the perfect parenting pipe dream

August 13th, 2014

A few weeks ago, at my postpartum checkup, my doctor asked me what about being a new mom most surprised me.

I answered her completely honestly, and told her that I was surprised at how much I loved it, how wonderful it was. Even despite the 3 a.m. feedings and the grocery store meltdowns, all it takes is one lopsided little grin from our baby boy, and I just melt.

I love him so much more than I ever could have imagined; it brings me to my knees, every single day.

But there’s a second thing that surprises me, one that I didn’t mention… and it’s a lot less wonderful to talk about.

There is so. much. pressure.

Oh my gosh, you guys. The amount of pressure on moms to do their job completely perfectly is so prevalent and so pervasive that it’s completely overwhelming.

Baby doesn’t sleep? There are literally five thousand books you must read.

Want to change something about the baby’s schedule or diet? Search the internet for seven straight hours. Read every forum post on TheBump and BabyCenter. Don’t give up until you find the answer, even if the answer is comment #463.  You must read the first 462 to know for sure.

And you know what kind of a culture this creates?

In a world where you make a million different choices every single day, it gives you the information and opinions to second-guess every single one of them.

I’m a perfectionist.  I’ll admit it.  My whole life, I’ve shot for the A+.  In high school, after getting an SAT score that was thirty points shy of the perfect 1600, I told my parents I wanted to take the test again.  I wanted that perfect score, and I wanted more than anything. (Yes, I realize now how totally insane that was, and thankfully, my parents talked some sense into me.)  But that’s just my personality.

And here’s what’s scary: I want to make the right decisions for our baby boy a million times more than I wanted that perfect SAT score.

And so I have been making myself completely crazy for the last three months.

I have been trying so hard to make everything perfect. To give him the perfect schedule, the perfect food, the perfect set of developmental activities, the perfect amount of one-on-one time with mom, and everything else I can think of. If there is a perfect way to raise a child, I have been determined to raise our baby that way, exactly that way, with no compromises whatsoever.

I have been treating parenting the way that I treated high school, and college, and law school, and my legal career: with single-minded determination to be the best.

And do you know what is a quick and easy way to make yourself completely insane?

Doing exactly that.

But, you know what? I realized it. This week, I had a moment where suddenly I realized just how hard I was being on myself, trying to be the perfect, A+ mom.

Because the reality is this: I am doing my best, but I am probably making mistakes as I go. There are some things that I don’t do by the book, because they don’t work for our son. I am trying as hard as I possibly can, and I am putting a ton of pressure on myself to make all the right decisions, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Case in point: this past week, I kept Bear up past his bedtime for a totally selfish reason.  I was sitting at a cafe with a friend and we talked a little too long and by the time I get him home, it was half an hour past his usual bedtime and the kid was cranky.

Stinks, right? Sure. But then I got him to bed, and once he was peacefully sleeping, do you want to know what I did?

I beat myself up over it! I thought about how if I were a better mom, I’d have him in bed at 7:30 on the dot, every single night. I worried that skimping on a few minutes of sleep would cost him precious brain-development resources at this early age, and I made crazy resolutions like, “I will never meet a friend after 6pm ever again because it is not fair to our son to cost him half an hour of sleep.”

Yes, I do. Because he is my #1 priority, and when I do something, I do it perfectly.

Even when expecting perfection is making me completely miserable.

So here is my resolution, three months into our son’s life:

I will recognize my tendency toward alpha parenting.

And I will nip it in the bud.

I will spend time with our son engaged in activities he enjoys, and not just plow through a list of “recommended” and “right” things to be doing with him.

I will breastfeed him, which we both love, but I won’t make myself crazy if he has a few ounces of formula occasionally when I can’t be around.

I will not stress if his bedtime includes one or two “sleep cues” and not all the sleep cues that any baby book has recommended, in the world, ever.

I will make his life as conducive to sleep as I possibly can, but I will not burst into tears if the doorbell rings during his nap.

I will keep him away from germs, but my head won’t explode if Rambo licks his face.

I will do what works.

I will do my best.

And I will let perfection slide.

I think we’ll both be a lot happier this way.

