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Learning To Be A “Good Enough” Mom: The First Key to Balance

February 14, 2014

by Michelle Perry Higgins


active-famLadies, let’s talk balance. I’m talking about that inner equanimity, that contentment, that knowing you’re doing the best you can and it’s good enough. If you have this kind of inner and outer balance, you know it’s priceless. But many women today have a difficult time finding any sort of balance, between the pressures of career, motherhood, family, intimate relationships . . . and of course, let’s not forget running a household.

So how do you restore balance to your life (or establish it for the first time if you’ve never had it)? That’s what I’d like to explore with you in this monthly column.

Let me tell you a tiny bit of my own story first. I like to work hard and play hard; giving my all in every situation just comes naturally to me. As a kid, I loved to play Superwoman. She was my heroine, and somehow I wound up believing that I would grow up to be her. Okay, not exactly her, with those long legs and teeny tiny waist, but just as able to handle anything life threw at me the same easy way Superwoman solved crimes.

Superwoman is the cool and sexy master of perfection. She’s also a dangerous myth.

The concept of the Superwoman (who then morphed into Supermom) is the ideal woman with complete mastery of life. She’s in control; she does everything perfectly at all times. She lands mega-million dollar deals by day, puts nutritious home-cooked dinners on the table every evening, rocks her husband’s world every night in bed, and is unfailingly loving, patient, and compassionate. Most seductive of all, she makes it all look easy.

This mythology has been instilled in us from a very young age. From my book Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms: 7 Steps to a Balanced Life:  

“Superwoman’s beauty far exceeded anything in reality or on TV. Seriously, who had legs that long and a waist that small? Plus, she could solve all problems with her extraordinary super-powers, while juggling them seamlessly.”

I really bought into the whole Superwoman/Supermom thing. Like many women, I grew up believing that when I became older, I’d miraculously manage my life with the same finesse and skill Superwoman used to fight crime. This warped thinking hurt me and my family. I almost ended my successful career and lost both my health and my marriage; that’s how out of balance I became.

Warning: Striving to be Supermom may cause feelings of failure, guilt, and depression.

Trying to live up to the Supermom myth left me, like many women, with perpetual feelings of failure and inadequacy. Hidden under my cheerful, smiling, ever-busy façade, I was furious that I was expected to live up to this impossible standard. And I’m sorry to have to admit, I took it out on my poor husband. More than once.

Luckily, before my life unraveled any further I had two life-changing realizations:

  1. If things were to change, I was the one who had to change, from the inside out.
  2. I’m only human. I don’t have super powers. I had to stop trying to live the way Superwoman would.

The first step in reclaiming my balance? I had to kick the whole idea of Supermom to the curb. So with a lot of help, I let go of trying to be Supermom in favor of . . .

Learning to be a “good enough” mom.

Does that phrase “good enough” sound terrible to you? Please let me explain.

Pediatrician Dr. Donald Winnicott introduced the “good enough mother” concept in 1953. According to his research, mothers must fully adapt to their infant’s needs, because the infant is helpless to do anything for itself. But as time goes by, a mother should adapt less and less fully. This allows the child to adapt to the reality of life: that it will never give you everything you want, the second you want it.

Being a “good enough” mother does not mean loving my children one iota less. Instead, it allows them to grow, mature, and become independent, all of which are necessary for them to live a successful life. Understanding this concept really took the pressure off me.

I began to change the way I thought about motherhood. Believe me; this was not easy. Perfectionism and old patterns of thought reared their ugly heads repeatedly. My “aha” moment was when I realized that I was good enough as a mother, wife, and partner at my firm.

Sure, I’d continue to do my absolute best at everything, but perfection was simply not part of the equation. Realizing that guilt and self-judgment would never solve my problems—only bring me continued agony—was a huge milestone. I had to make some decisions about my priorities, and which things were realistically achievable in my situation.

Could I stay up all night stitching hand-made Halloween costumes, and be my best at an important meeting the next morning? No. (Are store bought costumes really so bad?)

And did I need to ask my husband for more help with the child-care and around the house? You better believe it. (And I found out he didn’t mind at all!)

I finally accepted that Superwoman was just a fictional character. The results? I relaxed. My self-esteem skyrocketed. I was more fun to be around. I had more energy, more patience, and more joy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, as a good enough mom I was actually a better mom!

The real heroes are the mothers who know how to balance their lives and do the best with their situation.

Are you still straining under the delusion you can be, or need to be a Supermom? (Or Superfriend? Or Superwife?) The first step toward resolving any problem is recognizing one exists in the first place.

It’s okay to occasionally feel guilty and inadequate. I still do. That’s part of being human, not superhuman. But by accepting that the Supermom standard is not realistic and learning to be a “good enough” mom, you can reorganize your priorities, give your love in a healthier way, and find it easier to be the best mother that you can be.

Are you trying to be Supermom? Not sure? These questions and tips might help. (Excerpted from Stocks, Bonds & Soccer Moms)

  1. Do you try to be perfect for everyone—bosses, co-workers, friends, spouse, and children? If so, recognize that you suffer from supermom syndrome.
  2. What emotions result from these perfectionist behaviors? Can you name them? Are you aware of the stress, anxiety, and disappointment you feel?
  3. Take action to change or accept your situation and move forward.
  4. Learn to forgive and to be gentle and compassionate toward yourself. This doesn’t come overnight, so be patient with this as well.

Kicking the myth of Supermom to the curb and learning to be a “good enough” mother is the first of our seven steps to balance. I hope you’ll stay with me in the coming months as we explore the other six steps.