Jessica Zucker, PhD: On Skipping Motherhood Perfection

Dear Moms,

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 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 through 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 withyourself 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. Jessica Zuckeris a psychotherapist in Los Angeles specializing in fertility, prenatal and postpartum adjustments and maternal attachment. She is a published author, blogger for The Huffington Post and a key contributor to PBS' This Emotional Lifeproject.

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Jessica,
    I love your line… "Babies need their mothers to be mindfully present, not perfect." What a wonderful to message that ALL moms should hear! The balance of wanting to give 110% to my family and 110% to my career was at the core of my anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum. Thank you for your beautifully written letter and messages to moms on having realistic expectations.

  2. Presence over perfection…YES! Exactly. I also love this: "Attachment is a process, not a finite event — a reassuring mantra to hold onto when perfection feels like it's slipping through your fingers." I'm all about "good enough" parenting. Heck, I'll take it one further. How about "not that great today but I will try to do better tomorrow" parenting? There is no such thing as perfect. The best we can hope to do is the best we can at any given moment. Thank you for this.

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Jessica,
    Your comment about attachment being a process and not a finite event is also one of my favorites. It makes me realize that I haven't blown it when I screw up once, or twice, or even more. I feel like I always have the opportunity to strengthen bonds with my babies. What a relief!
    – Katherine

  4. I can't wait until this "good enough" parenting that you speak of becomes more mainstream. And Ninotchka, I loved this comment of yours: "How about "not that great today but I will try to do better tomorrow" parenting?" Not long ago a friend of mine and I were talking about this concept. I think our example was something along the lines of being exhausted and letting the kids watch way too much TV some days. We talked about the fact that we weren't interacting as much with our child that day, providing them more learning opportunities, stimulating their development, etc. and my friend labeled days like that as being a "good enough mother." I totally agree with her. And with you. We can't be ON all the time. We can't be perfect, and yet we tend to beat ourselves up when we're not. In reality, if we have off days, so what? It's not like we're sending our kids to go play in the middle of a busy interstate or something. It could be much worse. I am so glad you shared this perspective because I think perfectionism contributes in a very big way to PMD.

  5. Amber @Beyond Postpa says:

    I "liked" a website called Adequate Parenting on Facebook the other day. It seems like this group/blog is an attempt to invite mothers to give themselves a break. I don't think it's meant at all to equate to average or "doing the bare minimum" parenting, rather that we don't need to be so focused on the over-parenting that I observe on a daily basis (which I believe moves the depression, anxiety and exhaustion issues into over-drive in parents).
    Thanks for offering another opportunity in your letter for moms to give themselves a break.
    "Doing the best I can and asking for help when I don't seem to have it in to me be adequate" parenting is what I am striving for and going to work towards accepting.

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