Dr. Liz: Overcoming Unrealistic “Perfect Mother” Expectations

By Dr. Liz Hale

The perfect mother! You’ve seen her: she’s the one with the diaper bag that magically produces whatever is needed in the moment – a sterilized pacifier to replace the one that dropped in the sandbox or extra raisins to share with those less-than-perfect parents who didn’t even think to pack a snack! How does she do it…and how can we ever measure up? Today Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Liz Hale, shares how to deal with this haunting illusion that is always alluding our grasp.

<>We often have this illusion that we can and ought to be perfect and that somehow others are, even though in reality they’re not. Our irrational thoughts and belief systems lead us to see someone else doing or having or planning ahead more than we did; we label them “perfect” and ourselves “flawed.” Perfectionism can be so harmful to us as women – especially, mothers. The little voices in our head say, “I’ve got to be perfect! If not, I’m worthless.” “If make a mistake, I’m a failure!” “If I don’t do things right, I’ll be rejected and my children will be ruined!”

Women easily feel that their children are a reflection of how they’re doing as a mother. “If they look good, I look good; if they look bad, I look bad.” There doesn’t seem to be a mother who hasn’t thought to herself at one time or another, especially when their little one is having a complete melt-down in the middle of the grocery store; “What kind of a mother are people going to that think I am?” Now, the truth of the matter is that people are thoughtless at times; they will give looks of disapproval out of ignorance. Unless, that is, they’ve been there and remember! (Them you’ll see a look of compassion!)

We often set up a self-defeating cycle of these irrational thoughts that goes something like this:


Mom Sets Unrealistic Goal

Mom Fails

Mom Berates Herself

Mom Becomes Anxious & Depressed

Mom Redoubles Her Effort

I know this all so well because if I’m going to do something, I may as do it as well as I can! We can all make the conscious decision to live a more encouraging life by choosing mastery over perfectionism. Our mistakes can make us miserable or more masterful….if we’re willing to learn from them! Often times, we’ll hear parenting experts suggest the notion of separating the deed from the doer: “Johnny, I love you – it’s your behavior I don’t like.” But, we’re ruthless with ourselves! It is a worthy goal to detangle your worth from your mothering and from your child’s behavior.

Children are our best role-models for our “perfection-recovery programs.” They are born with the natural courage to be imperfect human beings. What a struggle it is to learn to walk! To get up, they fall down, they get up, they fall down. Do you ever wonder why they don’t just throw in the towel and say, “Forget it! This is so embarrassing! What’s my family gonna think?” Children come into this world unafraid of making mistakes and showing how incapable they are. And do you want to know why? They do not believe that their inferiorities and inadequacies make them less of a person. So, let’s not teach them differently! No one is superior or inferior to another person for ANY reason. Stop comparing; start supporting. Nothing changes our inherent worth as a person; it is fixed! Children are learning beings, and so are we! We are going to make mistakes, welcome them! Aim for and welcome 10 a day!

Some people can give parents a familiar look of disapproval, when the parent is simply trying to do their best. If another person points out your child is misbehaving, here’s the key: The first step in overcoming the feeling that we are being judged is to stop judging other people. Best answer, “Thank you! And I’m SO glad you understand!” Even if they don’t….we give them the benefit of the doubt and hopefully reach them through our nonjudgmental response. If we waste worry on what others are thinking about our parenting performance it will leave us shortsighted for what’s really important. Parents need to save as much energy as possible for the job-at-hand – guiding and rearing children toward becoming cooperative, contributing members of society. And what a job that is!

Children have a role in this, too. We have to honor that children are their own creative beings. They are looking through their own lens in life, learning about themselves through their own interpretations, and determining how they best fit into the world. While parents have a tremendous influence over their children, there are limits. Other factors shape children, like personality and characteristic patterns.

The bottomline: Move forward in gradual self-development, doing what needs to be done, without the worry of comparison. You are the heart of the home, you don’t have to be perfect – like small children who fall down and get back up – make mistakes, learn from them, and aim towards mastering motherhood not perfecting it!


Breaking the Good Mom Myth, by Alyson Schafer.


Dr. Liz Hale is a regular contributor on Studio 5 and a local clinical psychologist who specialized in individual, marriage and corporate consulting. If you have questions for Dr. Liz, or for more information about her private practice, you can contact her atdrliz@ksl.com or (801) 363-2245.

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