The wonderful thing about social media is that it is the perfect place to not only hide your true self, but provides an opportunity to create the ‘perfect’ image. You can be anything you want to be.
It’s full of mums achieving standards that don’t seem quite realistic when placed within the context of the real world. How super insta mum has created a fantastic game for her children, played with them, cleaned the entire house, done the washing, walked the dog, taken the children to the park, got herself washed and dressed with beautiful clothes and perfect make up, is none stop smiling, her children have eaten all their organic 5 a day breakfast, lunch and dinner, they haven’t cried or had a tantrum once and above all she has the time to make videos and take pictures of everything and post them to social media. I’m lucky if I get to shower that day never mind put a full face of make up on. And they are always happy.
What am I doing wrong? Why do I seem to be living in squalor while everyone else has it together? How is it that they find it so easy when I’m over here struggling? Is there something wrong with me that I’m not happy all the time and actually some days I wonder what the hell I got myself into? The answer is that these perfect insta mums are exactly the same as the rest of us. I am doing nothing wrong and neither is anyone else. Just like the rest of us, I am trying my best everyday. Social media provides mere snapshots of time, as they say you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, or rather an iPhone.
It can be damaging for anyone to compare themselves to others, let alone an image that is fabricated and unobtainable.
I have struggled with perfectionism for years. I constantly set myself standards that I am unable to achieve. This means I view myself as a failure all the time at everything I do and being a parent was no different.
Before I gave birth I didn’t have a preconceived idea of what I would look like as a parent. I was going to take it as it came. But when I got there I was not prepared for the anxiety and worry that accompanies being a parent. I was not prepared for what it took to look after a newborn nor the love that would consume me.
The more time I spent reading about developmental milestones, feeding, safer sleeping and routines, the more I began to form this idea of what I should be as a parent. Seeing other Mums on social media making it look easy further shaped this idea of what I needed to do to be the perfect mum. I couldn’t be anything less because my daughter deserved nothing but the best from me.
I believed that being a Mum was ensuring that I always smiled at my daughter no matter how tired or frustrated I was. She couldn’t see me as anything other than her happy mum.
I believed that when she was awake I needed to provide stimulation and encourage her development. That meant reading to her, playing with her with home made age appropriate games, singing to her and talking to her.
I believed that I should always be calm and I couldn’t ever be frustrated with being a mum and the demands this entailed.
I believed that I should always put my daughter first and consider her needs at all times. This meant that I wouldn’t eat, sleep, shower, or do anything for me unless she was asleep. That was the only time when I would give myself guilt free permission to do something for me.
I believed to be a good Mum was to be able to do everything. The housework, the cooking, entertaining the kids, looking after my husband and everyone else, working and to not find it difficult.
I believed I couldn’t ask for help because I was the one at home all day, I wanted my daughter and above all it was my role as a mum.
These were absolutes. There was no room for error. It was all or nothing and if I didn’t meet my standards everyday then I was a failure. The mum guilt was out of control.
It is safe to say that the pressure I inflicted upon myself was massive and I suffered with my mental health. There was absolutely no way I could be my idea of the perfect mum and therefore it was inevitable that I would be disappointed in myself everyday.
For anyone who has never heard of perfectionism in this sense, perfectionism is a personality trait in which an individual sets themselves standards which are so high that they either can not be achieved ,or that they can ,but to a great detriment to the individual. Perfectionism thrives on fear of failure, the fear of making mistakes and therefore something bad will happen. Now you might be thinking that doesn’t seem that bad. In fact you might be thinking that this isn’t a particularly bad trait to have in that it forces you to be your best and achieve high standards which bring positive rewards. Yes, it can have a positive side such as this and on the odd occasion, my perfectionist trait has led me to produce some of my best work at university and allowed me to perform at my job very well. However the mental impact of this is immense.
Think about it. Imagine running your personal best time. Now imagine that at EVERY race you have to run your personal best, even if you’re tired, ill or have a broken leg. You may STRIVE for your personal best, that’s different and a very healthy way to live, but as a perfectionist you must ACHIEVE your personal best EVERYTIME. That’s a lot of pressure and pretty much impossible.
I have found Perfectionism self help resources such as this to be very helpful.
I think as first time mums we are susceptible and vulnerable. I was particularly so in that I had lost my mum suddenly when I was 24 weeks pregnant and was very much first timing on my own.
Anyone I have ever spoken to who has had more than one child (veteran mum) will tell you how they acted differently with their first and second child. With their first child they did everything by the book, took the advice of every professional and essentially wrapped their child up in cotton wool. With their second child they did the complete opposite. Are they bad parents? Absolutely not. Are their children happy and healthy despite the differences in parenting? Yes. And it was these veteran mums who helped me to realise what I was doing to myself and helped me relax my standards.
What do I do differently and believe now?
Here are a few things which I do now to help me be the best imperfect mum I can be:
1) I don’t believe everything I see on social media.
2) If we all make it to bed at the end of the day fed, clean, watered and healthy as a minimum then that’s enough.
3) I’ve relaxed my efforts with the housework. The dishes can wait and if my husband or anyone else has anything to say then my reply is one of two: “you do them” or “this isn’t a hotel”. My house is lived in.
4) I take time for me. This is a big one and a must which I schedule into my day. It can be anything from having a bath, doing a workout or writing. As long as it is something I enjoy. I realise I am just as important as my daughter and husband, I MATTER and therefore I need to invest some time in myself.
5) I no longer HAVE to achieve my idea of perfection but rather I SRTIVE to be the best I can be everyday. This way of thinking motivates me rather than pressurises me and as result I’m more relaxed and happier. Excellence vs Perfectionism is key.
6) It’s ok to be frustrated ,being a mum is hard work. Admitting this also doesn’t make me a bad mum it makes me a better mum, which leads me nicely to..
7) It’s ok not to be smiling all the time. In fact it’s healthy for my daughter to witness my range of emotions as what is important is how I respond and manage them rather than having them to begin with. That way she will learn how she can manage and respond to her emotions and know that to show your emotions is not a bad thing.
8) I ask for help!! I can not do everything on my own. Yes I’ll admit somethings my husband does he does wrong because he doesn’t do it the way I would. But the point is it’s done.
9) Allowing my daughter to explore and entertain herself is just as important for her development as is us attending baby groups and engaging in ‘developmental play’. I love this quote by Kim Raver;
“I think it’s necessary to let kids get bored once in a while-that’s how they learn to be creative“.
10) Being a mum means: just love.
For any one giving themselves a hard time for what they should be doing, do me a favour and have a little look at the things you are doing.
Anyone who follows my instagram and facebook knows how much I love my daughter and that she is more than a daughter to me because she helped piece me back together after Losing my mum.
To be the best for my daughter is for me not to be my best!