Because motherhood isn’t something that’s graded. In a few years, when our son hits high school, he won’t score my performance. It’s not something that I can get an A+ in, and it shouldn’t be. 

There are a million different ways to do it right. And the way I choose, the best way that works for our family, is just fine.

So instead of worrying about whether I’m doing everything perfectly, do you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to look into our baby’s eyes. And watch him smile. And sing him songs and read him books and sometimes keep him up a half hour past his bedtime.

I’m going to spend my time enjoying his company, not reading parenting books.

We are going to have adventures.

We’ll probably make some mistakes.

And, you know what?

That’s ok.

In fact, it’s better than ok. 

It’s perfect.

Tags: baby · life

41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rachel @ Betty LIVIN // Aug 13, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Good for you! This applies to all aspects of life- perfectionism will drive you insane.

    I’m not a mother yet, but do you think some of the pressure comes from the competitive/judgemental environment among mothers? I have found that mothers are so quick to judge other mothers and social media causes crazy debates over different aspects of parenting. I know it freaks me out a little.

    Anyway, good for you!

  • 2 natalie // Aug 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

    as a fellow alpha-parenting crazy person with a 5 month old – THANK YOU. i’ve love love loved all your posts on mamahood, they’ve really resonated with me.

    you’re doing great – we all are!


  • 3 katy // Aug 13, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Rachel — I do think a lot of it comes from the attitude of other mothers!  There’s this tendency to think that MY way is the BEST way, and no other way could possibly work for anyone, ever.  And there’s also this unspoken rule that mom should put herself last, at all times!  I think it creates a really tough environment, especially when you naturally put a lot of pressure on yourself! 

    The funniest thing, I think, is that I would *never* judge another mother for these same decisions — but I am so hard on myself for them!  I’m trying to remember to hold myself to the same standards that I hold everyone else to, lol. 🙂

  • 4 Katherine S Moore // Aug 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    First, oh my god he is so cute! I was all set to write my comment, then saw that face and had to talk about that before writing!

    At the end you say: “And, you know what?

    That’s ok.

    In fact, it’s better than ok.

    It’s perfect.”

    And you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. It’s weird, but oddly enough releasing yourself from aiming for perfect makes you a BETTER parent than going for perfection. Because a happy parent is a better parent. And part of raising a kid is letting them figure out stuff on their own rather than doing everything “perfectly” for them every time. Example — it is very important for infants and young children (and maybe everyone?) to have a consistent sleep schedule. But if you can teach your kid to be adaptable in his schedule, that’s even better, right? So relax if his schedule is violated every once in a while. (Also…you already paid for his late bedtime with crankiness. You don’t need to punish yourself after the fact!) There are many, many other examples like this. But first and foremost, your child wants a happy and relaxed mom.

    I know that for you the pressure is internal (I remember the moment you told me your SAT score and that you wanted to take the test again–haha), but if any of it comes from other parents, I’d just stay away from the websites and whatnot. I was on thebump for a while but it was a time suck, and so I started to only post with specific questions when I needed advice, and that was helpful. Now I basically ask Facebook if the occasion arises (or, duh, our pediatrician or daycare teacher!)

  • 5 wendyb964 // Aug 13, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Well said, Katy. I so relate to the SAT story. With age has come some wisdom: doing the best I can in the moment is.exactly.perfect.

    Life is not lived in black and white but in every shade of the rainbow. It’s all the highs and lows and life in between that can not be fully enjoyed while stressing over perfection. I look back and can shake my head at issues that were seemingly insurmountable at the time.

    My proudest moment as a parent was watching my boys graduate hs, college, sescure the jobs of their dreams, marry, and start new families. 100% fulfilling. It’s all I could ever want.

    Be happy and enjoy the ride.

