Conquering Perfect Mother Syndrome (PMS)

perfect mother syndrome

Before entering the mommy arena, I unpacked baggage from my childhood and wrestled it to the floor. Then I carefully repacked the baggage and affectionately renamed them “experiences.”  I devoured every parenting book in print, or so it seemed, feeding my insatiable appetite for mommy knowledge.  My misguided quest to be the perfect mom, eventually, left me fatigued and frustrated.

No mother out there has it all together. No matter how idyllic the picket fence looks on the outside, kids are kids and mothering is a messy business.

There are no perfect mothers.  How are we to grasp the reality that there is no such person as a perfect mother when our culture places a high premium on perfection?  Perfect Mom Syndrome, the new PMS, may very well be the next malady that afflicts women like an infectious disease.

Recovering From PMS

Our culture grooms girls from an early age to attain and maintain perfection in as many areas of life as possible.  A roving glance on any social media sidebar offers quick fixes for physical improvement. The latest being a pill that blocks fat so that you can imbibe on forbidden junk food, guilt-free.

A woman might possess a chiseled nose thanks to cosmetic surgery or rock a physique sculpted by a personal trainer and impose this level of perfectionism on her mothering.

Not only are women duped into believing we must be the prettiest, skinniest, most wrinkle-free mom in the neighborhood, but we are also coached in hyper laser-like focus on academic performance and achievement as well.  Both of which are noble objectives but not when we unconsciously carry this cultural baggage into motherhood.

Experience, which includes making lots of mistakes, and sage advice from a few wise women along my mothering journey helped to churn out several tips to assuage your PMS:

Believe God’s Promises

Whenever I have an epic mom failure, I look to the women in Scripture who also failed.  I don’t look to those women for a misery loves company feeling, but to witness how God redeemed them.  Popping in a movie for my kids so that I can gather my wits at the end of an emotionally trying day, doesn’t make me a bad mother.  It makes my mothering authentic because I am admitting that I am tired and weary.

Avoid Working Problems Out on Your Own

Motherhood isn’t a path to take alone.  When you meet one of those mothering moments that make you wonder if you were cut out for the job (if you haven’t met one of those moments yet, hold on, you will.), don’t go at it alone.  Social media friends are not the ones you need when in a crisis.  Sure, they can pray or post a positive thought on your wall.  For the tough mom moments when you want to meet your hubby at the door with your resignation papers, you need the flesh and blood sort of friends.

If you belong to a church community, you can benefit from the compassion of others who are willing to serve you in a time of need.

Being a Mother is Not Your Identity

After college, I naturally tethered my identity to my success as a professional.  Once I became a mother, I willingly forfeited my career, but I still retained that intrinsic hunger for success and affirmation.  It didn’t take me long to realize that kids don’t give two whips whether or not mommy experiences fulfillment after surviving a toddler’s full-throttle meltdown.  Most often, after the wake of a tsunami level toddler tantrum, I would lock myself in the bathroom and sob.

A few kids and a few strands of gray hair later, I realized that I measured my success as a mom on an unrealistic scale.  My identity is not wrapped up in my children or how well-behaved they are in the supermarket or the sanctuary.  I will fail as a mom, and my kids will fail too.  Failure is a stepping stone that gets us closer to our Redeemer.

The worse possible mom-mistakes allow God the chance to bring about good but only when we surrender our perfectionistic hearts completely to him.

perfect mother syndrome

Burying Your Head in the Sand or Running Away From the Grimy Side of Mothering

As much as we think we deserve it,  scheduling a pedicure or a quick visit to the gym instead of tackling difficult kid issues will not help develop your child’s character.  Tough mommy situations bring out the best in us, later.  I am not suggesting that moms neglect self-care or the occasional pampering session (believe me I am all about that).

The problem is that we want to forget that there is a side of motherhood that is sacrificial.  Which means, we forgo the weekly mani-pedi to invest in nurturing our kids’ character so that when they are old enough, they are trustworthy enough to be left alone when you seek solace at the salon.

