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No Mother Is Perfect, Right?

Shelly Sharon June 2023

Heal The Mother Wound: Shelly Sharon

Every morning starts for me with a ritual around my coffee as I strive to make it perfect.

Only a few items are on my list of perfection: coffee, milk, and honey. But it gets more tricky to get the right ratio, which of course then changes depending on cup size and shape. I also need to drink it at the right time.

Weird Similarity:

This might sound crazy, but it feels as if so much depends even on the first sip that I have to get it absolutely right. If I do, it’s going to set me up for the day, it’s going to relax me and give me a feeling that I can do anything.

“I’ve never met a woman who really wanted her mother to be perfect.”

There’s some weird similarity between this and the kind of perfection we might be looking for from the “perfect” mother—it sets us up for the life ahead of us, allows us to relax, and have the feeling that we can do anything. And strangely enough, both pursuits for perfection can seem rather simplistic.

Because when women tell me, with an inquisitive raising of the eyebrows, “No mother is perfect, right?!”, I don’t think they’re looking for the same kind of perfection.

Though I’ve heard this phrase many times in my work with women, I’ve never met a woman who really wanted her mother to be perfect.

So why do we say this?

What A Woman Really Needs From Her Mother:

No daughter dreams of having the perfect mother. As human beings, we’re not wired to look for perfection.

Perfection means ‘leaving nothing to be desired’. We on the other hand are wired to desire our mother to be a mother to the end of our life. So much for perfection.

When we take a closer look at what it is that we’re trying to say we quickly realise that it’s one of those (many) things we just say when we don’t know how to unpack something that confuses us or doesn’t make any sense. A placeholder to paper over a gap in our sense of who we are.

If your mother wasn’t there for you in ways you needed her to be—ways that gave you a sense that she has your back, that she can guide you and that she’ll give you the nourishment you need, the chances are that what you’re looking for is not perfection at all, rather a way of making sense of all this confusion.

Everything We Need:

No single human being can give us Everything We Need. Not our partner, our child, or our best friend. A mother can’t give her daughter Everything She Needs either. But she can, and hopefully does, give her what she needs to feel she’s set up for life without having to compensate or overwork in order to support herself.

“But as a metaphor it facilitates the awareness that somewhere inside each of us there is a checklist..”

Needless to say, my coffee-making checklist pales into insignificance against the importance of our mothering needs. But as a metaphor it facilitates the awareness that somewhere inside each of us there is a checklist which allows us to make a very helpful discernment: did my mother give me what I needed or do I have hurts from that relationship that would appreciate some healing rather than being written off with a common or garden placeholder comment?

“No mother is perfect” is an indication that we’re carrying unresolved or unprocessed pain from our relationship with our mother. We might not even know what that “checklist” is that can help us make sense of our relationship with our mother.

The Good Enough Mother:

There are many mothering styles. From the outside, they can look quite different one from the other. And yet, if you look beyond styles, the contextual stories and details you’ll find that we’re always looking for the same three things from our mother.

There are three aspects to mothering that are universally true for each woman.

These three aspects are a good “checklist” to look at if you want to stop using this common phrase ‘no mother is perfect’ and instead build clarity over the most important thing—knowing where your healing journey starts or where to pick it up if you’ve been in for a while.

The first aspect of satisfying motherhood is guidance. I’d like to use here the concept coined by the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, the “good enough mother”.

Living as we do with a mentality of scarcity, the word ‘enough’ might prove triggering. Add to that the insurmountable challenges women have to face in a male-dominated society, the fear of “mother-blaming” can entirely subvert the conversation. So I want to say a word about that.

All Mothers Do Their Best:

All mothers do their best. Sometimes their best is limited by their own traumas, generational values, and other circumstances that limit their capacity to give their daughters what they need, in spite of their best intentions.

Even so, when a woman is left with a wound pertaining to the relationship with her mother, she’s also left with the task of uprooting whatever limiting beliefs and patterns were born out of that wound so that she can live an un-limited life.

“She is ‘good enough'”

Herein lies one of life’s many ironies.

A perfect mother is able to give her child a sustainable measure of frustration. She is ‘good enough’, according to Winnicott, because she is able to allow her child to try to solve things by herself and with that develop cognitively and emotionally. In today’s comeuppance culture, this aspect of guidance is hugely misrepresented.

Feeling Safe To Be Herself:

Allowing for some frustration allows us to discover our capacity to solve a problem. To learn about emotional resilience and to witness something new about ourselves. Too little of that will rob the child of a vital opportunity. This is the case, for example, with enmeshed mothers. Mothers who treat their daughters as their best friend or their saviour. And never let them grow into a sovereign, creative woman.

On the other hand, too much frustration can seed the fear of abandonment, a sense of unworthiness and the compulsion to please.

Some of us are born needing more guidance than others. The good enough mother knows how to adapt to her daughter’s needs. And with that helps her nervous system shape itself around a core of feeling safe to be herself. At this point you may be thinking, “But I’ve received so much guidance from my mother and I still feel that something fundamental was missing.”

Oh well, no mother is perfect, right?!

A Balancing Act:

Coffee, milk and honey. Like any balanced thing, it relies on three legs.

The balance happens in the connection between all elements coming together. And guidance, too, does not operate in a vacuum. She has two sisters—nourishment and safety.

The “good enough mother” can be quite a complex matter. It may feel daunting. At this point context, personal stories, and details can make worlds of difference.

I’ll unpack these two sisters in the next articles. But for now, perhaps you already have another way of naming what you needed that was absent from your relationship with your mother. And instead of looking for perfection you can make yourself a cup of coffee and reflect on the difference between frustration or lack of guidance that is supportive and one that is wounding.

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About the Author:

Shelly is a therapeutic coach specializing in healing the mother wound. She helps women who want to move beyond the negative impact of a challenging relationship with their mum in order to find deeper levels of healing and become un-limited in their personal or professional lives.

Shelly’s had a rich and diverse career path, from being a ballet dancer, a computer programmer, a gourmet chef running her own catering business to being a successful, sought-after effective social change consultant implementing her own method of mindfulness-based strategic planning.