What happens when we bring perfectionism into our parenting?

How we can step back from our need to be perfect and really see our girls.

Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

Motherhood is full of expectations. We all have an idea of what kind of mother we want to be and what we expect of our daughters. Our expectations are unique to us, shaped by many things like our culture, our upbringing, our roles and our personalities. 

Some expectations are common among mothers: most of us want our daughters to be happy and confident, to be popular and liked by their friends, to get good grades and excel, to have friends and to get along with their family and siblings. 

All of these goals are admirable and positive. Naturally we want our girls to be happy and successful. The problem lies in what happens when they aren’t. When our girls fight, are moody, struggle with their relationships and fail at school. When this happens, we all too often blame ourselves or blame others. We feel as though, as mothers, we have failed. And pressure from society adds to that judgment and guilt, with research showing that pressure to be that “perfect mother” leads to burnout, depression, less career ambition and can strain work-family balance¹. 

The real issue is that trying to reach unrealistically high expectations of perfection distracts us from the real job of parenting which is to raise mature, highly functioning young adults. Every time we try to please the people around us or to live up to our own standards of perfection, we fail to recognise the real-time needs of our children and ourselves. And every time we oversee our daughter’s real need, is a lost opportunity to be able to help her (and ourselves) grow.

Trying to reach unrealistically high expectations distracts us from the real job of parenting which is to raise mature, highly functioning young adults.

I see this happen all too often with my own girls when they fight. It is shocking to see how quickly my mind churns out thoughts like, “they will never get along” or “what am I doing wrong?”. If I actually engage in this line of thinking then I am likely to wind up reacting by screaming or trying to fix the problem for them.

This is where mindfulness is so important. Learning to be mindful means we unveil the presence of these expectations. We learn the skill of being able to shift our awareness from those projections and judgments to what is happening right now – for us and them. 

Picture yourself looking at your daughter with fresh eyes right now and asking yourself: What do I notice about my daughter in this moment? What is she doing well in and what is she struggling with? 

When we are mindful of our girls – we can capture what they are feeling and what challenges they are facing with more clarity. 

And we are able to stop our automatic reactions and pause to choose an action that will nurture and repair rather than rupture our relationship. We are kinder to ourselves and realise we are not perfect and that is okay. 

As our girls move towards adolescence, it is inevitable that they will start to face more complex life challenges. And it will be our job as mothers to help them navigate these and “surf” that wave successfully to the other side. The pre-adolescent years are a buffer period where we can make positive changes in our mindset and build our skills to give ourselves and our girls the best chance to thrive now, and in the years ahead. 

To learn more about mindfulness and to receive free resources and meditations, subscribe to the Mothering girls newsletter or sign up to the next 3-day Mothering Tween Girls Workshop.

  1. Meeussen, L., & Van Laar, C. (2018). Feeling Pressure to Be a Perfect Mother Relates to Parental Burnout and Career Ambitions. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2113. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02113

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