The pressure to be the perfect mother can be intense. Too often, we let romanticized visions of what it means to be a mother cloud our opinions of ourselves regarding rearing children. Hollywood portrayals of suburbanite mothers doing it all, social media posts showing only the most positive perfect aspects of mothers’ lives, and even commercials only reinforce this warped image of motherhood idealization.
In reality, those who even come close to obtaining those manufactured ideas of being a good mom suffer ultimately from side effects brought on by such a fruitless pursuit, including poor self-esteem, stress-induced immune disorders, depression, and fatigue. Here are five reasons why motherhood idealization hurts you, your children, and those in your community.
Adhering to Manufactured Gender Norms
To be a good mother is to be a good parent. Being a good parent means caring for your children properly, feeding them well, providing them with love, establishing expectations and boundaries, giving them responsibilities, and more. It doesn’t mean looking a certain way, adhering to traditional images of gender, especially concerning what we stereotypically refer to as maternal.
You can be an excellent mother whether you’re naturally very feminine in your identity and appearance or not as feminine in identity or appearance. Some people take a gender dysphoria test, realize they feel differently than their assigned gender, but want to be good mothers. They can be. Gender identity has nothing to do with being a good parent.
Attempting to mold yourself into an idealized construct that feels completely unnatural to you results in stress and frustration. It also reinforces your children’s idea that they cannot be themselves if they want to be good parents when they grow up.
Perpetuating an Unrealistic Picture of Parenthood
Are you running around frantically in an attempt to keep the house immaculate and pack the perfectly balanced lunch for your children, complete with a hand-written note? Do you head up the PTA, volunteer at school, and drive your children to six different activities per week? Are you known to throw the best birthday bashes, buy 100% organic, and work a few hours, part-time, or even full-time each week in the process? Then you’re setting yourself up for a breakdown. And you’re setting your children up for failure.
Even if you succeed in doing all of these things to be that perfect mother, what message are you sending your kids? Through your actions, you’re telling your kids that they won’t be good parents unless they exhaust themselves doing a million things that don’t matter to portray a specific image.
Reinforcing Comparison and Inadequacy
When you force yourself to fit into an unrealistic image of what motherhood is all about, you end up portraying a picture to others that your life is somehow perfect. It’s lovely to enjoy the things you do out of the desire to be a good parent. That could be making dinners and desserts from scratch, handwriting thank you notes, volunteering on your kids’ soccer team, or outfitting your home into a kid’s paradise. Do what you love and make no apologies.
Maybe you’re doing these things for the wrong reasons, out of pressure you place on yourself to be a perfect mother. If you are, you’re portraying an ideal life to others while struggling to keep it together on the inside. Furthermore, you’ll end up bolstering your feelings of inadequacy as you constantly compare yourself to others in the community who appear to have it all figured out. Chances are they’re as exhausted living up to some ideal as you are.
In trying to be the perfect mom, you may inadvertently end up enabling your children, which may have damaging effects that last into adulthood. Children learn to become productive adults through gradual increases in responsibility. Suppose you’re doing everything for your children because you’re trying to be the ultimate caretaker. In that case, you may lose sight of when the time comes to begin giving your children responsibility and adding to it.
As your children grow, you’ll need to loosen the harness a bit and give them things to be in charge of. That means you have to be okay with the outcomes. For example, if you put your children in charge of putting their clothes away and dressing themselves in the morning, you may need to accept that outfit they come hopping down the stairs in. It may not be the perfect matching ensemble, but if they’re appropriately dressed, then who cares.
Damaging Your Physical Health
Motherhood idealization leads to increased stress loads for many moms trying to achieve this unreachable goal. When you feel stress, your body releases Cortisol, a stress hormone that can eventually impact your physical health. Stress can manifest in physical ways through headaches, body aches, fatigue, weakened immune system, and other issues.
You can be an excellent mother without having to push yourself into romanticized impressions of what motherhood is all about. You’ll do your body a huge favor by taking a step back and focusing on the fundamentals of motherhood that matter most.