"There is no way to be a perfect mother
You might not agree with me here, that's okay. With something as personal and as vulnerable as having our children and working out the best way to guide them through the world, we will come across different opinions and I respect yours, whatever it is.
I'm cheating here a bit too. There are actually a whole host of reasons why I've thrown out the motherhood job description - not least my own mum's battles with it - but those are other stories.
What is the fairytale?
That you sail through a beautiful pregnancy glowing like you're spotlit and find yourself with a bouncing baby at the end of it who latches effortlessly, sleeps like an angel and grows into a toddler and a teenager who does everything you ask and who you always have an easy relationship with (unlike every other important relationship in life).
Well, my children are adopted so my version of motherhood was already a plot twist. But also - really? it's the equivalent of a Disney princess and her guy walking off into the sunset as if that's the end of the story and not the beginning.
Learning is messy and hard sometimes and all parenthood is learning. If we don't acknowledge it we're going to have trouble coping with the tricky lessons we didn't expect.
I grew up in a household where there were a lot of elephants in rooms, a lot of burying unwelcome truths and a lot of expectations for everyone to live up to about what a 'good' family was. Now I'm allergic to any of those things because I know it takes more time and more work to try to hide a mess than to see it and clean it up.
What harm can a fairytale do?
The harm comes when the fairytale is never acknowledged as a lie or at least a very filtered version of the truth.
If I'm aiming for seamlessly making all the right choices or expecting my child to behave exactly as I want them to I'm going to mark every other moment as a failure; but if I already understand there are a lot of potential bumps in this road and that I will never finish learning and become a perfect super-parent, I can appreciate myself for everything I have achieved instead. It's a relief.
Where I differ from people who subscribe to the fairytale is that they think that the tricky moments aren't pretty and they ruin the story. I think that they are all parts of the complicated, individual magic that makes up a life and without owning yours, you're just reaching for an impossible goal. There's also no real progress without honesty so breezing over everything might feel more comfortable in the moment but doesn't always help make change.
In practice, what trying to live up to the fairytale means is that you're under pressure. You might not tell anyone about the time you lost your temper and it will eat away at you or you won't seek help for struggling to connect with your child and it will become a vicious cycle. If you create a 'perfect' narrative for everyone to be a character in, you are less likely to acknowledge the naturally occurring cracks that are there for us all and this is a great way of making sure they turn in into canyons over time. You also run the risk of feeling angry with your child when they don't fit into the mould you created for them before they arrived.
For me the power in our fears and anxieties comes from feeling alone in them. They're like the monsters under the bed when you were a kid - huge and looming but when you turn on the light you find there's nothing to see. None of us are perfect, none of us live the fairytale all the time. If we know that, we can enjoy it when we do without feeling not good enough when it's something else for a while.
All that worry, all that shame never spoken and the simple truth is that sometimes a good mate saying 'I completely get it' over a cuppa can be all you need to hear to start again. You've also just given that friend permission not to be flawless too.
If not the fairytale, then what?
Let's face it, it's fantasy. One story for everyone always is. It's also very one dimensional.
Where are the stories of mothers who didn't enjoy pregnancy or had difficult births? Who struggle to bond with their children or are raising children they didn't give birth to? Where are the stories of mothers dealing with their children's disabilities or challenging behaviours, raising their families alone or finding motherhood different to what they imagined for millions of reasons? It feels like we can learn more from allowing the stories we hear to be as real and as different as our experiences.
If that feels like bursting a bubble it's not meant to. There's more, rather than less, freedom and real happiness in that outlook for me because there is acceptance in it too.
- I can call a bad morning a bad morning and I don't have to feel resistant or disappointed about it because they come and go. No pressure.
- I can seek help when I need to because I know I'll never be perfect and there will always be more to learn.
- I can make being a mother fit me rather than trying to shoehorn myself into a cookie cutter mould. I believe that was something my own mum never really felt and I know which I would rather.
If you fit neatly into the fairytale I'm genuinely happy for you. Personally, I can't say that I would describe either my childhood or my motherhood that way and at the beginning it made me feel like an anomaly. Now I know I'm not.
Not only were we all different before we had children so we're not the same now, we all have a different version of where we want to be as mothers.
To get there we need to stop plastering one version of a story onto everyone and let mothers write their own. The stories we all write would be better, brighter and much more useful to each other without all the noise of what someone else says happy ever after should look like.
There is no need for something to be perfect for it to be beautiful.
I work with parents to let go of the fairytale and create stories they are proud of. If you are struggling with expectations, relationships with your children or your identity as a parent, book a free consultation to find out how.
I'm Jess, EFT Practitioner & mindfulness teacher, adoptive mum to two adorable little fireworks and a passionate advocate of the idea that change really is possible, no matter how far away it feels.