As we explore our past and grow toward our future into the life we want, we may start to realize how many false beliefs we adopted while growing up.
If you’re a mom or a caretaker, the chances are high that you’ve experienced at least a few feelings of inadequacy, confusion, and frustration. You may wonder how to be the perfect mom when the truth is, the “perfect mom” is just one of those damaging myths about motherhood.
The perfect mom is one of those fairytale ideas like the perfect romance or the perfect career. While the idea of losing the fairytale dream can feel a bit sad for a moment, it’s actually quite comforting to realize that we’re putting unfounded expectations on ourselves and our relationships.
As we explore our past and grow toward our future—the life we want—we may realize how many false beliefs we adopted along the way. Some of those beliefs can drive us forward, but many myths about motherhood can hold us back.
Where Do Our Fairytale Beliefs Come From?
When we talk about fairytale beliefs, we’re often talking about the quest for the perfect fairytale romance. But these ideas aren’t limited to expectations about our romantic relationships. They can also include ideas about leadership, our feelings about roles at work, thoughts on affluence, wealth, and success. For mothers, these beliefs can also include our expectations of motherhood.
Many of us create an idea in our mind’s eye about what success should look like. For example, we might equate success with keeping the peace. We may swoop in to smooth over situations and act as an intermediary. We may take on these roles at home, in our relationships at work, and with our kids.
Many of these roles or boxes that we embrace in our relationships and endeavors are limiting. They keep us tethered to a certain expectation and a specific role. These limiting beliefs can hold us back from getting what we want. Ultimately, they can become barriers to living our ideal life. They keep us from discovering and realizing our deepest yearnings and personal truths.
For many women, nowhere are these false beliefs quite so prevalent as when it comes to motherhood.
How many of us hold an idea of how to be the perfect mom? We might think that the perfect mom looks and acts a certain way. Maybe we picture this superwoman as our own mother, a friend’s mom, or even the mother in a movie or favorite TV show. But the reality is, no one is the perfect mom. There’s not a single perfect mother on the planet, and all of us struggle from time to time.
Motherhood is a state of constant growth and development. It’s a new experience, with our first child, all the way through the last. Each evolution of our family gives us a brand new experience and presents the opportunity to explore, learn about ourselves, and understand our drivers and motivation. Motherhood offers an excellent time to engage with others, explore our beliefs and projects, and develop (or finish our unfinished developmental business) right alongside our kids.
Why Some Myths About Motherhood Stick
As a graduate student of Wright Graduate University, I focused my dissertation on the ideas and myths about motherhood that we set upon ourselves and many times blindly believe. By identifying and exploring the motherhood myths and falsehoods, we can break away from them. We can start to move toward discovering our own sense of purpose and success. We define motherhood rather than letting the state of motherhood define us.
As women, our role as mothers or caretakers is only one layer of many. We aren’t limited to simply being a nurturer, providing for, and raising children. Instead, we can live full and vibrant lives both as mothers and outside of motherhood.
We can appreciate motherhood as a beautiful state, but it’s also another layer or lens to frame our lives and growth. Motherhood isn’t who we are, but rather it’s another sandbox to play in as we adventure through life.
Within my dissertation, I’ve identified 14 commonly held myths about motherhood (although there are certainly others). See if any of these myths resonate with you and sound familiar:
- Kids’ needs should come first. The more a mother tends to the needs of her children, the better a mother she is.
- A mother’s spouse or partner will understand that the children are a priority and their needs come first.
- It is part of a mother’s job to put the needs of her children and her spouse or partner first. Only after their needs are met can she then take care of her own.
- Children will be a source of ongoing joy and fulfillment.
- Children are the primary way for a mother to feel affirmed.
- When you feel insecure and doubt yourself as a mother, you should always follow the guidance of experts in the field, your own mother, or close family members.
- Being a mother is an innate skill that all women possess.
- A woman will immediately fall in love with her baby when she holds them for the first time.
- Motherhood provides a woman with a network of other mothers who will always support her in being the best mother she can be.
- If a mother is overwhelmed with intense feelings of anxiety or sadness after the birth of her child, she will likely need medication so she can function properly as a mother.
- If a mother expresses hurt or pain around her children may limit or harm their development.
- Expressing any fear or anger around children is likely to have a negative effect on them.
- Stopping short of hurting her children, it’s best for a mother to stop kids from expressing emotions if they are upsetting to her.
- Parents should always avoid any arguing in front of their children.
