Letting go of perfection in motherhood

As a sleep consultant, I often hear questions from mothers about my approach to sleep work.  Those questions come from a desire to see if we are a good match. It is like they are labeling me into one of those sleep coaches that work gently or use cry-it-out methods. This is normal. But when it comes to motherhood, does labeling someone really work?

The label of a perfect mother is too hard on the mother as well as on the children because perfection leaves no space for improvement and implies that if we cannot be perfect, we are failures. We know our children are watching us and learning from our behavior and, as they develop and grow, we are also growing and developing as mothers.

Another problem with the label of the perfect mother is that it causes a lot of distress. We often focus on our imperfections, instead of praising ourselves for all the good we do, and we worry too much about tomorrow, forgetting to stay in the moment we are, which is the only one we can control. Can you imagine how you stress yourself if you are always thinking:

 “Yes, she had a good nap today but how about if she does not do the same thing tomorrow?”

Also, trying to be a perfect mother can take a tool in the family relationship as you are much more willing to accept other’s mistakes if you accept your own mistakes.

Our society label us. We are either moms who co-sleep or moms who put babies to sleep in their own rooms, we are either breast, or bottle-feeding moms, we are mothers who sleep train or not. Even though social media is a great resource for parents, it can also be hard not to blame ourselves for our actions when we see all those “perfect moms” out there. One of the greatest gifts of motherhood is the friendship we form with other mothers and this case; social media can help. But it is a lot easier to be a good friend when you are not competing to be perfect. When you are not pretending to be the best with people who are not pretending either.

The perfect mother label will not work, and we should strive to be good and imperfect mothers.  See below some five great ideas to start working on replacing guilt with self-compassion:

  1. Work on the guilt thoughts you have. When you think you should not have yelled at your children, remember you use a nice and soft voice a trillion of times. Most of the times. Practice positive affirmations to yourself to remember those times.
  2. Practice forgiveness. How? First recognize your mistake. Set your mind to not to repeat tomorrow. Do not even say “I will never do this again”, only say, “Tomorrow I will not do this again.” And move on.
  3. Stop the guilt when you do something for yourself. Create a life for yourself. Learn something you like to do, and do not feel bad for doing it. You are a better mother if you are rested and feeling nurtured.
  4. Try not to spend time with the children hungry. When you come home from work and go straight to put your toddler to bed, you might not notice you want that bedtime ritual to end quickly because you are so hungry. If you do not have time for dinner before your child’s bedtime, grab a quick snack. You need to be there for your child. But take care of yourself first.
  5. Do not take the child’s misbehaving personally. Remember sometimes it has more to do with their developing phase. Another times misbehaving can be a message. Try to watch and listen. Breath, and work on how you feel about it. When you feel ready to respond start by saying you know how they feel.

It does not matter how different we are, we all want healthy, secure, successful, and morally sound children. For that to happen we need to be imperfect but good enough mothers. Do you cry when you see your child sleeping? Who has not? You see that angel sleeping who misbehaved the whole day and you think what you did wrong. Guess what? We all do. But we reinvent the mother-child relationship every day hoping that when they become adults and have their own families they continue to see us as learning mothers and maybe learning grand-mothers with hearts always available and a soul that is always willing to be a safe harbor for them.