Notes From A "Recovering Perfectionist": Why I Will Never Be The "Perfect Mother" And Neither Will You.


One of my Mama Mentors recently described herself as a “recovering perfectionist”. Having been a perfectionist in my past academic and professional life, I have tried to sidestep this trait in my mothering. Sometimes it creeps in though, and I think of ways that I could become the “perfect mother”, and truly give my child the absolute best of everything.

Ideas whirl in my head – how to improve myself to live up to (what I think are) my own expectations. So I decided to get to know her, the “perfect mother” of modern Western society. Who is she?

  • The perfect mother generally has herself together, externally and internally.

  • She is white, hetero, monogamous and married.

  • She conceived naturally and quickly, and had spontaneous, vaginal deliveries in-hospital to full term, healthy babies.

  • None her babies have any physical or intellectual health concerns or disabilities, and fit societal gender binaries.

  • She has no birth trauma, ongoing incontinence or pain, or mental health concerns following her beautiful births which went in accordance to her birth plan, and returned to her size 8 to 12 figure by three months post-birth.

  • Her intuition of what her baby needed was strong from the start, and added “mother” to her list of roles seamlessly.

  • She is confident that she mothers perfectly regardless of the views of people around her or society at large.

  • Breastfeeding came naturally to her, and she breastfed her child for just the right length of time (too short is a danger to her baby, yet too long is for her own benefit only and should definitely not be done publicly after the child can speak).

  • She and her family live in a house with a backyard and have a mortgage they are able to pay off without stress, and still have some discretionary spending money available after paying the bills.

  • She has two to three children, because you can’t have an only child (they need siblings), but if you have four or more that is irresponsible (they won’t get enough of your love and attention).

  • She spends quality time with each of her children daily.

  • She is not too young (foolish), or too old (selfish, career-driven). Ideally your two to three children should have been born while you were aged 27-34, but not too close together as two under two is insanity.

  • She ensures her children meet their milestones but does not compare her children or herself to others, as that would invoke bragging, worry or jealousy.

  • She finished high school and has post-school vocational or university qualifications.

  • She engages in paid work, but not too much, as her children’s needs come first.

  • She enjoys mothering more than paid work, and does not feel any pull to resume or advance her career, as that would involve taking more time away from her children.

  • She must be available for school pick up in her medium-to-large sized family car which is less than ten years old, because her husband’s career aspirations are more important than hers so he can not possibly do daily (or shared) school collection.

  • She has a secure attachment with her child, but that child is not too “clingy” as that would be stifling for her and make him dependent for eternity.

  • She gives children enough stimulation so as to optimise their psychological, physical and academic development, but not too much as this will lead to overstimulation and “acting out” behaviour.

  • She reads to her children each night, after feeding, bathing and dressing them.

  • She has children who sleep in their own room through the night, but not too far away from her as she needs to be responsive (but not overly responsive) to their needs.

  • She recognises that overnight is also her time for baby duty alone, as her husband sleeps in preparation for his important work the following day.

  • She keeps a clean home and is happy to entertain visitors (including her husband’s family, with whom she gets on famously) at no notice.

  • She organises family holidays that her husband and children will enjoy, and happily packs all items (except her husband’s clothes) required for the trip. She also happily unpacks and washes all required clothing when they return, and is ready for the next day as if they had never left.

  • She is a non-smoker and social drinker, as non-drinkers are weird and drinking more than a couple of wines twice a week (which must be enjoyed while in the company of another adult) shows she is not coping.

  • She enjoys cooking and feeds her children locally sourced, home-cooked, organic foods.

  • She wears “natural” looking makeup, as wearing no makeup demonstrates lack of self-respect, but too much makeup teaches her children to base their value on appearance.

  • She has a sensible and flattering haircut, which takes the perfect amount of time to brush each morning and only requires infrequent visits to the hairdresser.

  • Her clothes are flattering but do not flaunt her figure.

  • Her own mother is alive, well, retired and lives locally. They have a good relationship and grandma is her primary source of childcare.

  • She teaches children how to “share” and act in accordance to society’s rules. As such, her two year old happily sits playing in a high chair during a family birthday dinner at a restaurant, and never has meltdowns in the supermarket.

