Early on in my parenting career, I realized something important. Arms deep in a sink of hot water and pump parts, I’d glanced over at the food processor, caked with sweet potato, and a pile of dirty bottles – all waiting to be washed. I groaned. How could anyone possibly do all this?
Four months of pumping and 3am feedings. Four months of long commutes, cold coffee, and crushing sleep deprivation. Each day, I sent my son to daycare with fresh breast milk and now organic purees. Each month, I scheduled play dates. When not working, I lavished my 7-month-old with attention. By all accounts, I was acing working motherhood.
In reality, I was spent.
That’s when it hit me: I couldn’t keep this up. What I could do?
Let go of “perfect.”
Two and a half years since my epiphany at the kitchen sink, I’ve made some serious changes in my behavior and thinking. Letting go of my vision of the “perfect” mom preserves my sanity and helps me savor motherhood.
Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Forgive yourself
For leaving dirty dishes in the sink, for forgetting your baby’s pediatrician visit, for your sharp response when your toddler acted out, for the time your kids were late to school. For whatever it is that keeps you up at night, mama, please forgive yourself. Grant yourself the same unconditional love and compassion you give your kids. They’re learning how to live in the world for the first time – and you’re learning how to parent your little(s) for the first time. Naturally, you’re going to stumble.
Some days, you feel like super mom. Other days, you feel like you’re failing – your toddler won’t eat, the baby won’t sleep and you ran out of toilet paper (again). Most days are a mix of wins and fails. But lamenting over your shortcomings as a parent isn’t going to erase them. Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and try again tomorrow.
2. Adjust your expectations
As a new mom, I desperately wanted to bounce back to my pre-baby weight quickly. I knew I had a lot to lose, but I underestimated how little time or energy I’d have to work out. Frustrated by my new curves, I turned to a dear friend for advice. I’ll never forget what she told me: “It took you nine months to put on the weight, give yourself at least nine months to get it off – maybe more.”
What I loved about my friend’s advice is that it’s countercultural to what the media tells us about women’s bodies. Celebrity moms are expected to drop their baby weight right away, and many new moms feel they should too. Now I know it’s neither healthy nor realistic to think that pregnancy weight magically disappears after birth.
Likewise, some expectations you may have for yourself as a mom may not be realistic. For example, is it really fair to expect yourself to maintain a perfect, Instagram-worthy home 24/7 when you have preschoolers underfoot? What would happen if you honestly assessed some of the lies you’ve been told about how moms are supposed to look and behave and replaced them with more reasonable expectations (for example, I will give my body time to heal and ease into exercise or I focus on maintaining a tidy kitchen daily and clean up the kids’ playroom less often).
3. Stop comparing
Consider this scene: It’s 10pm. The baby’s asleep, you’re exhausted, but instead of going to sleep, you’re in a daze, mindlessly scrolling your phone. You catch a glimpse of your more successful friend or maybe a stranger — such as an influencer – whose life looks better than yours. She’s on vacation, smiling and carefree, living her best life. Meanwhile, you’re wearing a stained shirt, dirty sweatpants, and dark circles under your eyes, dreading your next 2am wakeup call. You feel the pang of jealousy and wish you were somewhere else.
What we see on social media is only a slice of others’ lives, and so often it’s their highlight reels. There’s so much more going on behind the screen – you can never know a person’s full story, no matter how transparent they may seem. The feeling of envy that arises is normal; however, it can become toxic if it steals joy from your life. If you find yourself falling into a pattern of scroll and compare, notice how this habit affects your mental health or self-esteem. Be cautious of social media, and set your own screen time boundaries. Even a day away from scrolling can boost your contentment significantly.
4. Accept the mess
Let’s be honest: photos of home tours on blogs or in magazines aren’t real. They show a styled space at its tidiest, photographed in the best possible lighting at all the right angles. So, often these images may make us self-conscious about our own piles of dirty laundry, unfinished house projects, and untamed gardens.
The reality of life with children is anything but clean. Our darling children are constantly on the move, exploring our homes, dumping out toys, and noshing on snacks. Keeping up with a clean house, especially when your kids are too small to help with chores, is exhausting. Why then do so many of us moms feel pressured to maintain a spotless home?
Women are socialized to believe that their homes are a reflection of their character. This is a lie that hinges on the belief that women should only concern themselves with matters of the home. What would happen if you allowed yourself more grace with your place?
I’m not suggesting that anyone live in squalor nor am I downplaying the beauty of homemaking. But the next moment you encounter a milk spill or a potty accident, perhaps you can be more accepting and understanding that it’s just part of this parenting gig. Or when you find unexpected visitors at your door, stop yourself from apologizing that your house “is a mess.” Motherhood and messes go hand in hand. Your house won’t always be at its finest. Most of the time, it’s simply “lived in.”
5. Focus on what matters most
Here’s a short list of things to let go of today:
- Other people’s opinions of your parenting choices, including your decision to work outside of the home or in it
- Mom guilt for taking time away from your kids, not being fully present with them when you’re together or you name it
Remember: your friends, family, and neighbors don’t know your unique story nor do you need their approval. And the mom guilt you feel is a symptom of wanting to be the best for your kids.
The weight of others’ opinions combined with mom guilt is a heavy burden to carry. While you cannot fully escape these pressures, you can redirect your attention to what matters most:
- The love you have for your family
Embracing imperfection in parenting isn’t accepting complacency. Rather, it’s recognizing you are human and bound to make mistakes. Mothering well without losing your mind requires a daily dose of grace. Lean into love – for yourself and for your family – and let it carry your heart forward in joy.