What would a perfect mother be like?

photo-227While reading Time magazine’s recent cover story on Millennial parents, I came across a statistic Time said was from a BabyCenter report: “It surveyed 2,700 U.S. mothers ages 18-44 and found that nearly 80 percent of millennial moms said it’s important to be ‘the perfect mom.’” (I haven’t actually been able to find this stat from BabyCenter itself yet – though I did find a poll claiming 77 percent felt pressure to be the perfect mother — a slightly different issue, but one that still requires that there be a concept of a perfect mom.)

As someone who’s occasionally lumped into the millennial category (I’m the tail end of 1978) I’ve been pondering what this means. What is the perfect mom? What do other people picture when they picture the perfect mom?

This is an intriguing exercise to identify the stories we tell ourselves, and to question where those stories come from. After all, if nearly 80 percent of people want to be like something, or at least feel pressure to be like something, it’s worth pondering what that something is.

For instance, does the perfect mom work? I’m willing to guess that in a reasonable chunk of people’s imaginations, work seems like something that would take mom away from the kids, and a perfect mom is always available, so therefore no. And yet there could be a different story that kids need food, shelter, and health insurance, among other things, and consequently, the perfect mother is able to support her children financially, whatever any other adults in the children’s lives happen to do. I’m not sure how we square this. Maybe the perfect mom is independently wealthy, or owns a successful home-based business based largely on passive income?

Other aspects of the perfect mom might serve to identify one’s reference community. For instance, in someone’s imagination, the perfect mother makes lovely little bento box lunches for her children daily. In someone else’s imagination, the perfect mother would never entrust her children to someone else’s schooling. When you homeschool, the lunch box thing isn’t so crucial.

Another question: what size brood does the perfect mom have? To some, the perfect mother would have numerous chicks, but if the perfect mother is also constantly available, this creates some problems for all situations where n>1. If the perfect mother attends all soccer games, but two children have soccer at the same time, our perfect mother’s head is going to explode.

(Perhaps the perfect mother can be in two places at once).

When you picture the “perfect mother” what image comes to mind? For whatever reason, the image that came into my mind first involved baked goods, but given what we’re learning about sugar, that’s a complicated matter too. How about you?

A note on comments: I’m still having to manually approve comments in my new website set-up, even if you have posted and been approved before. I don’t quite understand this, but I promise to check frequently so we can get a real discussion going.

In other news: Live in the Philly area? I’ll be speaking at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El on Remington Road in Wynnewood on Wednesday night at 7:30. It’s free; you can RSVP here.

34 thoughts on “What would a perfect mother be like?

  1. Hahaha — you know, I think you nailed it. The perfect mother CAN be in two places at once (she can also read classic literature on her kindle without missing a single moment of the soccer game she is watching). Given that (the two-place feature) I, too, would like to be “the perfect mom.” Where do I sign up?

    1. @Alexicographer – I reviewed a novel (Wishful Thinking) in June that had precisely that as a plot. The heroine is a single mom who could be in two places at once. No work life conflict there!

  2. Do you use WordPress for your blog? If so, you should be able to check off a box on your dashboard that automatically approves people who’ve commented before (and been approved.)

    On topic: I don’t know that I’ve ever been under any delusion that I could be a perfect mother, mainly because I don’t think there IS such a thing. All of us mothers are mixtures of upsides and downsides, of strengths and weaknesses.

    Plus, I think there are lots of different ways to be a good mom, and I think people tend to set up false dichotomies. It’s possible to be a good mom if you homeschool AND to be a good mom if you send your kids to school. It’s not like there’s one narrow, right path to being a good mom. There are lots of right choices. 😉

    (This is not to say there are no wrong choices. Abuse/neglect, etc. are obviously not choices I’m referring to above.)

    1. @Kristen- so I thought I had checked that. Maybe I try to find it again.

      And yes, I don’t believe there is such a thing as the perfect mom either. I suspect BabyCenter’s audience is mostly first time/new moms and so there may be more angst there that works itself out after a few more years (or a few more babies). But I do find it fascinating to ponder what comes to mind when someone says that phrase!

  3. To be being a good mom (I’m not a fan of the word perfect) is to be responsive to the needs of your children, spouse and yourself. Knowing that what is right for your family might not be right for another and vice versa. But also what is right for one child is not necessarily right for a second and what is right today may not be right tomorrow. Information & circumstances are constantly changing and I need to be willing to adapt. I also need to be able to say I am sorry when I am wrong and to change when something better is offered. A perfect mom is human and willing to admit that she is human.

