Can you escape the 'Perfect Mother' trap? Yes you can, and here's how!
Hannah Corbett describes how she got caught in the Perfect Mother trap, and how she set herself free.
I only had 10 minutes to grab everything I needed from the supermarket, but I couldn’t find the shopping list. I had to pick up the kids from daycare and school, take them to their afternoon activities, then race home to get dinner on, the homework done and the kids bathed – regardless of their temperament. Then, somehow I would have to wrangle them in their pyjamas while they simultaneously squealed, danced and ran around the room like they were on show at a circus. Then there was the washing… My head was on overload and the stress was becoming a weight on my shoulders.
I’m not sure what frazzled me that day. It was just another typical day of motherhood. Maybe that’s what irritated me the most - the fact that despite having nothing in particular to be agitated about, I was still moody, irascible and impossible to please. I was cross at the world around me, cross at my kids, but most of all I was cross at myself. I’d reached home to find dishes still in the sink, toys scattered all over the floor and the kids’ pyjamas hanging off the table and chairs as if they had a life of their own. (Weirdly, I had thought the house was clean when I left that morning!) I let out a huge sigh. I needed to get the kids’ dinner on fast and I was starting to lose it. Life was overwhelming and I needed cookies and plenty of them.
"So, after slamming far too many cupboard doors, I learned one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. That image of the perfect mother, perceived years before having my own children - that wasn't reality."
It wasn’t until I slammed a kitchen cupboard door that I snapped out of this angry state. The piercing noise in an otherwise quiet room was startling, to me and to my children. It was as if someone had slapped me across the face with a wet fish, and I’d woken to see the reality I had created. I suddenly realised I was in a bad place and I needed to get out of it. Fast.
Well, I’m still trying to figure out motherhood. Sometimes I think we should have all been given handbooks on how to survive. It all looked so easy before that baby popped out. I remember what I’d thought after visiting friends who already had children, well before I had any of my own. I knew how I was going to bring up my ‘angels’. How differently I would behave with them. They would be superbly intelligent, happy all the time, and oh-so-much fun. Maybe that’s where all that disappointment stemmed from - the expectations I’d held before my motherhood journey had even begun.
So, after slamming far too many cupboard doors, I learned one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. That image of the perfect mother, perceived years before having my own children - that wasn't reality. The second thing I learned was possibly even more important than the first, and was shocking to me because of its simplicity. I was concluding each day by giving myself a Fail or Pass. I’d created a mental list of ‘things every perfect mother must do’ – unfortunately, most days, a lot of things on that list were simply unachievable.
I set about rewriting my list. I lowered some of my expectations and allowed myself to fail, and then get up again, regardless. My kids didn’t care how fancy their dinner was, or if the toys they’d left on the floor were still there two days later. They didn’t care if their clothes were neatly pressed, or even if they were carefully folded. This didn’t mean I stopped trying or stopped doing chores, it just meant that it was okay for my house to not reach the House and Garden standard. And I was okay, and so were my kids. I realised that the list was created and written by me, and I had the power to change what was on it, to tick off what I chose, or even to completely ignore it. What truly mattered was that I be a mum who wasn’t keeling over from exhaustion, and if that meant ignoring the toys and making Marmite sandwiches instead of an elaborate dinner, then that was perfectly - and wonderfully - okay.
Hannah Corbett is a writer and photographer who lives by the seaside in the north of Auckland, with her husband and two young boys.