How many of us believe many of these myths about motherhood? There are likely quite a few others that come to mind when we read this list.
We may feel a flood of emotions and intense feelings rush over us after our child is born. We might believe that when a little human is handed over to us for the first time, we should immediately and instinctively know what to do. We might feel like we’re supposed to feel an instant bond with our child and a strong emotional connection.
We might also believe that any negative emotions we experience towards our kids—irritation, frustration, anger—are wrong. We might feel guilty and alone in these perfectly natural (and totally normal) feelings. We may be afraid to admit them to others and even to ourselves. We might question what’s wrong with us, why we feel this way, or why we’re not enough. We might feel hopeless or sad.
Just like those limiting beliefs about ourselves, our romantic relationships, and our career, these myths about motherhood hold us back. They may fuel feelings of inadequacy. But instead, we can realize that this idea of being the “perfect mother” is a false narrative we’ve created based on ideas we were exposed to very early on in our lives. When we explore the “why” behind our beliefs, it can help us move forward.
Where Do Our Limiting Beliefs Begin?
Our belief system is formed very early in life. So early, in fact, that many of these beliefs are in place before we turn six. We’ve already begun forming a system of ideas about ourselves and our world—what we refer to as our “personality matrix” or simply our “matrix.” To get to the heart of these beliefs and overcome the myths, we must “re-matrix” ourselves based on the truths we’ve now discovered. We can break down those early ideas, reform, and recreate our beliefs based on our additional life experiences and the information we’ve gained.
When we learn how early most of our beliefs are set, we can understand why these aren’t correct. As a child, the world was big, and we were small. The world may have seemed dangerous or much different than it is now. Today we’re capable of much more, and we’ve experienced so much since then.
But like traveling a well-worn path, we may gravitate toward the same ideas and scenarios. We may set ourselves up with the same expectations and receive the same confirmations over and over. When we played house in nursery school, we probably acted a certain way. We might have had ideas about what a “mommy” looked like and acted like. Whether we realize it or not, those same ideas continue to play out today in our daily role as a mother.
To drill down into some of these beliefs, we can explore our relationship with our own parents. Were we able to express our feelings and experience them as accepted and allowed (even negative feelings)? Were we encouraged to calm down? Were we told “stop being so sensitive” or discouraged from expressing emotions? Were we told to be a certain way or adopt a particular role within our family structure? Were we told to set aside our own needs and yearnings?
One way we can identify our emotional triggers or hotspots is to notice when a situation evokes a strong emotional charge or reaction. For example, if a comment from our spouse about a messy countertop or a suggestion from our mother about our child’s hairstyle sets us off, we can explore why we’re feeling such emotion. Why did this particular comment or piece of feedback upset us? Does it reinforce our limiting beliefs or false expectations? Do we feel disempowered?
All of our childhood experiences shape who we become as adults, but we aren’t beholden to that shape or limited by it. Once we pinpoint the triggers and emotional sensitivities, we can understand where our beliefs stem from. Then, we’ll start to let go of the myths and ideas surrounding the “perfect parent.”
Like any other great adventure or experience, motherhood is an opportunity for personal growth and a greater understanding of ourselves.
We can grow and nurture ourselves right alongside our kids. We can play, explore, and discover through trial and error. We can use this time to see what works for us and what doesn’t. But, most importantly—we can have fun!
There’s no perfect way to be a mother. When we let go of our expectations and realize that it’s part of a longer journey, we’ll set ourselves up for greater satisfaction and success along the way—view parenting as a developmental opportunity rather than a test. There are no right or wrong answers—it’s messy, interesting, and emotional. It’s also exciting! There’s no handbook or rules on how to parent, so as we go along in the journey, we can remember to enjoy the view!
For more ways to learn and grow, don’t miss our courses at Wright Now! We have an array of resources and upcoming events to help you learn more about yourself, your relationships, and your career. So start living your best life today!
Gertrude Lyons is a human emergence coach and adjunct faculty member at Wright Graduate University. Her academic career spans from a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting, a master’s in psychology from Antioch University, and a newly completed doctoral degree from WGU. Gertrude is wife and mother of two and resides in Chicago, IL where she continues to learn, grow, and develop her skills as a human emergence coach with the Wright team.
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.
Portions of this post are taken from Gertrude’s doctoral dissertation, Expanding Mothering: Raising a Woman’s Awareness of the Opportunities for Personal and Psychosocial Growth and Development in Mothering—A Curriculum Evaluation Study.