In my head, this post title was followed by no words at all. In reality, it actually just looked like the post hadn’t uploaded, so here we are.
So, why the blank space/no words? Because, quite simply, the pursuit of perfectionism, as a mother, is an unachievable goal. In chasing it, you are setting yourself up for endless feelings of failure and that, in itself, is a recipe for anxiety and sadness.
Me? Guilty. As. Charged. It was inevitable, I suppose. As a Wedding Planner, being a perfectionist was a prerequisite skill, and one which paid off. It was achievable, too, as long as I understood the brief of my clients, the limitations of suppliers and had a plan in place for any weather eventuality. Yes, there were times when the unexpected happened, but quick thinking and teamwork would usually curtail any potential disaster.
Fast forward a few years and a career change to Secondary Education. As an English teacher, whilst my high expectations were laudable and often encouraged students to reach their full potential, the pursuit of perfectionism was now the impossible dream. I lost count of the number of times my boss told me that there was ‘no place in teaching for perfectionism; you’ll run yourself ragged’ and she was absolutely right
I digress. Did I listen to my boss? Nope. I continued with this relentless cycle of high expectation and disappointment until I eventually became so disillusioned with the whole system that I handed my notice in. A week later, I discovered I was five weeks pregnant.
Fast forward 35 weeks and 3 days and I found myself with the tiny stranger I’ve mentioned previously. And the pursuit of maternal perfectionism began in earnest…
I wasn’t good enough. She’d be better off with a different mum. My milk wasn’t good enough. Her weight gain was slow. Her reflux was my fault. I wasn’t doing any cooking or cleaning (therefore failing as a wife as well as a mother(!)). If she cried in the car, I was to blame. Sleeping for long periods was surely bad for her, no? Shouldn’t she be waking up more? Wanting milk all the time? Where was her survival instinct? Was there something wrong with her?
I catastrophised constantly, laying in bed at night, visualising her head being crushed by a car wheel or a huge, booted foot. I became anxious and believed she wouldn’t survive beyond her first year.
And why? Because, in my mind, I not only wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t perfect.
Nowadays, I look back and wonder what the bloody hell I was thinking. I realise how exhausting and fruitless this pursuit of perfectionism is. This much I know:
I was all she needed. I am her mother and, along with her Dad, have everything she could possibly need. My milk was enough for her. Her weight gain was still within the ‘normal’ bounds for a breastfed baby. Her reflux was pretty normal and is now a distant memory. My husband had the cooking and cleaning covered. Crying in the car was usually the result of a poonami, over which I had no control.
And the sleep situation? What a tit I was. Lucky (and it is purely luck, and maybe a bit of genetics) enough to have a baby who seemed to enjoy sleep (more on that another day), I should have been kipping too (or writing posts for this blog) rather than wasting time and energy becoming stressed. You live and learn.
I adapt to her needs, which change on a monthly, weekly, sometimes daily basis. I understand when she’s having developmental leaps or growth spurts, when she’s teething and when she’s under the weather. I understand when she wants to play alone; wants to explore alone; wants Daddy and not me; wants to be glued to my arms.
She is healthy, happy and content. Confident and spirited.
I, now, can confidently say that I’m a good mother. I’m her mother, and in her little eyes, I AM perfect. And that’s the only vision of perfect that actually matters.
Jo, The Mother Side xx
PS: If you’re feeling the baby blues, this is beautifully written and worth a read: https://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2014/7/25/when-love-feels-heavy
PPS: If you’re a few months in and finding things tough, speak to your Health Visitor or contact Healthy Minds. Most importantly, talk.
PPPS: If you feel like a friend may be having a hard time adjusting to motherhood (or fatherhood – Dads can get PND too!), talk to them. Ask them how they’re feeling. Listen. You need not offer advice, just a non-judgemental ear.
PPPPS: Kind thanks to the wonderful (and always spot on) Anna Lewis, AKA: Sketchy Muma, for permission to use her fab drawing. Visit her shop here.