Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

There’s no such thing as a perfect mother ... and I've given up trying to live like one

Too much self-scrutiny sucks the joy out of motherhood, writes Shelina Janmohamed

Too much expectation and judgement is placed upon mothers, writes Shelina Janmohamed. Getty Images
Too much expectation and judgement is placed upon mothers, writes Shelina Janmohamed. Getty Images

It’s time, ladies, to stop obsessing with motherhood, and start taking it in our stride.

We are more self-conscious than ever about the impact we have as mothers on our children. Will it cause lasting damage if I tell them off with a cross voice? Will they have failure to launch if they sleep in our beds past a few months? Can I tell them off in public or will the authorities be called?

Everywhere we look, whatever we read, there's a new right way to be a mother. And at the same time, in all this righteousness of motherhood, we are also sternly admonished that we must not judge others.

We're told its hard work and tiring being a mother. We are told to accept that our houses will never be clean (I can attest to the reality of this) and at the same time this is the most wonderful time of our lives and we must enjoy every last bit of drool, vomit and leaking excrement. (Mothers are told how to do things a lot. Like we’re the children.)

The never ending toy tidy up, the constant need to provide snacks, the unending yelling of why can't you just put your clothes and shoes on are hard work, exhausting and set to repeat on groundhog day. But the biggest problem is this: the constant self-interrogation of every action to see if I'm being a good mother. Correction, a perfect mother.

This self-scrutiny is sucking the life force out of us, and the joy out of motherhood as though every day we are being graded on our success as human beings.

We must endure public evaluation and self-flagellation at necessarily falling short, because while we must strive for perfection, we must caveat this by stating we will always fail. This didn’t exist 20 years ago, and mostly the kids turned out fine (I speak for myself, you can draw your own conclusions).

Mothers just got on with it. I’m not saying it was easy and there weren’t struggles. But this self-scrutiny has become an obsession.

Of course it's right to learn how to be a better parent, to spot dangers through constant self-education. It is important to learn from advice. You don’t pop out a baby and suddenly possess all parenting knowledge. It’s perfectly legitimate to want to learn from past mistakes, those of our own and our previous generations, and to want to be the best mothers we can be.


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But this has become impossible when every day there's a new better way to parent, most of them contradicting and superseding previous prescriptions. And you have to berate yourself about your old ways and pledge yourself to the new.

Mostly the new ways eventually lead back to the ways that our own mothers used to mother, which we had previously dismissed as outdated nonsense. Remember the tradition of 40 days of bed rest after the birth like generations of mothers before us? Who on earth would stay at home suffering internment, we had lives to live! We weren’t going to be controlled. And yet now we have the invention of the fourth trimester for new mothers.

Or take the simple task of moisturising your baby’s skin. First it was almond oil, then you found out this caused allergies. Then it was olive oil. But then it was pronounced it was too harsh for newborn skin. So we all moved to coconut oil. Just last week I’ve discovered that it is too drying for baby skin. So now we are all back to almond oil.

It’s beginning to feel like there’s a conspiracy to poke fun at mothers and make our lives even harder than they already are, and in the process suck the joy and normality out of being a mum.

The worst part of the self scrutiny is that you have to make yourself relive chores a second and third time unnecessarily. And how it undermines your sense of self at every step.

Our kids enjoy just being kids. They don't overthink their childhood. We should stop overthinking being their mothers.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

Updated: October 19, 2017 09:51 PM