Perfection is like infinity. There is no end. We can keep striving to be better, yet the goal posts keep moving, and perfection eludes us. Time and time again, I see new mums who with the best of intentions for their babies and families, are striving to be ‘perfect’ mothers – to parent in the ‘perfect’ way. The reason they are in therapy, is often because this bottomless pit of striving sets them up to fail, and this perceived failure feels intolerable. There is typically a lifetime of layers beneath the surface of this striving, which is certainly worthy of exploration.
Striving for perfection can seriously limit our capacity to enjoy life. Perfection-striving is often associated with all or nothing or black and whitethinking. For example, the mum who won’t go to mother’s group if she is going to be late, misses out on the building of relationships with other mums (who are often late themselves). The mum who won’t exercise if she can’t exercise three times per week, misses out on the benefits of some exercise and a little time-out. The mum who won’t invite people over unless she gets the time to make the house look immaculate, misses out on the fun and spontaneity of having other new mums and babies around for her own and her baby’s social well-being. The mum who won’t let her partner settle the baby because he/she won’t do it like she does, misses out on her partner’s support and her partner's growing bond with the baby.
The bottom line is that there is no one way, and there is no right way. When your hard and fast rules about how things should be, get in the way of the things that give your life meaning (i.e. the things that you really value) ask yourself if there is a middle ground?
The middle ground is a place where we strive for being ‘good-enough’ mothers. Perfectionists usually see this term “good enough” as meaning mediocre. However, ‘good-enough’ means good enough. For example, getting to mothers group late is better than not going at all. It can be a good laugh and a supportive environment. Exercising whenever possible (despite wishing to achieve three exercise sessions per week) is better than nothing, and is likely to become easier to achieve over time. Inviting friends over, even if the house is untidy, shows them that you are human after all (very comforting for most people), and demonstrates that you value friendships more than your domestic high standards. Letting your partner settle the baby even if he/she does it differently to you, knowing that this is their chance to discover what works, and to establish a good bond.
The middle ground is a much kinder place – a place of acceptance, and openness to experience. Try it. You’ll see. You might even find that not only can you be a 'good-enough' mum, you can be a great mum!
If these tips are not enough, and your need for perfection is causing you distress, it may be worthwhile to seek help.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Perinatal Clinical Psychologist
Founder Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Co-founder The Perinatal Loss Centre
"I feel like I have no control over my life"
"The 'to do' list never ends"
"I can't seem to finish anything I start"
"My toddler is ruling the roost"
"I'm trying so hard to be a good parent but I'm worried that I'm not"
Parenthood is stressful. The responsibilities and demands of a baby, toddler (or both), the sleep deprivation, the loss of freedom, the loss of control, and the never-ending 'to do list' can be overwhelming and stress inducing. Not to mention the emotional investment in wanting to parent a child who will feel safe and secure in the world, with a high emotional intelligence and a resilience to facing life's challenges. It's a big gig!
Some new parents seek help to manage postnatal depression and/or postnatal anxiety. However many new parents seek help simply to manage stress. Often motivated by wanting to be the best parents they can be, parents recognise when they are operating in a revved up state. Their sleep can be affected, and they may notice symptoms of irritability, being overly touchy or sensitive, snappy, and generally not being able to wind down. Parents often report that their stress is most apparent in their relationship with their spouse, and/or in an increasing impatience with their children.
There is a vast literature and much media attention educating the public on postnatal depression and more recently, postnatal anxiety. However for parents who are stressed this focus on depression and anxiety can result in a hesitation towards help-seeking in the absence of a depressed mood or an anxiety disorder. Postnatal stress can cause significant upset in families, and evidence-based treatments for stress can bring about welcomed symptom relief.
So what is the difference between depression, anxiety and stress? According to the authors and researchers of the Depression, Anxiety Stress Scales (Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995) depression, anxiety and stress can co-occur, however each state has its unique symptoms. Depression symptoms include feeling negative, down-hearted, gloomy, unmotivated, dispirited, and a loss of enjoyment in things once pleasurable. Anxiety includes physiological symptoms of panic, pounding heart, shakiness, fear of losing control, and apprehension. Stress includes nervousness, jumpiness, tension, getting easily upset or irritated, and difficulty relaxing.
The Psychologists at the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network (APPN) commonly use the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS-21) - a well validated screening tool that helps new parents to understand their particular symptoms. In our experience, new parents like to understand their symptoms using the DASS-21, and they find it useful to track their symptoms over time to see how they are progressing with therapy. Although scores on the DASS can delineate symptom severity and a measure of progress over time, clinical diagnoses (if relevant) require further assessment by the psychologist to ensure that appropriate treatment strategies are implemented in therapy.
Treatment for stress typically involves a combination of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness based therapies. These approaches give parents tools for understanding how their thinking - expectations, appraisals and worry - contribute to their difficulties (thinking being a modifiable component in managing stress). In addition parents learn to manage their responses (physical and behavioural) in relation to life stressors and to their own fears. Practical strategies for managing daily routines can form part of the work, as well as sorting through family of origin dynamics that may underly one's problematic thinking and stress levels in the early parenting years. Learning how to wind down and relax is fundamental to this therapy for stressed new parents and parents of young children.
Written by Dr Renée Miller
Principal Clinical Psychologist
Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Social media is a quick and easy resource for busy new parents. The challenge is finding reputable sites that don't promote extreme (and often contradictory) parenting advice that can leave parents feeling confused and inadequate.
The Facebook page of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network provides a community resource for expectant and new parents. Articles curated by Dr Renée Miller (Principal Clinical Psychologist) are posted with a knowledge of the evidence base, and seventeen years experience in supporting women and couples through the common challenges associated with new parenthood.
Our aim is to promote practical positive parenting strategies with a focus on connection, as well as to maintain a culture of self-care, self-compassion and 'good-enough' parenting.
We are delighted that our following has grown to over 4000 people, as parents engage with our page in their pursuit of perinatal well-being and positive parenting strategies.
Thank you to the perinatal professionals who follow our page and who share our articles with their clients and patients.
Here is a link to our page: www.facebook.com/antenatal.postnatal.psychology/
The analytics are in. The 3800+ followers of the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network Facebook Page have voted for their favourite parenting articles by responding to our posts.
To find out which articles were the most popular in 2017, we analysed readers' reactions and shares, and evaluated the total numbers of people our posts reached.
Posts on our Facebook page are judiciously selected by Perinatal Clinical Psychologist, Dr Renée Miller.
Posts cover topics that are of interest and of benefit to expectant and new parents, and to parents facing the common challenges associated with toddlers and young children. Out of the many topics listed below, find out which articles ranked in the top 7.
Topics our Facebook Page covers
So, out of all these topics, which articles made the top 7?
At Number 7:
The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today's Children
At Number 6:
11 Things to Say When Kids Cry
At Number 5:
Bringing Home Another Baby: Six months in, a mom reflects on double duty parenting
At Number 4:
Bereaved Mother's Day: Acknowledging mums who have lost babies
At Number 3:
How a Parent's Affection Shapes a Child's Happiness for Life
At Number 2:
Why is Mommy Tired?
At Number 1, the most popular article in 2017:
10 Rules for Visiting a New Mom
If you are interested in articles such as these, we would love you to follow our Facebook page, and to share this resource with your friends!
May you find contentment and meaning in 2018,
The psychologists from the Antenatal & Postnatal Psychology Network
Posted by Dr Renée Miller