May 9, 2024

How I’m Learning to Break Out of “Miracle Mom” Perfectionism.


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Anticipating a visit from two of my 20-something daughters has been filling me with pleasure and excitement for months.

We have recently moved countries, so to have the girls here for the first time had us joyfully planning activities to fill every delicious day. Moreover, my eldest was turning 25 and we were going to celebrate her birthday together for the first time in years.

All of us were looking forward to this, frequently expressing impatience to see each other.

My youngest daughter came a few weeks earlier to properly catch up. Immediately upon her arrival, I got sick and was incapacitated for the first of our two weeks together. This was surprising (I’m never sick!), frustrating, and illuminating.

Not only was my perfect plan disintegrating before it even started, I was not able to be on the frontline, automatically sliding into my Miracle Mom role—anticipating needs, indulging, filling every day with pleasurable activities, performing miracles, making sure everyone is happy and enjoying.

In the past, to be a “good mother” I’d completely disconnect from my own inner child, ignoring my own needs and preferences. Even when I’d notice that I was at capacity, I’d override it: it’s okay, she’s here for such a short time, I’ll take care of me after.

So it was interesting this time to observe the parade of these habits, thoughts, and feelings from the background of my sick bed. There was frustration, regret, even guilt, but it wasn’t overwhelming. I was able to be a mother to my inner child all while being a mother to my adult outer child. Keeping me from falling into the old and familiar sacrifice mode, my body demanded time to rest and recover. Not only was I not getting up before everyone to make breakfast, I was relying on my daughter and husband to cook and clean—to serve me.

Pacing myself, living a simpler, slower life in the last several years has been most healing and reviving for me. Learning to mitigate the pressure to be someone else, someone “better” than who I already am, has led to a paradigm shift in my relationships.

What I did not expect was the degree to which the arrival of my eldest birthday girl would eclipse everything for me.

It used to be the norm. Now, as an observer of my inner antics, I have been noticing how my stress levels rise when my children are at home. Not because my children stress me, but because returning to the role of a mother carries a lot of stress for me. It dawned on me recently that I must have spent 20-plus years of living as a family with children in a quasi-permanent state of dysregulation, nearly always beyond my capacity.

This contrast that I experience in my body when I am with and without my precious children became apparent to me after the girls had grown and left.

Studying somatics, I know that there are people, places, objects, substances that help us regulate (this is co-regulation, where we “use” something outside of ourselves to help our body to settle) and there are those with whom we co-dysregulate.

Some people or places can be both: co-regulators and co-dysregulators. My children are that to me.

Many mothers find their nervous systems to be in somatic co-dependence with the systems of their children, where a mother’s mood and her sense of well-being is affected by their children’s moods and states. Remember the phrase “You can only be as happy as your least happy child”? That is somatic co-dependence.

Moreover, each child has their own energetic signature, which can impact the way their caregivers relate to them, and affects attachment patterns. (You can find out more on this in This Jungian Life podcast episode “Why we make others feel bad: understanding projective identification.”)

While both of my daughters were here at the same time, I was able to see how differently I experience each of them in my body. Each of my three daughters has an energetic signature unique to her. I have been relating to them according to their energetic signature since the day they were born. I just wasn’t aware of it then.

When my first-born daughter arrived, I quickly found myself in overwhelm. It was so seamless and automatic, I only noticed it when my system became so agitated that I couldn’t sit still. I caught myself in the old trap of trying to make everything perfect so that she could be happy, completely forgetting how little control I had over her mood or happiness.

My mother always insisted, “I love all my children equally.” As her child, I always sensed it wasn’t entirely true. As a mother, while intellectually I know that I love all three of my children to the same degree, I relate to each of them differently.

Each of my three daughters mirrors back to me an aspect of me. One was more like me and the connection always felt easier. She’d call me her soul mate, she was so easy to love.

Another one expressed traits that I was taught to mold away—in myself and in my children. Witnessing her was a constant reminder that the wild and unruly nature I thought I eradicated in myself was now staring me right in the face, alive and well. I was often triggered, felt powerless, and was conflicted about how uneasy this love felt.

The third daughter was so highly sensitive that she walked through life as a naked nerve, constantly reminding me of myself as a child when I felt like I did not belong in this world. I often felt her pain and suffering, and felt helpless in my attempts to shelter her from life.

While I thought I was relating to my daughters, I was actually relating with various parts of me that my daughters mirrored to me. My acceptance, or lack of acceptance, was energetically communicated to my children and through their reactions back to me, locking us into relating patterns that we are all still trying to break out of.

Today, I know that softness and defiance, power and fragility, independence and needing others are of equal importance and coexist in each human being. My personal evolution over the last several years helped me grow into a fuller version of myself as I learn to integrate and to love various parts of me, recognizing that one part is not better than another. My personal growth is helping me be in more accepting and graceful relationships with my daughters, as I model and encourage them to step into fuller expressions of their nature.

Since they left home, my daughters are expanding and growing, and so am I. My perfectionist daughter over the last several years has become a libertarian and a wild child. My independent one is learning to feel safe to rely on people and express her feelings vulnerably. The fragile and bullied one has become more confident socially and academically.

But when we are in physical proximity, my animal body sometimes tends to react from a memory of earlier experiences. It takes embodied awareness to recognize this process, to calm my nervous system, and to bring myself to the present moment: I am not the same person I used to be and my daughters are not helpless little girls anymore, so we can focus on upgrading our relating to reflect that.

When on the morning of my beloved first-born’s birthday I woke up exhausted from trying to control the weather, I understood that I fell into the zealous mothering of my younger years. Needing the weather to be something other than what it is was an exercise in futility and a terrible energy drain, and it felt very familiar.

Attached to the idealized version of how these long-anticipated days were supposed to go, I’d forgotten that I’ve been training to free my happiness from events out of my control. The weather was threatening to rain on our plans, and because even the perfect mother in me was powerless in that realm, I became dysregulated. Anticipating my daughter’s disappointment on her birthday only added to my overwhelm, which momentarily took me from the precious present moment: with my children, feeling the blessing of this rare and privileged reunion.

I am grateful that I was able to catch myself while we were still together. I remembered that I don’t need everything to be perfect to enjoy being with my family and my first-born on her birthday.

As I connected to this gift of being together to celebrate 25 years of a beautiful young life, the weather joined me in celebration. The sun came out, it did not pour on our plans, despite all of the predictions, and we did end up having a pretty perfect day.

I’m still learning what it means to love my children. I remind myself that worry is not love, stressed-out intensity is not love, sacrifice is not love, lack of boundaries is not love, trying to change anyone is not love.

I am learning to let go of needing our time together to be perfect, to have days packed with activities in order to be memorable, and let these days together be what they are.

These days, I find love in acceptance, surrender, compassion, and in focusing on “enough.”

Maybe just being together, in love, will be memorable enough.


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