Why the idea of the ‘Perfect Mother’ is failing mums

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Kinderling Conversation every weekday at 12pm.

I have a constant critic in my head, and it’s not always helpful. It’s an unrealistic voice that believes in the ‘perfect parent’ and disguises itself as simply a loving one.

I care deeply about how I’m raising my children. I listen to various experts, I take on board their advice on how to raise healthy, balanced children. I care when they don’t eat their vegetables, have tantrums and watch too much TV. I care because I want to do a good job, and I figure it’s my responsibility to bring them up to be decent human beings.

However. Somewhere along the line that love and concern has turned into an ideal I can’t possibly live up to, and if I really think about it, I don’t even want to.

Everyone will have different ideals of the perfect mother, but these are the main ones that bug me:

#1. The ‘Perfect Mother’ will not screw up her kids

One of the things that I’m most concerned about is my kids’ mental health. There are very real threats and stumbling blocks out there in the world (from those in our own family or friendship group, to online predators or bullies, to depression and anxiety) and it’s my job to make sure they’re equipped to deal with those upheavals.

There are so many ‘teachable’ moments in a day where I am literally at a loss on how to “teach” them anything at all. We’re talking about fights between siblings, tears over a lost balloon, worries about going to school… stuff that happens nearly every five minutes. I know it’s not rocket science, but sometimes I just can’t find the words, regardless of how many books I’ve read or experts I’ve spoken to.

So there are literally thousands of moments every day where I feel like I’m failing my children in what I feel is my most important task as their mother.

#2. The ‘Perfect Mother’ only makes healthy meals

I’ve never been a passionate cook, and for a long time I’ve seen that as a very sad human failing. Everywhere you look there’s either a voluptuous woman dipping her finger into a home cooked hummus, or a super healthy mum extolling the virtues of making chia seed bread from scratch in their Thermomix. Of course you can give your kids super healthy, sugar free snacks made from scratch - you just have to try.

My problem with all of this is number one, I don’t have the time (or the money - those Thermomixes aren’t cheap!) and number two, I don’t have the time. Not unless I want to stay up until 2am making snacks for the next day that my kids won’t eat.

I have been brought up to eat well, and I respect and admire people who have this passion for food. It’s just not me. But when you see people making pumpkin scones for their kid’s lunch, it’s hard not to feel you’ve failed parenting when you’ve sent them off with a cheese sandwich and a mandarin.

#3. The ‘Perfect Mother’ puts her children first, always (and doesn’t use the TV as a ‘baby sitter’)

Instinctively, I think we all learn very early on to put our children first. We love them so intensely that it’s not even a second thought. For me, it became second nature, something that a Mum just does.

That includes going to the park to play when I’d rather be at home reading a book (even if they’re playing happily at home- kids need to be outside). Or thinking that taking time out to do anything from cleaning the bathroom, to yoga, to meeting a friend, is short changing them.

It also includes feeling bad for having the TV on in the morning so I can have a shower and get dressed in time to get out the door. Screen time is bad. We all know that, right?

You see how one thing that’s a normal, healthy thing to do with a child (going to the park) becomes an unhealthy expectation?  I’m fairly sure this wasn’t a problem my own parents had. One colleague recalls the time when her parents went to the pub and left her and her brother in the car with a packet of chips. Not that I’m advocating we all do that… but there has to be some middle ground.

#4. The ‘Perfect Mother’ stays at home to be with her children

I work five days in a job that I love. Having said that, I work six hours a day, so I feel that I’ve got some kind of balance with my family life. However working five days doesn’t allow me to volunteer at my daughter’s school, or spend much time getting to know the other parents at school, or to have much quality ‘alone’ time with either child.

I see other mums who don’t work and I think, I’m missing out on their childhood.

#5. The ‘Perfect Mother’ is a role model for their kids

I’ve also heard of mums who stay at home and worry that by doing so, they aren’t setting a good example for their kids (especially their girls).

You can’t win.

Forget perfection, the ‘good enough’ parent is all our kids need

I’m not sure where the ideal of the ‘perfect mother’ comes from, though I’m sure there’s plenty of research out there to tell us why this ideal exists. I thought I was immune from those expectations. Mainly because I don’t pay attention to advertisers, or spend much time on Instagram.

But if I stop for a moment, and listen to my inner critic, it’s saying something insidious. When I don’t know the answers, when I cook sausages and three veg (instead of a quality meat casserole with quinoa), when I take time out for a yoga class, when I miss out on picking up my daughter at the bell… That critic is saying… you’re not good enough.

And if you really think about it, that’s ridiculous… because to be the ‘perfect mother’ I would have to be a child psychologist, a chef with my own vegetable garden, never use the TV and always entertain my children plus work, and not work, at the same time.

Denielle Jans, a childcare manager for the Benevolent Society for over 30 years first introduced me to the idea of “the good enough parent”. It basically means that if we’re doing well 50% of the time, the kids will be alright.

Listen to Denielle on Kinderling Conversation:

I would say there are a couple of things I do well. I listen to my kids, I try to really hear what they’re saying as often as I can. I’m good at empathy, and I give good hugs. Oh, and I think I do okay at birthdays and Christmas time.

But the rest of it? I’m just doing my best, and I’m pretty sure that my best will be good enough for my kids.

And I’m also pretty sure that the ‘perfect mum’ does not exist, except inside my head.