Here’s something I’ve learned since becoming a mum:
Perfectionism and motherhood are a recipe for disaster.
Kind people tell me that no one’s perfect and that I’m too hard on myself.
(Despite hearing these things, I’d still prefer things to be perfect!)
In fact, sometimes it feels like a compliment when people call me a perfectionist!
And us perfectionists are 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.”
Perfectionists relentlessly pursue extremely high standards that often seem unreasonable to others.
They feel, perhaps subconsciously, that their worth or value is based on their ability to meet these standards – even at a cost to themselves and their wellbeing.
For me, perfectionism is a life-long habit that started in childhood. It’s challenging to break something so deeply ingrained.
Then motherhood arrived, providing so many additional high standards. The way you feed, dress, entertain, educate and celebrate your children can come under scrutiny. And it can feel that you do too; your diet, appearance, fitness, housekeeping skills, ability to balance your paid work…
Even how much you’re enjoying being a mum.
Why perfectionism isn’t helping you
Being a perfectionist is 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!
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, mama. I know. Raising little humans is a vulnerable, humbling and amazing position to be in.
It’s the perfect thing to get perfect.
What happens when you make a mistake, or can’t reach your standards?
Do you experience self-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”
Do you catastrophise?
“The party is ruined”
“This will affect my children forever”
“Everyone is disappointed in me”
“My kids won’t love me”
“I’m a terrible mother”
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.
When perfectionism gets in the way
The pursuit of perfection can also get in the way of connection and love, negatively impacting your relationships with your partner and children. What’s more, expecting children to be perfect can be detrimental to their self-esteem, prompting a fear of failure and even anger.
Motherhood helped me realise that my perfectionism wasn’t a positive, motivating force after all. 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”.
Perfectionism is a challenging habit to break. But it is possible to experience more calm, confidence, connection and enjoyment as a mum.
How to break free from perfectionism
- Examine your standards. Are they necessary and realistic? Could you make them more helpful and balanced?
- Give yourself grace and compassion. You can be amazing as a good enough mum, with imperfections, bad days and lessons learned.
- Honour and celebrate what you’re doing well – even when things aren’t perfect
- Role model self-acceptance for your children
- Don’t compare yourself to others (or their highlight reel on social media)
- Let people be who they are – you can’t control everything.
What’s one thing you can do differently, starting today, to break free from perfectionism?
By Louise East
Have you joined Mama Tribe yet? SIGN UP HERE (Membership is free.)
About Louise East: Louise East is a wife, mum of a toddler and step mum of 3 young adults. She is the founder of More to Mum.