Here’s something I’ve learned since becoming a mum:
Perfectionism and motherhood are a recipe for disaster.
Kind people have told me that no one’s perfect, that things don’t need to be perfect and that I’m too hard on myself.
To be honest, despite hearing these things, I still would really prefer things to be perfect!
You see, perfectionism is a life-long habit, started in childhood. It’s challenging to break something so deeply ingrained.
Perfectionists relentlessly pursue extremely high and demanding standards, that are often unreasonable to others. They feel, perhaps subconsciously, that their worth or value is based on their ability to meet these standards, even at a great cost to themselves and their wellbeing.
Motherhood provides so many additional high standards. The way you feed, dress, entertain, educate and celebrate your children all come under great scrutiny. And, of course, so do you; your diet, appearance, fitness, housekeeping skills, ability to balance your paid work and even how much you’re enjoying being a mum.
Why perfectionism isn’t helping you
The interesting thing about having such high standards, is that a perfectionist sees them as totally justifiable, necessary and helpful.
It really feels like a compliment when people call me a perfectionist!
We’re so good at justifying it.
“I just want to do things to the best of my ability.”
“I love my children so much. Why wouldn’t I do everything I can to give them the best life possible?”
“I enjoy doing these things. It’s no trouble at all.”
“I’ll feel less stressed and save time in the long run, if I just do things properly in the first place.”
Does that sound right?
I know, because I’ve said all these things myself.
That’s all fine while things are going well and you’re managing to reach your standards.
But, motherhood isn’t so straightforward.
Motherhood brings huge changes in yourself and your life. You have to redefine your priorities and who you are. It’s unpredictable, challenging and constantly changing!
Let’s face it, children aren’t conductive to perfectionism. They lack emotional control, are designed to test boundaries and are developing so rapidly. They certainly don’t appreciate the routines and rituals of adult life and the severe sleep deprivation they cause means you can’t function properly.
Every child is different and you just have to learn on the go. It’s simply impossible to avoid making mistakes!
The stakes are high, mumma. I know. Raising little humans is a vulnerable, humbling and amazing position to be in.
It’s the perfect thing to get perfect.
But trying to be perfect in motherhood is untenable.
What happens when you make a mistake, or can’t reach your standards?
You might start with blame and criticism:
“I should have done _____ instead”
“I should have known”
“What’s wrong with me?
“I’m so silly”
“It’s all my fault”
“The party is ruined”
“This will affect my children forever”
“Everyone’s disappointed in me”
“My kids won’t love me”
“I’m a terrible mother”
You might feel guilty and start apologizing unnecessarily, replaying the issue in your mind, listening to your inner critic berate you.
If you’re a perfectionist, you may:
- Experience regular overwhelm, tension, stress and anxiety
- Constantly feel bad about yourself and like your best efforts are not good enough
- Have difficulty coping with mistakes, failures or set-backs
- Lack confidence in your parenting
- Find being a mum less enjoyable
- Take longer to do things and quickly become overloaded
- Procrastinate and ruminate excessively
- Have difficulty asking for and accepting help.
The pursuit of perfection can also get in the way of connection and love, negatively impacting your relationships with your partner and children. Lastly, expecting children to be perfect can be detrimental to their self-esteem, prompting a fear of failure and even anger.
Motherhood helped me realised that my perfectionism wasn’t the positive, motivating force I thought it was. It was based on fear of failing and of not being good enough. I’d attached my self-worth to how well I did things.
Brene Brown says that “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgement and blame”.
It doesn’t have to be this way, mumma. Perfectionism is a challenging habit to break but it’s definitely possible.
You can break free from perfectionism and experience more calm, confidence, connection and enjoyment as a mum.
How to break free from perfectionism
- Examine your standards
Where did your high standards come from? Maybe they’re self-imposed, from family or past experiences.
Are they necessary and realistic? What are the negative consequences for you of having this standard? How could you make them more helpful and balanced?
- Give yourself grace and compassion
You don’t need to be perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You can be amazing as a good enough mum, with imperfections, bad days and lessons learned.
Focus on what’s most important to your kids and what you want them to remember most about you as their mum.
When something goes wrong, imagine that you were talking to a friend, rather than yourself. Would you be criticising your friend? Or would you be supportive and encouraging. My guess is that you’d be far more compassionate and supportive to her than you would yourself. Speak to yourself as you would speak to your friend.
- Honour what you’re doing well
Create a new habit of noticing and celebrating what you’ve done well, even when things aren’t perfect.
If you find it hard to identify what you’ve done well, ask someone else or think about it from someone else’s perspective. For example, you may think your daughter’s party wasn’t perfect because the cake was overcooked and the balloons were the wrong colour but I bet your daughter wasn’t bothered at all.
- Role model self-acceptance for your children
Do you expect your children to be perfect all the time, at the expense of their health and happiness?
Show them how to accept themselves, see their self-worth as separate to what they do and learn from mistakes with resilience.
- Don’t compare yourself
You don’t need to be like anyone else. Just be you. Stop looking at social media if that’s your source of comparisons. No one’s life is perfect and all you’re seeing is the highlights. When you catch yourself in comparison mode, stop and drop that thought immediately.
- Let people be who they are – you can’t control everything.
Other people’s choices and actions don’t make you a bad person or mother. You can influence others but not control them. Even your children. Stop fighting the losing battle of trying to get everyone else to live up to your version of perfection.
Your self-worth is not dependant on you reaching those incredibly high standards. There’s no perfect mother prize, but there is a prize for being a balanced mum – health, happiness, and deeper connections between you and your family.
What’s one thing you can do differently, starting right now, to help you break free from perfectionism?
Louise East is a wife, mum of a toddler and step mum of 3 young adults. She is the founder of More to Mum, a place where you can find heartfelt inspiration, advice and support with mindset, self-care and the practical things in life.
Louise enjoyed many years in the corporate world coaching, mentoring, leading and teaching adults. In this chapter of her life she is committed to helping mums of small children feel confident, look after themselves and believe that they are enough.