How to let go of all those unrealistic ‘Mom Expectations’

cheerful mother and daughter having fun on bed at home

*This article was written by Meredith Ethington author of The Mother Load. If you are interested in having your writing hosted on A Modern Mom’s Life, please read the guidelines for guest posts.*

As a new mother, I quickly realized that motherhood comes with a lot of expectations.

There are societal expectations of what a “good” mother should be like, as well as unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. To be perfectly honest, most of them were my own. However, I also learned that letting go of these expectations can make us a whole lot happier.

But, for those of us that are people pleasers, the expectations we put on ourselves are very real, and the expectations we feel from society are just as heavy.

Society’s expectations of Motherhood 

From the moment we become mothers, we are bombarded with messages from society about what motherhood should look like.

We see images of perfectly put-together moms with smiling, well-behaved children, and immaculate homes. We’re told that we should breastfeed exclusively, make our own baby food, and never let our children watch TV. Oh, and make sure you are looking perfect, too mmmk? These expectations can be overwhelming and unrealistic.

In my book, The Mother Load, I talk about this idea of Toxic Positivity, and how moms today are shamed for talking about the failed expectations and reality of what real motherhood actually looks like. We don’t often see Instagram moms telling us that it’s OK to not like our children. Instead, we’re supposed to #enjoyeverysecond!  

Social media can be a double-edged sword for mothers. On one hand, it can be a source of support and community. On the other hand, it can be a breeding ground for comparison and judgment. We see images of other moms with seemingly perfect lives, and we can’t help but compare ourselves to them on our absolute worst days. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

Unrealistic expectations Mothers place on themselves are sometimes even worse 

In addition to societal pressures, we often place unrealistic expectations on ourselves as mothers. We want to be the perfect mom who never loses her temper, always has a clean house, and never misses a school event.

For me, I wanted to be the mom that never yelled. When I set that expectation for myself, I hadn’t tried to parent a threenager yet. How could I possibly know I would never be the mom that yelled? However, the reality is that motherhood is messy, chaotic, and imperfect.

We can’t do it all, and even our own expectations can be silly and unrealistic. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, even when we’re doing our best.

Letting go

One of the most important things we can do as mothers is to practice self-compassion. This means treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding that we would offer to a good friend or our own kids. It means acknowledging that motherhood is hard, and that we’re doing the best we can. We also need to set realistic goals and priorities.

We can’t do it all, at least not all at the same time, so we must decide what’s most important to us and focus on that. Maybe that means letting go of the idea of a perfectly clean house or accepting help from others when we need it.  

Finally, we need to embrace imperfection and find joy in the journey. And no, that doesn’t mean we enjoy every second. Motherhood is messy, chaotic, and imperfect, and that’s okay. You’re not supposed to enjoy it all the time. It’s the imperfections that make it beautiful and meaningful though. We need to savour the small moments of joy that we can and reassure ourselves that is enough.  

When I became a new mother, I had high expectations for myself. I wanted to be the perfect mom who could do it all. However, I quickly realized that this was impossible. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and struggling to keep up with everything. I felt like I was failing as a mother. It wasn’t until I started practicing self-compassion and letting go of my expectations that I was able to enjoy motherhood more and stop focusing on those unrealistic expectations I had set. 

I stopped worrying about being the perfect mom and started focusing on being the best mom I had the capacity to be. I accepted that some days would be messy and chaotic, and yes I would sometimes yell, but that was okay. 

Letting go of expectations as a mother can be a challenge for those of us that are people pleasers by nature. But, in my new book, The Mother Load, I talk about all of this and why sometimes hanging onto those unrealistic expectations is really what’s hurting us the most.

By practicing self-compassion, setting realistic goals, and embracing imperfection, we can let go of the pressure to be the perfect mom and instead focus on being a REAL mom. Whatever that looks like for us.

I really think that enjoying motherhood is realizing that you can’t possibly enjoy every second – but you’re enjoying all the ones that matter. And that’s more than enough.

Meredith Ethington, author of The Mother Load.

Meredith Ethington is an award-winning writer and author of The Mother Load, a book about the journey through motherhood and mental health. She started writing on her popular blog, Perfection Pending and her viral essays have reached millions of struggling parents. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, three kids, and muppety dog, Millie. In her loads of spare time, she is studying to become a licensed mental health counsellor. 

Join the conversation: how do you let go of societal expectations? Share what works for you in the comments!

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