Perfectionism, which is way more than just trying to be perfect, can show up throughout motherhood. You may be constantly feeling guilty about all that you should be doing, questioning your ability as a mom, and filling your days with meeting everyone else’s needs while ignoring your own. These are all strong signs that you may be struggling with perfectionism.
Perfectionism feeds off of insecurities and when you fear failure or not measuring up, the natural response is to do more. With that comes an inability to be spontaneous and an increase in wanting to be more in control.
Often, moms feel that they have to earn their me-time, only when everything else on their to-do list is completed. Since chores and errands are endless, their beliefs of inadequacy are repeatedly reinforced leading to even more perfectionistic tendencies.
Motherhood is stressful enough as is, but when moms struggle with perfectionism, it can be even more so. Coupled with a resistance to slow down and engage in self-care, burnout can happen, leading to physical aches and pains, anxiety, depression, and other physical and mental health disorders.
Although perfectionism can wreak havoc on a woman’s experience of motherhood, there are certain steps she can take to overcome the challenges and move away from the feelings of inadequacy that are fuelling the perfectionism.
Redefine What it Means to Be a Good Mother
You feed your child cereal for dinner, you let them watch television and play on their tablet so you can finish sending emails, and your living room rug hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks. I’ve got news for you – you’re still a good mother!
Do this quick exercise –
- Grab a piece of paper and write down your definition of what makes a “good mother”. All the things she does and doesn’t do, what she says, how she says it, what she doesn’t say (at least in front of her children), what her house looks like, and how her children behave.
- Now take a look at your list and ask yourself if you know of any mothers who you would consider to be a good mother who wouldn’t exactly fall under your definition. Chances are, you know more than one. So then, why are you holding yourself to a different standard?
Engage in Self-Discovery
Too often, we forget who we are once we become mothers. What we enjoy doing, where we like hanging out, and who we chill with may all change once we put on our mom hat.
It’s so important to get back in touch with that woman within and spending time with yourself is one of the best exercises in self-discovery. You may not be able to take a “momcation” this season, but you certainly can take steps to rediscover yourself.
When was the last time you asked yourself what it is that you needed? As moms, we are on call 24/7 and it’s easy to put everyone else’s needs before our own but stepping back and asking yourself what you like and what you need is the first step to rediscovering that woman within.
Quiet the Inner Mean Girl
You know that voice – the one who tells you that you’re not enough – not smart enough, patient enough, consistent enough. I call her the Inner Mean Girl and she can be downright cruel.
The first step to quieting her is to become aware of what she’s saying. This can be tough to do for two reasons. One, we don’t like to hear what she’s saying because it makes us feel bad and two, what she’s saying is based on deeply ingrained beliefs that can make us feel bad without actually realizing what it is she’s even saying. In other words, what she’s saying (our thoughts) is automatic and so they are hard to catch.
Your Inner Mean Girl has the power to keep you stuck in perfectionism but it’s possible to take your power back by challenging the self-criticism. Once you identify your thoughts, you can begin to reframe them in ways that reflect the truth, based on the evidence that you have.
For example, if your Inner Mean Girl is telling you that you are failing your children, it’s essential to take a step back and examine any evidence that says otherwise. Taking the time to reflect will provide a new perspective and as you do this practice more often, you will begin to shift your self-beliefs and ultimately quieten your inner mean girl.
Stop Playing the Compare Game
These days, it’s so easy to get trapped in the compare game, measuring yourself against other moms you see in the car pick-up line and on your social feed. Instead of comparing yourself, get curious.
Usually, comparisons leave you feeling inadequate which fuels perfectionism. Rather than make assumptions based on what you see, ask questions and make moves to get to know other moms. If you notice that you feel most trapped while online, be proactive and unfollow, unfriend, or take a social media fast. This is a game where there is seldom a winner!
Say No More Often
Perfectionism keeps moms busy. When you are constantly trying to meet high standards or feel like enough, you may likely find yourself with a very full schedule. Do yourself a favor and learn to say no more often.
When you say yes to so much, you are essentially saying no to yourself. You are putting others’ needs above your own and saying that your needs don’t matter as much. Fortunately, saying no is a skill that can be learned and as you practice, not only does it become easier to say but you have the added benefit of creating some space in your schedule for self-discovery and self-care.
You are worthy of protecting your time, energy, and space. By saying no more often, you will be taking action to reinforce the new belief that you are enough. Doing so will naturally lessen your perfectionistic tendencies.
Learn to Love Yourself
How you feel towards yourself stems from the beliefs you hold about yourself. By shifting your self-beliefs in a direction that serves you, you will simultaneously change how you feel towards yourself. It takes time and perhaps some guidance but it is totally possible.
Remember, perfectionism feeds off of your beliefs about being inadequate. By identifying and challenging those underlying beliefs and taking action towards new beliefs, you will feel less of a need to live up to those high standards and unrealistic expectations that keep you trapped in perfectionism.
The author, Onnie Michalsky, is a licensed mental health therapist and professional life and wellness coach for overextended super-moms who want to learn how to hang up their cape. She lives in Montana with her husband and six children. Learn more about Onnie and her company, Moms Without Capes by visiting www.momswithoutcapes.com.