Breaking the Cycle of Mother-Daughter Perfectionism
By: Kiki Coll
I was thirty-two years into my life and twelve years into a marriage before jumping onto the mommy track. My mother thought this to be an extremely long time for her daughter to have lived without a baby of her own. The fact that my mother was a parent to five additional daughters besides myself, and grandmother sixteen times over was not a deterrent for her dissatisfaction at her youngest child’s delayed plunge into motherhood. For my mother, a woman’s worth was tightly knitted to her role as a mother and wife. And I had yet to prove mine.
Like so many women I’ve encounter, I habitually questioned my own self-worth, and continually weighed my own mothering against that of my mother’s expectations. I believe it’s during these times of sel-evaluation that a woman may begin to more closely examine her mother’s influences over her. When a woman becomes a mother, she naturally compares herself to her own mother.
Our mothers dictate how we interpret womanhood. She is our earliest indicator of how we fit into our world, and our primary example of mothering. We must find a balance between mirroring our mothers and reflecting our own individuality. For some of us, like myself, who were not raised by the June Cleavers or Claire Dunphys, it’s work to find that balance, but in doing so we carve a path to finding ourselves.
My mother had the mechanics of motherhood mastered. What she didn’t seem to grasp was the aesthetics of motherhood. Rarely, if ever did my mother seem to see any expression of beauty in motherhood. Her attention remained too steadfast in controlling the messiness of motherhood. Perfectionism overpowered her ability to fully enjoy her children.
Her children became a task that she was meant to measure herself against. This manifested in her a great need for perfection from her daughters, an unrealistic level of expectation that touched every aspect of her relationship with her children. As much as my mother looked to her daughters for self-validation, her daughters equally depended on their mother for approval. Neither was realistic, both were damaging. My mother depended on her children to validate her self-worth. Yes, for my mother, a woman’s worth was tightly knitted to her role as a mother and wife. And she had yet to prove hers.
And in that quest for perfection a cycle of self-doubt is passed from the mother to the daughter.
How many women do you know that emotionally torture themselves over the idea of achieving perfection…the perfect mother with the perfect family, with the perfect child. Most likely this unbalancing is rooted in her relationship with her mother.
This notion of perfection need be replaced in our minds with a concept of felicity, especially within motherhood. Most often we pressure ourselves with perfection by envisioning the physical details of our life events and how they will play out, and when it doesn’t go as we imagined we express disappointment, maybe even anger or frustration. This negative energy pours onto our children.
Instead we need to focus on the abstract of life events, and not so much the specifics. Instead of imagining physical aspects like the perfect clothes, the perfect conversation, the perfectly behaved child; we need to contemplate feelings of happiness, joy, and acceptance., and let go of formulated expectations. This is especially true in our relationships with our children. Perfection has no real place within motherhood, it steals us from the fluid nature of life. We become rigid and unable to accept the natural turmoil of parenthood. Perfection demands constant control, parents/children demand constant flexibility.
Motherhood is embedded in life’s imperfections. Every dirty face, scraped knee, and broken dish is an expression of perfect love.
For those of us who were raised by perfectionist mothers, we must examine that influence. Even years after my mother’s death I am still sorting out my relationship with my mother, as I have found is common with mothers and daughters. Still it has been a long road of entanglement to sort through. Though we are not our mothers we are a product of our mothers. Fundamentally, our mother will always be a part of us. Along with our differences we naturally harbor similarities as well. How could we not? Her story is my story, as was it her mother’s story and so forth. It’s every woman’s purpose to link them all together.
Regardless of their relationship, good or bad, our mother is the most determining factor we use to weigh our self against. Our identity is so often directly tied to our mother’s identity. I believe not until a woman loses her mother, if only metaphorically, is she perhaps fully born into her own self-identity.
So, as another Mother’s Day arrives mothers across the country look for validation of being viewed as a “good” mother. What we need to remember is that we must not measure ourselves by standards of perfectionism, but instead by how we handle the utterly imperfect moments of motherhood, for that is the identity we will pass on to our daughters. The ability to find happiness, joy, and acceptance in life’s flaws is what mothering is. Perfecting motherhood is allowing life to unfold without putting unrealistic demands on ourselves or our children.
We are our mother’s imperfect daughters, and its perfectly all right.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea
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Wow, you hit that nail on the head! I experienced what you unravel here when I gave birth to my first born, and I realized how harshly I judged my mother for being the way she was. I forgave her as I too, felt the burden and took on the control freak pattern. when my kids went off to college, I dug deep and discovered a new version of Divine Motherhood that I hope to share with other Moms. I wished I had known another way, and wondered if I could have done better if I knew then what I knew now. Now, that my kids are back home due to the COVID19, I am changing my approach to motherhood. I’ve redefined it. It’s making a huge difference! Love this article! Thank you for you service.