• Quote of the Day
    "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."
    Carl Jung, posted by Daniel
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David Baxter

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On Skipping Motherhood Perfection
by Jessica Zucker, PhD
May 09, 2010

Dear Moms,

Perfection is unattainable.

Striving for perfection can be a debilitating time suck that usually results in feelings of guilt, failure or complete and utter dismay.

So why is this myth, an age-old Superwoman image of motherhood, still very much alive in our culture? When will these impervious ideals melt away from the zeitgeist, leaving women feeling more empowered and less ashamed? How do we come to believe we should possess superhuman qualities in the midst of one of life's most transformative moments -- entering the tender and often bewildering maze that is motherhood?

Donald Winnicott, renowned psychoanalyst and pediatrician, gave birth to the revolutionary concept of "good enough mothering" which somehow has yet to reach popular culture. This conceptualization of motherhood emphasizes the humanity of mothering as well as the ways in which the child's development as a separate being flourishes in this less than perfect environment. Perfection only occurs in fictional tales and among comic book landscapes, not in actual homes of real people navigating through the ever-changing complexities of life.

Babies need their mothers to be mindfully present, not perfect. Newborns thrive when surrounded by dedicated caregivers who are consciously attuned to their burgeoning developmental milestones and their nascent vulnerabilities. Attachment and bonding are crucial, elemental aspects of this newfound relationship that set the framework for how babies come to understand trust, intimacy, and the world around them. Again, perfection is not the aim and striving for it is an unwarranted distraction from deepening this wondrous relationship. Instead, turning one's energies toward being authentic and available to whatever arises during the transition into parenthood is likely the most beneficial dynamic for mommy and baby. Attachment is a process, not a finite event -- a reassuring mantra to hold onto when perfection feels like it's slipping through your fingers.

The overwhelm that often accompanies new motherhood is not something you can necessarily prepare for in advance. Even the most astute, well-read or vigilant pregnant women may find themselves deluged by the dizzying amount of juggling that parenthood requires. Keeping an eye on the basics is what ultimately matters most. How are you feeling? Do you feel supported? Are you attending to your baby's needs? Do you feel you can be honest with yourself or others about the various feelings that arise each day? Choose presence over perfection.

Identifying our own maternal vulnerabilities and taking time to poignantly understand and address them promises to lay the groundwork for a healthier parent-child milieu. It's important to remember to secure your oxygen mask before securing your baby's. Understanding that it is impossible to embody perfection in motherhood is the first and perhaps most important step toward establishing an honest, mindful, and at times messy connection with your child.

Dr. Jessica Zucker is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles specializing in fertility, prenatal and postpartum adjustments and maternal attachment.
 

Daniel

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Self-compassion is the practice of being caring and compassionate towards oneself in the face of hardship or perceived inadequacy and has been associated with more caring relationship behavior (Neff, 2003; Bennett-Goleman, 2001). Parents can incorporate specific behaviors that address the three elements of self-compassion (Neff, 2011):
  • Develop self-kindness by using words that are gentle, warm, and affirming towards yourself (e.g., I am a loving mom/dad,” "I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.”)

  • Acknowledge that suffering is universal and that you are not alone! Parents can benefit from connecting with other parents (e.g., by participating in mom/dad groups, talking to other parents and acknowledging the challenges of parenthood, and validating each other’s efforts in caring for their children).

  • Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can aid in self-awareness and non-judgment. Guided meditations can be used as a formal mindfulness practice wherein one observes the negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity and focuses on the present moment. Parents can incorporate informal mindfulness practices by engaging in mindful walking or playing with children. Savoring, which is the mindfulness of positive experiences, can be practiced when participating in activities with children such as when playing, hugging, or reading to them and when putting them to sleep.
 

Daniel

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You don't want to get stuck looking back, you don't want to get stuck on your inward part, because your joy, your future, your children's future is the looking ahead.
 

Daniel

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Kid brings the car home looking like it was in a demolition derby? Serious Dad wails about insurance rates and trade-in value. Sitcom Dad? He shakes his head and says, “Welp, there goes that Uber-driver side hustle.”

Find a pack of smokes in the kid’s jacket pocket? Serious Dad goes ballistic, using phrases like “Not in this house!” and “Where did I go wrong?” Sitcom Dad? He lights one up and strikes a goofy Joe Cool pose before collapsing into a debilitating coughing fit. Point made.

It would be easy to dismiss Sitcom Dad as a glorified method of unhealthy disengagement. But trust me, it’s a powerful, sanity-preserving coping strategy.
 

Daniel

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There are doubtless benefits that come from elevating parenthood to the status of a religion, but there are obvious pitfalls as well. Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home. Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood.

Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home...

Perhaps it is time that we gave the parenthood religion a second thought.
 

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