Nobody’s Perfect

That title is the famous last line from the movie “Some Like It Hot”. The response the Jack Lemmon character gets when he admits that he is a man – after having pretended to be a woman – is, “Nobody’s perfect!”

I thought of that line recently when a mother who reads my blog told me that she doesn’t like the title – Good Enough Mothering. She said she doesn’t want to be “good enough”, she wants to be perfect. “Good enough” doesn’t seem good enough. She told me that when her first child was born she knew nothing about children and read everything she could so she wouldn’t make any mistakes.

To my surprise, a day or two later, another mother said almost the same thing. Although she said it somewhat tongue-in-cheek, she admitted that she wants to be perfect. She talked about it in connection with the stress of mothering – the attempt to be perfect.

It was not surprising to me to find that mothers are trying to be perfect. My purpose in writing this blog is to try to help mothers give that up. What was surprising was to hear this stated as if it were an attainable goal. The two questions that occurred to me are, what is the definition of perfect, and how would you know if you had achieved it?

Would being a perfect mother mean having children who are perfect? That sounds like an impossible goal on the face of it. But if that is the test it would mean that any fault in your child would mean that you did something wrong – that you aren’t perfect. So is that part of the demand for perfection that mothers sometimes have for their children?

Does being perfect mean not making any mistakes? One of the moms I refer to said she didn’t want to make any mistakes. What is a mistake? And how would you know if you made one? If your child is unhappy, or frustrated, or angry, does that mean you made a mistake? It would seem this judgment depends on children’s behavior. What your children do defines you as a mother – as if children’s behavior is a result only of what you did or didn’t do.

Does being perfect mean fitting some image you have of what a mother is supposed to be like? Someone like your mother, or the opposite of your mother, or the mother you wished you had? Everyone experiences frustration while growing up because living in the world with other people inevitably brings some frustration. Mothers almost always are blamed as the source of that frustration. Would being perfect mean your children would never blame you for anything? If that is the case, to be perfect you would have to be an all-gratifying mother, let your children eat whatever they want, do whatever they want, get whatever they want. How would that work out?

The idea of being a perfect mother seems to suggest that your children are like lumps of clay that you can mold – they are your product, your creation. If you do everything the right way you can make that creation into anything you want. This leaves out not only all the inborn factors that make each child a specific individual, but also all the other influences that come to bear during a child’s development.

If being a perfect mother means having your child turn out a certain way – the way you want – what is that way you want him or her to turn out? What measuring rod will you use to determine if you are, or have been, a perfect mother? Mothers often ask what the right way is to do this or that. But the right way for what? For the child to be happy, never to find anything hard, never to be disappointed, never to feel upset? To be successful? If so, what is your definition of success? An A average in school, a great athlete, the most popular in the class, someone who cares about others?

It seems clear that what it comes down to is essentially a matter of values. What is it that you as parents value most? Is it academic success, success in sports, making money, being creative, contributing to society? The answers to these questions are going to vary from parent to parent because people differ and what they value differs. And your own values are the determining factor in how you raise your children.

The idea that there is some abstract right way of doing things simply doesn’t work. The way you respond to your child depends on who you are, who your child is, and what you value most. This determines what you are trying to accomplish and how you try to accomplish it.

At the end of the day, as a parent it is who you are that matters – not whether you do it the “right way”. Nobody’s perfect!

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