The Damaging Effect a “Perfect Mother” Can Have on a Daughter

A perfect mother is a woman who can cook, clean, care for her kids, love her husband, and get involved with the community with a seemingly unlimited amount of energy, good will, and a boundless grace. Not only does she dress well, but her kids are dressed well and are always on their best behavior in public. Her marriage is the stuff of dreams. She bakes and volunteers at her children’s school(s). Maybe she works, and maybe she doesn’t, but, whatever she does, she does it all with a smile and timeless grace.

I mean, in some ways, maybe it’s appealing. I don’t know about you, but it just sounds like an insane amount of work that would necessitate zero sleep. I’m very attached to my sleep. I’m a perfect mom to my kids, but I roll my eyes at society’s idea of a perfect mom, even though I once thought I had to be her.

From the title, perhaps you might have guessed I’m the daughter of such a mother. In so many ways, my mom was the “perfect mother.” My parents came from traditional Chinese parents, so they and my siblings and I had to be presentable every time we stepped out of the house. So, my mom was always dressed. To her, it meant jeans and a nice shirt instead of a skirt, blouse, and heels, but she was always well-groomed and well-dressed. My mom was a baker, so she usually had cookies for us after school and almost always baked something for birthdays and parties. My dad demanded a spotless home when he got home, so my mom put us to bed early and rushed to make the house spotless. She was always cleaning. She cooked every night. She volunteered at our school. Almost too much. My mom never complained, at least not to us. She and my dad had a strong, stable marriage, though now I see how exhausting it was as he was a workaholic and they only spent a couple of hours a day together.

So, you see, my mom was, more or less, the perfect mom. I admired my mom. I wanted to be like her, with the added component of being a working mom. I’m a stay at home mom, so someone must be laughing at me, but now I feel like I fail at it. I’m nowhere as perfect at it as my mom was. But my mom has recently confided in me how hard it was. I thought I ought to be able to live up to her standard. After all, I have a helpful husband and am raising one less kid than she did. But my mom has no desire to see me tread the same path she did.

My mom has told me in her own way, several times, to not be her, to not use her as my standard, to not look up to her on my stay at home mom journey.

She told me she was thinking of giving me a spa day. My mom never took a spa day. Ever.

She reminds me I am lucky I don’t have a demanding husband. Her husband demanded home cooked meals and a spotless house. Daily.

She has told me she wishes she had spent more time playing with me and my siblings.

My mom was the perfect mom, but she regretted it. I don’t even think she knew what she had become. It was by demand, not by choice. She had done what she needed to in order to keep her family happy.

I grew up watching my mom be capable to doing everything. It scared me. It was a lot to live up to. I was very vocal about never being a stay at home mom (yes, yes, someone is laughing at me. Haha.). I had no faith in myself that I could do it. I didn’t want to do it.

My life shifted when my son was almost 2.5 and I was about 4 months pregnant with my daughter. I made the choice to support my husband’s career and be the primary caregiver to our kids. There were a few other circumstances around the choice, but that was the big one. I was going to become a, more or less, dedicated stay at home mom.

My mind scrambled for role models. I was raised to have a career one day. I was ambitious and studious, so it was expected I would have a career. I wanted a career. For most of my life, I put aside stay at home moms as my role models. Now that I was going to be one, I turned to the only one I really knew: my mom.

My mom, the perfect mother. I thought I had to be her. I thought I should be able to be just like her.

It was damaging to me as I tried to emulate her. It kept me up at night. It made me worry. It made me sad I couldn’t be like her. I was angry when I couldn’t do what my mom had been able to do so effortlessly. I struggled. I cried. I wondered where I was going wrong. I couldn’t figure out how she had managed to do everything, more than I was giving myself to do on a daily basis, and it was driving me crazy. I asked her several times. Her only answer was: I don’t know.

My mom does not want me to be her. For months, she has told me so in her own ways. She reminds me I do have it easier, and I should take advantage of it. The house work can slip. My husband can cook. I should give him more opportunities to be involved. I shouldn’t get involved with things in the community that I think are silly and a waste of time. She has told me how hard it was for her.

My mom’s honesty opened my eyes. I’m learning that as long as my kids think I’m perfect, then I am. I’m learning to let things slide. I’m learning to take deep breaths, let the cleaning go, and sit on the floor with my kids. I’m learning to ask my husband for help, and to let him cook sometimes and take care of the dishes. I’m learning to trust that he’ll do his self-imposed tasks. It might not be when I would prefer, but, as long as it gets done, it’s fine.

I go back and forth still. I still do dress presentably; a lifetime of training will do that. I still go through cleaning fits and my kids have to whine before I’ll stop or take a break. I get antsy when I know I have something to do, but someone is preventing me.

But then I hear my mom’s voice saying she wishes she had spent more time playing with my siblings and me.

I thought I had to be like my mom. That was the most damaging thing I had ever done to myself. Now I take a good look at how I present myself to my kids. I don’t want my daughter to feel the same way I did. I don’t want my son to impose stupid standards on his future partner. I admit to my kids when I’m tired, when I’m sick, when I’m hurt. I explain why I can’t or won’t do something. I let them see me resting on the couch. I let them see me splitting up the house work so everything gets done, but our home is never pristine. I let them see their father cooking and cleaning.

Above all, I’m setting a better standard for my kids, one where they learn it’s possible to get things done, and it’s okay to have off days.

For more of my parenting posts or to read about my journey into finding magic in motherhood, stop by the Mother’s Corner.

6 thoughts

  1. You have a good mother who wants better for you. And it sounds like she was a great mum growing up despite impressing on you to emulate being a perfect mother. My mother is the opposite; absent, critical, judgemental and never a positive thing to say. To some extent, my mother could learn a thing or two about being a perfect mother.

    1. Thank you; I absolutely agree. I’m sorry to hear your mom was the opposite. I hope that mothers can strive for something in the middle.

  2. My mom was a great mom but never felt she had to be perfect. Still, I want to be like her so I put that pressure on myself a lot. It has been hard to live up to what a great mom she was but I know I’m not her, I am me and I am a different person. And while she my have seemed pretty great to me I bet there were days she had the same thoughts I did and decided she was screwing me and my brother up like I worry I’m screwing my kids up! It’s amazing the lessons our parents teach us and even more amazing when we realize that sometimes they were just people flying by the seat of their pants like we are.

    1. That’s so true! Great moms inspire daughters to be great moms and it’s hard to remember mother and daughter are not the same, but it’s still an important thing to keep in mind. My mom has recently started telling me about what motherhood was really like for me and now I’m amazed I turned out as well as I did. There really is more going on behind what we see as children, and I sometimes wish I’d known the truth sooner. Haha, it might have kept me from going nuts for so long.

  3. I tried to take the best of both my parents when I raised my kids. My mother was very young when she had me and I know she wasn’t ready for a baby being a teenager herself. My mother and I are not close. My mother’s mom took over most of the raising when it came to my upbringing. I still tried to take the best of every adult I had in my life to help guide me when I had children of my own. Every year my children had a birthday I would say to them “Be patient with me, this is the first time I have had a (year at time) in my life that I am responsible for.” Sometimes I would laugh at mistakes I would make but I never beat myself up over them. I knew the mistakes I made were my own, they were never the mistakes from past generations. Your mother sounds so wise and kind. You are already a perfect mother for recognizing those moments from your mother’s life that she taught her children. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    1. You sound like a fantastic mom, so kind and authentic with your kids. I think we all could learn something from you. It’s so wonderful you were able to incorporate pieces from all the adults you grew up with. It sounds like it’s really made you into a wonderful parent and your kids are so lucky. Thank you so much for your kind words.

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