  4. Here is Perfect Mom (in my mind). She is always patient. Always. She speaks in a quiet voice and never, ever yells. She patiently explains to and reasons with her child(ren). She is calm and does not loose her temper. She never gets MAD at her kids. She does not order her kids around, but asks/explains/reasons to get them to do the right thing. She is always loving and unlimited stores or cuddles/hug/kisses to give out. She plays with her child(ren) frequently. She reads and discusses books with them. Her kids always have their clothing perfectly pressed (and stain-free, of course). She allows her children to grow up and gives them space, as needed. She is always happy to support them but lets them make their own choices (and mistakes). She always stands up for her children and defends them, when needed (and she can easily determine when the situation requires her intervention and when children should be left alone to figure things out by themselves).

    Children are very, very important to this perfect mom, but she also has a life/hobbies of her own, so that she doesn’t need to live through her kids. She is an interesting person and children (of any age) spend time with her because they want to, not because they have to.

    1. Ha! I’m not sure if you’re being serious or not, but here’s a short list of attributes your “perfect mom” has that my version would not —
      be always patient, never yell, [always] patiently explain to and reason with her children, never get mad, does not order kids around, kids always have their clothing perfectly pressed (and stain-free).

      I guess part of what I want to do as a mom (and I am pretty darned patient and rarely yell or get mad, so I’m not saying those things should happen often — but I do think they should happen, including from mom!) is teaching my kids how normal human beings interact and relate (sometimes people, including moms, get mad, yell, etc.), and also that you do in fact sometimes have to do things just because someone told you to. And I definitely believe kids (and their clothes) should get dirty early and often 🙂 !

  5. The perfect mom (and dad) raise their kids to be happy, independent adults, however that looks for their family.

  6. I think it’s odd that so many people chose that answer. There is no perfect anything; don’t we all realize that? The very term “perfect mom” brings to mind Stepford Wives, which perhaps this age group is too young to remember.

    In any case, I know my own definition of even “good mom” has changed over the years (as have my kids and their needs!), and I expect it will change in the future when I’m dealing with adults and their own new families. So yes, I strive to be a good mom, but I’d have trouble giving a blanket definition.

    1. I remember that story! Can’t remember the author… (I loved science fiction growing up – still do – and our small-town library had a collection of american science fiction short stories translated into Russian)

    2. “Stepford Wives” is exactly what came to my mind when hearing the word “perfect”! Which is interesting because I think that has more to do with being the “perfect wife” from the perspective of a man. Which then made me think how characteristics would change if we were talking about pressures to be “perfect” based on whose perspective (let alone differences in values and the fact that I agree there is no “perfect.”). The kid’s perspective? The Dad’s perspective? Or what seems to be most prevalent in the mommy wars–another mom’s perspective?

  7. It sounds like that if we define overall, across-the-board “perfect mother,” we probably end up with a very miserable woman whose children think the world revolves around them and needs and desires.
    We can all be the perfect mothers for our own families and children, but we cannot do all things perfectly.

  8. I can’t believe people are legitimately, earnestly trying to answer this question. I gave up on perfect long ago. It’s a stupid question (not saying that to LVK, but to the overarching survey question…)

    1. @Gretchen – I agree that it’s a badly formulated question (welcome to the world of internet polls!)

      What I think is interesting is what I’m trying to address in this post: not whether there is a perfect mom or not (there isn’t) but what image pops into your mind when you say that phrase? That image says a lot about the narrative you’re subconsciously dealing with. Even if you completely reject this image, there is some part of your brain that might compare you with this. So if the first image of the perfect mom is one who isn’t working, then likely some part of your brain is feeling that it’s slightly transgressive to do so. I had no idea that baked goods would feature so prominently in my quick subconscious image!

      1. Not to oversimplify, but I don’t have an image in my mind. I think about how motherhood has evolved over generations beginning with a great-grandmother who lived on a farm and raised 7 children during the depression when her spouse died. I think of my grandmother who worked at Dupont after WWII while my grandfather went to college on the GI bill then launched a business. She then stayed home and ran the house like a business. My own mother’s experience evolved, and, mine has too. We are a product of the times, and we make choices among the options available to us. I imagine that a lot of what I believe motherhood should like is based on my personality and the women I spend the most time with.

