherhood a joyful and fulfilling time.
Striving for the impossible ideal of being the “perfect mother” is a trap many can fall into. The “perfect mother” is plastered all over modern media – she’s perfectly coiffed, her house is in order, and her children are well-behaved. “Wouldn’t that be lovely?” we think to ourselves, just before we trip over the Lego left out from last week’s epic tower building / smashing fun, which our perfectly imperfect children have neglected to pick up, despite the last five reminders.
The “perfect mother” doesn’t exist. She is a myth. Sadly, though, the idealized standards she promotes has the insidious power to seep into the psyche of mothers, making them feel self-doubt, insecurity, guilt, and a sense of failure. These inevitable failures at meeting perfection may contribute to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
There is an unspoken societal expectation that all women will become mothers. It’s not easy to escape this expectation. Yet, for some, it is a path they choose not to follow. For others, it may not be possible.
Whatever the women’s journey, the desire to have children is not necessarily innate. This makes her no less female, and no less maternal, than those who do have children.
The Mother-Child Bond
When pregnant, mothers might eagerly and joyfully anticipate the arrival of their baby. Gazing into their newborn’s sweet, innocent eyes can spark immense love. It’s assumed that every woman will immediately feel this love for their babies. But, it’s far more complicated than this. The bond may develop more slowly. It is a relationship that needs to be fostered. Both mother and child need to adjust to one another. Further compounding this fledgling relationship is the degree of emotional and financial support the new mother has. Consider how challenging it may be to bond when scared and worried.
Bringing a new baby into her life is a huge adjustment and can leave the new mom feeling doubtful about her abilities to care for a completely dependent being.
In reality, bonding is a lifelong process that changes, grows, and matures as the relationship between mom and baby changes, grows, and matures.
The Good Enough Mother
In truth, the “perfect mother” is far from perfect. She sets a standard so high and so ideal that any who aim to be her are destined for disappointment. Rather, replacing this idea with that of the “good enough mother” (first coined by D.W. Winnicott) takes care of herself. She takes care of her baby. She does the best that she can do with the resources she has available. She is able to be honest about her experience. She asks for help and receives this much-needed support, recognizing that her job of raising humans cannot rest upon her “good enough” shoulders alone.