On Skipping Motherhood Perfection
Jessica Zucker, Ph.D.
Perfection is unattainable.
Striving for perfection can be a debilitating time suck that usually results in feelings of guilt, failure, or complete and utter dismay.
So why is this myth, an age-old Superwoman image of motherhood, still very much alive in our culture? When will these impervious ideals melt away from the zeitgeist, leaving women feeling more empowered and less ashamed? How do we come to believe we should possess superhuman qualities in the midst of one of life’s most transformative moments – entering the tender and often bewildering maze that is motherhood?
Donald Winnicott, renowned psychoanalyst and pediatrician, gave birth to the revolutionary concept of “good enough mothering” which somehow has yet to reach popular culture. This conceptualization of motherhood emphasizes the humanity of mothering as well as the ways in which the child’s development as a separate being flourishes in this less than perfect environment. Perfection only occurs in fictional tales and among comic book landscapes, not in actual homes of real people navigating through the ever-changing complexities of real life.
Babies need their mothers to be mindfully present not perfect. Newborns thrive when surrounded by dedicated caregivers who are consciously attuned to their burgeoning developmental milestones and their nascent vulnerabilities. Attachment and bonding are crucial, elemental aspects of this newfound relationship that set the framework for how babies come to understand trust, intimacy, and the world around them. Again, perfection is not the aim and striving for it is an unwarranted distraction from deepening this wondrous relationship. Instead, turning one’s energies toward being authentic and available to whatever arises during the transition into parenthood is likely the most beneficial dynamic for mommy and baby. Attachment is a process not a finite event—a reassuring mantra to hold onto when perfection feels like it’s slipping threw your fingers.
The overwhelm that often accompanies new motherhood is not something you can necessarily prepare for in advance. Even the most astute, well-read, or vigilant pregnant women may find themselves deluged by the dizzying amount of juggling that parenthood requires. Keeping an eye on the basics is what ultimately matters most. How are you feeling? Do you feel supported? Are you attending to your baby’s needs? Do you feel you can be honest with yourself or others about the various feelings that arise each day?
Choose presence over perfection.
Identifying our own maternal vulnerabilities and taking time to poignantly understand and address them promises to lay the groundwork for a healthier parent-child milieu. It’s important to remember to secure your oxygen mask before securing your baby’s. Understanding that it is impossible to embody perfection in motherhood is the first and perhaps most important step toward establishing an honest, mindful, and at times messy connection with your child.
Dr. Zucker’s blog post was originally written for the 2010 Postpartum Progress Mother’s Day Online Rally for Maternal Mental Health. Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress is the most widely-read blog in the United States on postpartum depression and other mental illnesses related to childbirth: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/weblog/
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Jessica Zucker, Ph.D. Bio
Dr. Zucker specializes in women’s health, postpartum mood disorders, and early parent-child bonding.Learn More