  9. A perfect mom is a woman who is training her children to be not only cognizant of their own strengths and weaknesses, but also to be striving to use their talents while shoring up their shortcomings. She should be ever working to help them reach their full potential and grow into adults that are productive, loving, and kind. I’m a woman of faith so for me all these goals are reached through the spectrum of our Christian faith. Everything we do in this home is examined through that lens. Motherhood ain’t for wimps. It’s hard as a single parent to be the one to demonstrate “how it’s done.” and still be human. But I think it’s working. So far (one in college and two in high school) they are reaching and achieving their dreams all while staying out of trouble and going to church and even volunteering at church and other outreach programs. Heck, sometimes, it isn’t even my idea when they do it. It’s pretty cool actually and utterly fascinating to watch.

    1. This is my favorite response of the bunch. I’m happy for you that you children have responded positively. And my name is Judy Elizabeth. 🙂

  10. I thought Millenials were those that “came of age” in the new millenium?
    “perfect mother” (not MY idea of truly perfect, but what I picture with that phrase): stay at home, drops off & picks up from school, all made-from scratch meals, endlessly patient, 3+ kids, clean & tidy house, little notes in the lunchbox, remembers to send cards & flowers on extended families birthdays, well put together and fit, never rushing but gracefully glides everywhere. Ummm, basically the opposite of my life?

      1. It’s definitely people born after 1980. I think “the” number may be 1982, like you said.

        I’m not a millenial, does that mean it’s ok not to strive for or even care much about perfection?

        1. @SHU- so I just read that post and oh my, yes. I did write a few papers in high school on a typewriter, and others on a computer. I was able to go back and forth between them, whereas I think a true millennial would be clueless when confronted with a typewriter. I am also grateful that social media did not exist during college, particularly on one snowy night of 1999 when I may or may not have participated in Princeton’s “Nude Olympics.”

          1. yeah, I took typing in 7th grade on a typewriter and again in 8th grade on a computer, so…really in the middle there. We did have a home computer growing up (my father was an early adopter), but social media didn’t exist until I was well out of college. But for whatever reason, I still identify in my heart or hearts with Gen X.

      1. My brother was addicted to this. I preferred Sticky Bear Typing on the Apple 2GS. It set me on a trajectory of excellent typing skills, and speedy too.

  11. I think people answering the survey might be confusing “perfect” with doing the best they possibly can? I almost never use the word perfect, because nothing is. (As we are finding out when visiting potential schools for our older kid, sigh.) But I can see people answering it is “it is important that I try to be the best parent I can”, and that definition varying for each person. I know I have a “standard” for myself, and I am constantly evaluating (daily, anyway) whether I’ve met that or not, and how I might do better.

  12. It is topics like this that remind me why I am so thankful for your writing! Thank you for challenging our cultural narrative and showing women there are many ways to be a good (I don’t like the word perfect) mom.

  13. This is such a great question, one that I never would have asked myself, and yet I’m sure (because I love standards, and holding myself to them) that I operate in the shadow of it every day. I’m still ruminating over the question (one downfall of being generally a “doer” rather than a “thinker” is that thinking can be a somewhat laborious practice… although more practice should help, right? hopefully?) but I’m already finding that what immediately pops into my head isn’t an image I’d hold to in the long term.

    When I think of the perfect mother, the first image that pops into my mind is a mother in the kitchen, cooking. Which may be one reason why I often feel like a bit of a failure as a mother – I don’t like to cook (though I love to bake) and I usually don’t feel like I have enough time in the kitchen to produce a decent dinner meal, so I just throw something simple together. It’s interesting to think that perhaps my feeling of failure in this area isn’t due to true failure, but actually perceived failure based on an image I didn’t know I had. Though I do think that eating frozen pizza once a month – or less – would be better than once a week, so there’s that. The blessing and curse of life: there’s always room for improvement!

  14. This is less about being “perfect” but I was just thinking about how my grandmother (mom’s mom) raised 7 kids during the 50’s-60’s and she had “help” come in almost every weekday with laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. I feel like I could raise 7 kids too if I had that much household help! I love how your book addresses household issues but I still feel like that is the greatest challenge for me to accommodate the balance of motherhood/work/home.

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