Criticizing Others Will Get You Nowhere

Scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day, I stumbled upon an evocative piece by writer Jasmine Holmes who diplomatically balanced the mommy wars between the stay-at-home-mom versus the career mom, “being a mom is not my ultimate calling — and nor is being a teacher. God made us for something greater. Our ultimate calling is to live life for God’s glory. I don’t stand on the pedestal of mom-sacrifice, or on the platform of career excellence. I bow to my knees before a God who plans my steps.

Motherhood is a sorority that welcomes women from diverse backgrounds and differing convictions.  Therefore, we ought not to criticize one another for stumbling or fumbling on occasion as we are all trying to master the art of mothering.

Do Not Let Fear Paralyze You

All mothers fear that one bad mommy decision will spoil an entire generation. Not true.

I live a few miles from one of the most breathtaking bridges on the east coast. Its span stretches across six miles of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. The fear of driving across this bridge is so real for countless people in my community that many hire a driver to taxi them to the other side.  Fear of what might happen as they journey across the bridge paralyzes them.

Motherhood is much the same way.  We fear what we cannot control.  I spent years biting my nails with worry that I would somehow with my motherly imperfections send my kids into a state of emotional wreckage.

Bottle or Breast? Homeschool or public school? Do you allow your kids to do sleepovers?  Will you vaccinate?  What to do with the inappropriate photos you found on your son’s Instagram feed or what about the bully on the bus. Focusing on just one of these issues is enough to paralyze a tiger.

Acknowledge your fear, pray about the specific fear, bury yourself in scripture, and find an older mentor.

Learn to be Content

Contentment is something I’ve struggled with as an adult, and motherhood intensified the struggle.  Whenever my kids and I participated in a play group, it seemed that most of the moms chatted about impending vacations, accelerated readers for their gifted child, or popular sports camps.  Quite often, by the time we wrapped up the playtime, my discontentment had sprouted new roots like an unwelcome weed.

Eventually, I learned to loosen the suffocating grip of discontentment and celebrate the simple pleasures of mom life.  The pleasures of crouching in the garden with my kids to watch a Monarch unfold its wings or tasting the sweetness of honeysuckle offered to me by the chubby, mud encrusted hands of my pre-schooler.

Contentment in mothering requires a mom-heart that is willing to live in the moment with your kids.

Imperfection Causes us to Lean and Turn to God

If we are brutally honest, most of us arrive at motherhood clueless.  We inhale the top-rated books on how to survive motherhood or how to avoid the temptation of unleashing the tiger mom within us.  In spite of our fervent attempts to prepare for this overwhelming job, when we close the book on child training real life happens.

Yes, motherhood requires sacrificial love without any guarantees that we will have the perfect storybook ending.

The only guarantee we have as imperfect mothers are the promises of our perfect, truthful, and loving God.

Do any of these cures for Perfect Mother Syndrome resonate with you?  If so, please share.

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4 Comments

  1. Laura on June 2, 2017 at 11:43 am

    This was so good. I have been finding myself falling into the trap of putting my identity in motherhood, when the Lord really calls us to much more than that. We are His children, and that’s the most important thing about us! Having real life friends is so critical too. I’m new to my area, so I’m still working on that one. I’ll be pinning this article to read again later.

    Blessings!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 5, 2017 at 10:54 am

      Trust me Laura, I did the same thing for years! I’ve learned that my goal as a mom is to make disciples, basically live out the Great Commission within my household. I am certain you will find friends who are willing to say both the loving and the hard things. Blessing to you on your journey. I hope you stop again soon.

  2. Brittany on June 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Much needed. I am more than a mom. And I need a community of moms, friends, coworkers, and most importantly God to help me along this journey. Beautiful piece! #byhisgracebloggers

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 29, 2017 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and take a peek at my post. I am blessed that you gained some takeaway from the piece. Blessings, Denise

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