Who is a perfect mother? The mother in our memory who took care of us, cooked our favorite food, and comforted us when we were down.
On the other hand, she wasn’t that perfect either, because she made us do things we didn’t want to do and sometimes criticized us for what we did do.
Still, that “perfect mother” is the one the beautiful cards are written about, and the one we send flowers to on Mothers’ Day.
Many mothers today are trying to be that perfect mother of everyone’s imagination, even though the job of mother has changed a lot in recent years.
More than ever mothers are working at jobs outside the home, even while having to do the jobs she has always done at home.
Besides, the world has changed for children, too, who now have a vast TV universe, computers, and all kinds of technology that expose them to things which in the past mother might have protected them from. Keeping children safe is a much harder job than it used to be.
Still, mothers try very hard to do everything right for their children. It’s hard to know what that is when there are constantly new ideas about how to raise children.
Once upon a time families lived together, or near each other. Grandmothers and aunts helped new moms and taught them what the best way was to do things for children. These days, there is also science -- there is child development research, brain research, genetic research, all of which end up telling mothers what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.
Raising children has been turned into a science, and mothers are trying to be scientists doing everything perfectly.
This has made for added stress for both mothers and children.
But there is no perfect mother – or perfect child. A good enough mother is good enough! If we can accept being good enough ourselves, it will help us accept our children as good enough – not perfect.
What is a good enough mother? A good enough mother is someone who does the best she can in her own particular circumstances. She may not be able to do everything she would like to do – or her children would like her to do – but that’s all right.
Our goal as parents should not be to create a perfect world for our children. That is not the world they are growing up in, or will have to function in.
Mothers want their children to be happy. Trying to make children happy all the time is not good for them or us.
It leads us to buy things for them that we can’t afford, and do things for them against our better judgment. It leads children to believe they should have whatever they want – in order to make them happy.
More importantly, in trying to make them happy no matter what, we are not helping them learn how to deal with the fact that life has disappointments, and that they can survive those disappointments.
It is hard for mothers to see their children disappointed – or even angry at mom for those disappointments. But being a good enough mother means accepting a child’s frustration or disappointment – and anger – just as her child is learning to do so.
Being a good enough mother means being someone who at times blows up at her kids.
Someone who is sad at times, or preoccupied with other worries when her kids may want her attention.
In other words, she is a real person who accepts all her feelings, even her feelings of guilt – which doesn’t mean she is a bad mother. She knows she is only human, and knowing that, she can accept her children and their failings as only human, too.
Mothers know that others – not only their children – want them to be perfect. They get a lot of criticism when what they need is praise.
We need to let them know that they are doing a good job – that they are good enough mothers in the best sense.
So on Mothers’ Day, don’t send a card to an imagined mother. Send the gift of your praise to a real mother.
Dr. Elaine Heffner, LCSW, Ed.D, is a psychotherapist and parent educator. She has written for Redbook, Parents Magazine, and Disney online, as well as others. Heffner is the author of "Good Enough Mothering" and a Senior Lecturer of Education in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She also co-founded and served as Director of the Nursery School Treatment Center at Payne Whitney Clinic, New York Hospital. For more find her on Facebook , follow her on Twitter @ElaineHeffner and visit her blog: goodenoughmothering.com.