  • 6 Stacy Dil // Aug 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    He is so darn cute! As we say in Texas… a sweet pattootie! Here’s my two cents as an experienced mom with nearly-grown kids who turned out great!
    1. Use your own instincts.
    2. Unless your own parents were awful ( sounds like they were great), consult them.
    3. Consult your husband for the male perspective.
    4. Consult your pediatrician that you know and trust.
    5. Read a good child development book. One.
    6. Keep first aid supplies handy ( you have a boy!).
    7. Find experienced moms at a play group, child-centered activity group and later at school. They can also be your child’s teacher. They make great moms!
    8. Relax and your baby will relax.
    9. Blend him and the others who may come along into your lifestyle. He and they will adapt.
    10. Read a really old book by Dr. Joyce Brothers entitled
    What Every Woman Ought to Know about Love and Marriage.

    From my perspective, that is all you need to do. Hugs!

  • 7 katy // Aug 13, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Stacy — I just bought it!  Thanks for these. 🙂

  • 8 Chad // Aug 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Mistakes are part of the ritual.

  • 9 Jessica R. // Aug 13, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I’m pretty convinced that as long as you give them a loving and stable home, they will be who they will be.  Whether or not you do bedtime right, or read every day, or do family dinner, or feed them organic, or breastfeed, or whatever.  Amazing kids come from all sorts of wonderful (but different) parenting.  Love you hon!

  • 10 Troye // Aug 13, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Mother of 3 Boys….when they hit high school and perhaps even before they will SO grade you on your parenting skills and they will most likely give you a grade you don’t think you deserve. HA!!!! But every now and then those words “I wish I would have listened to you Mom/Dad when you said…” will come back from them and you’ll know they were indeed listening and watching what you did for them and how you took care of them and in the end they will appreciate you for those tidbits which is all the charm of mothers and their boys!!!

  • 11 Caroline // Aug 16, 2014 at 9:42 am

    You are a wonderful mommy!  The little things that throw you off schedule will make for a happier more flexible baby in the long run.  Keep up the good work, momma! xo

  • 12 best of 2014! | Sugarlaws // Jan 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    […] (and yet totally overwhelming) way possible.  I think my favorite post of the year was on my decision to give up the idea of being a “perfect” parent and to focus on enjoying time with our son.  This is something I still struggle with nearly […]

  • 13 better of 2014! | TiaMart Blog // Jan 2, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    […] but completely overwhelming) means potential.  I feel my favourite submit of the yr was on my decision to give up the idea of being a “perfect” parent and to give attention to having fun with time with our son.  That is one thing I nonetheless […]

  • 14 best of 2014! | Surge Beauty // Jan 3, 2015 at 9:57 am

    […] (and yet totally overwhelming) way possible.  I think my favorite post of the year was on my decision to give up the idea of being a “perfect” parent and to focus on enjoying time with our son.  This is something I still struggle with nearly […]

  • 15 what a week this one has been. | Sugarlaws // Jan 16, 2015 at 10:36 am

    […] written before about “mom guilt” and how impossible it is to try to be a “perfect” parent, but this week was an extra reminder.  I hope this never happens again, and that Bear has a […]

  • 16 what a week this one has been. | Surge Beauty // Jan 16, 2015 at 11:05 am

    […] written before about “mom guilt” and how impossible it is to try to be a “perfect” parent, but this week was an extra reminder.  I hope this never happens again, and that Bear has a […]

  • 17 what every week this one has been. | TiaMart Blog // Jan 18, 2015 at 5:50 am

    […] written earlier than about “mother guilt” and the way unattainable it’s to try to be a “perfect” parent, however this week was an additional reminder.  I hope this by no means occurs once more, and […]

  • 18 Kaka // Dec 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    lunasolgirlsHow FUN!!!!!!!!! I love it!! Megan, I love your shirt, jewelry, and whole ouiftt:) Okay,? I am loving this concept. Thanks for sharing- wish I was in Sydney for the show:)Love to you,Jacque

  • 19 Kaka // Dec 4, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    lunasolgirlsHow FUN!!!!!!!!! I love it!! Megan, I love your shirt, jewelry, and whole ouiftt:) Okay,? I am loving this concept. Thanks for sharing- wish I was in Sydney for the show:)Love to you,Jacque

  • 20 Anoir // Dec 7, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    RachelSerenity, your boys are so handsome! I just love the eepoxssirns each one unique. My girl starts school in the coming weeks as well. Exciting and teary all at once, right?

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