  • She exercises three to four times a week in an appropriate activity such as walking, yoga or going to the gym, but certainly doesn’t participate in anything dangerous like contact sport or risqué like pole dancing. This exercise is ideally performed at a time when no one needs to care for her children, for example before her husband and children wake at 6.30am.

  • She practices self-care regularly, also at a time that doesn’t require anyone else to care for her children, such as after they have all gone to sleep. Suitable activities include candle-lit baths, which are deemed feminine and relaxing, and do not upset the patriarchy, like engaging in women’s advocacy.

  • She stays connected with her friends and family, but does not spend time on screens or devices when present with her children.

  • She is environmentally conscious, enjoys the outdoors regardless of the weather and shares “green” practices with her children, even if they inconvenience or do not interest her (e.g. hanging washing instead of using a dryer, outdoor play, growing herbs to use in her aforementioned organic cooking).

  • She is not overly religious but does have a strong moral and ethical compass, which she shares with her children as they grow into kind, functioning members of society. She realises that if they do not adhere to her culture’s code of ethics or laws she is largely to blame for her failings during their upbringing.

  • She is independent, but not too independent as that would alienate her from her children and her husband who provides for her (she also thanks him for his contribution to her lifestyle, isn’t resentful when he leaves for work, listens to his venting about his hard day, doesn’t nag him to perform any household duties, and allows him to develop his own style of parenting without hovering).

  • If she does need to leave the house without her children and he is primary carer, she ensures her husband or caregiver has been lieft a list of instructions and all items needed easily accessible (bottles sterilized, nappies clean, breastmilk pumped and defrosted. The milk has of course been pumped at a time and location that does not inconvenience anyone else, including her children, husband, colleagues, boss or clients).

  • Is the fount of knowledge as to where all items are (e.g. car keys, bandaids) and ensures essential items never run out (e.g. breakfast cereal, clean socks, nappies).

  • Ensures all children have shoes, everyday clothes and uniforms that fit at all times.

  • She respects the opinion of “experts” and medical practitioners when it comes to their recommendations for how to care for her child. When her child does not respond to their "treatments" it is obvious that she is the one to blame for not carrying out their directions as specified.

  • She coordinates all business hours activities such as medical appointments, tradespeople for home repairs, extracurricular activities and school communications.

  • She volunteers on school or sport canteen duties and is available for presentation assemblies.

  • She chooses the perfect birthday gifts and throws themed parties for each of her children annually.

  • Naturally, she bakes the perfect cake for this event, however ensures that other than this "treat" her children eat a sugar-free diet and meticulously brush their teeth twice daily.

  • She is adept at making costumes for said parties, as well as Easter hats and Book Week outfits.

  • She is informed of current events and has opinions (but is not too opinionated, as that would demonstrate she does not spend enough time paying attention to or thinking about her children) and would rather discuss her children than her own interest areas or hobbies when interacting socially.

  • She maintains excellent sleep hygiene, and her metabolism and energy isn't impacted by the practice of intensively mothering her children.

  • She offers help to other mothers often, but doesn’t need it herself.
  • Thankfully, she never experiences burnout or depletion.

  • She sacrifices her needs for those of her children or husband, as these are mutually exclusive.

  • She has a strong relationship with her husband and meets his needs sexually thanks to her strong libido.

  • She is patient, acts mindfully, is never angry or stressed, and certainly would never yell, swear or smack her children.

Thank goodness I am not her – a two-dimensional, caricature of maternal martyrdom. Can you see how the perfect mother doesn’t exist, and that she changes according to where we are in the world and in history? She is a myth - 30 she looked different to this, and 75 years ago she looked different again. In another part of the world she looks different, right at this very second. The idea of the “perfect mother” makes us strive for the unattainable and unreasonable, diverts us from our unique strengths, distracts us from banding together as mothers, and even excludes the non-mothers from attaining womanly “perfection”.

Now you know the “perfect mother” is a social construction, you can free yourself from the “shoulds” and “if only I…” and the “mama guilt”. From one recovering perfectionist to another, please stop trying to be her. Under your roles and behaviours, you are perfect – right now, as you are, no disclaimers.


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