Today there is huge pressure to be the perfect parent.
A recent survey from BabyCentre revealed that 3 in 5 mums feel a huge pressure to be perfect parents. Another survey by Sure Start Scotland found that 50% of parents said they were put off seeking help because they felt like ‘bad parents’ for asking.
Where does this pressure come from and how can we deal with it?
Nicola, a mum of two girls from Team Happity, addressed this in our latest Instagram Live. Here’s what she had to say to open up the conversation:
The overwhelm of parenting advice
Today we’re bringing up our babies and children with an overwhelming amount of advice from digital media. There are so many blogs, surveys and media headlines coming at us from all sides telling us how to parent (and how not to). Often, the advice is changing and contradictory. It can be confusing and lead us to doubt our own instincts. And worry about whether we’re getting things wrong. It all adds to the pressure.
Our own grandmothers and mothers brought up their babies without this plethora of parenting advice. They relied on their own instincts as well as asking advice from family and friends (who they lived close by providing a village to raise their child). Things were simpler. There was more hands-on support. There wasn’t the same level of scrutiny.
Now many more of us live far away from our families. Our ‘villages’ are not there to step in and provide reassurance, help and support on a day to day level. And we can feel more alone and more doubtful about our parenting.
A mother’s place is always in the wrong!
There are online debates daily on the rights and wrongs of parenting. You can easily feel like you don’t know which way is up and feel like, if you get it ‘wrong’, then you’ll be judged.
Even if you don’t face direct judgement from people you know – you make you can read tweets and comments online from others who disagree with any parenting decision you make.
You give your baby a dummy – and then read hundreds of judgemental comments online condemning parents who do that. You stop breastfeeding at 3 months or 9 months (or keep breastfeeding until 2 years plus) and wade through hundreds of comments on social media about why either decision is harming your child.
Even if you feel like this was the best parenting decision for you and your baby and your family at the time you made it, you’ve got to have a thick skin. And a high level of confidence to brush this level of passionate online criticism and judgement.
In the survey from BabyCentre 2 in 5 mums said that social media intensifies the pressure to be a perfect parent because you are constantly bombarded with perfect images of parenting and compare yourself to others.
There’s a well known saying that ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. When you’re constantly being fed photos of happy parents with Insta perfect lives then this is elevated. Comparing yourself and finding that you come up short can really chip away at your self-esteem.
My girls are both grown up now and so I went through the early years of parenting when social media wasn’t a thing. I actually feel really lucky and thankful for that. Don’t get me wrong – there are many positives to social media – especially in terms of connecting parents and providing an online community and support. But that level of ‘in your face’ comparison just wasn’t there for me.
I felt like I was on a good day if I left my house without an obvious baby sick stain on my jumper and having found time to brush my hair! I didn’t even give a thought to whether my baby’s nursery was beautifully themed or whether I was pushing a stylish buggy. (Mine was the one I could afford at the time and later one I got as a hand-me-down from a friend).
Social media is now part of our lives and is here to stay. We all know that behind every perfect Insta shot there is no doubt a pile of clutter that a mum has pushed away. And that, more often than not, the pics show the best sides of a parent’s day and not the tears, tantrums and ‘in the trenches’ moments.
When you’re feeling a bit wobbly it’s harder to remember that a photo does not tell the whole truth and to stop comparing your own life to the lives we see on social media.
Putting pressure on ourselves to be the perfect parent
For me, the idealised picture of motherhood that I had in my head during pregnancy was just not realistic. I remember being told I could go home with my newborn baby and feeling overwhelmed. Although I’d had nine months to plan for this moment, it felt a little reckless that now I was taking this tiny vulnerable newborn home, feeling suddenly like I had no clue what I was doing!
Of course I learned along the way, but that feeling of overwhelm and uncertainty rocked my previous vision of myself as ‘the perfect mother’ right from the get-go.
Expectations vs reality
I had strong feelings of how I would parent before giving birth. If any of the things I’d planned didn’t work out, then I’d really beat myself up and feel like I’d failed somehow.
For example, I’d planned a natural birth. After over 32 hours of agonising and exhausting back-to-back labour, I begged the midwife for an epidural. It was the right decision for me at the time but I still felt guilty for ‘failing’.
There were many other moments where the ideal and the reality of parenting didn’t meet up and the guilt I felt for ‘getting it wrong’ was huge. Whether this was giving up breastfeeding too soon or shouting at my child after a day when I was exhausted and frustrated and just didn’t have the patience to deal with the crying or tantrums.
Work and mum guilt
I grew up with the message that women could ‘have it all’. Which is empowering on one hand. But adds to the pressure on the other. Especially since flexible working, affordable childcare and gender equality are not yet at the level where women can find a perfect balance between work and being a mum.
We are expected to work as if we don’t have children, and parent as if we don’t have to work. I have worked part-time and full time as a mum. And have often felt like I couldn’t give both my full energy and attention. It never takes much for a perfectly planned week to go off the rails and for the plates we spin in the air to keep both going crash to the ground. All it takes is a poorly child or a childcare issue for things to start feeling stressful.
The guilt that comes with not always being able to find the balance between work and parenting adds to the pressure.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent
My children are now both grown up and over the years I have worked hard on being kinder to myself and trying not to beat myself up for not being the perfect parent. After all – the perfect parent doesn’t exist. Just as the perfect human doesn’t!
I make mistakes. Of course I do. I always say sorry afterwards and try not to let the mum guilt eat away at me. All the choices I have made as a mum were the best for me and my children at the time and with the resources (and sometimes the energy!) I had.
The truth is we’re all just doing our best. And that makes us good parents. Which – seeing as perfect parents don’t exist – is good enough!
The very fact that you are worrying about whether you’re a good enough parent means that you probably already are.
You’re amazing and you’re doing a great job.
You’ve got this!
Watch our Instagram Live
We’d love to know what you think about whether there is too much pressure to be the perfect parent. Hop over to watch our Insta live and please do leave a comment to share your thoughts.