Mama Llama: Mindfulness And The Quest To Be A Good-Enough Mother

Perfectionism is a virus, and it’s a doozy. It often infects us at childhood through experiences that teach us we have to be perfect in order to be worthy. If we are unaware, it continues to propagate in our relationships with others, the world and ourselves with increasing intensity as we grow up.
Candice Creasman, PhD, is a therapist, author, and meditation teacher.
Candice Creasman, PhD, is a therapist, author, and meditation teacher.

Dr. Candice Creasman explores the concept of being a good-enough mother and how mindfulness helps her to feel more self-acceptance and let go of perfectionism.

Better Good Enough Than Perfect

I can speak about the dangers of perfectionism as someone who was nose-deep in the pain of it for most of my life. Fortunately, I found my way to meditation, to kind people who were accepting, and to therapy in my twenties. Eventually, that nasty voice in my head that demanded perfection grew quiet. Then…I had my first baby. The more my love grew for my son in those first few days, the more towering the specter of perfectionism became. He had to have the perfect diapers, the perfect temperature bathwater, the perfect latch to breastfeed, the perfect responsive mother who knew exactly what each slightly different cry meant.

The only thing bigger than my urge to give him a perfect start was my apparent capacity to fail. With each setback (formula feeding instead of breastfeeding, mistaking gas pain for teething pain, that time he rolled off the bed before I could catch him, and on and on), I fell deeper into the pit of perfectionism-induced depression. I would search terms like “not fit for being a mother,” looking either for proof I should leave the baby with his dad and head for the hills, or evidence that I could be doing worse.

Every now and then, I would happen upon some blog post that suggested our expectations of mothers are too high, and we should be shooting for “good enough” instead of perfect. Intrigued, I searched for more information about this mythical “good enough mother.” What does it look like to be “good enough,” and how can I sign up?

Read more: Meditation teacher Jessica Amos offers seven easy practices for self-encouragement that help you access the freedom, clarity and joy already inside you.

The Good-Enough Mother — More Than Just A Meme

Do you know what I found? Memes. Memes of white women in yoga pants, with messy ponytails, and milk-stained shirts looking exasperated as they ran to school to deliver something like a lunch box or left behind school project. I love a meme as much as the next person, but that’s not exactly actionable information. The essential problem with this idea of the good-enough mother is that it’s two dimensional; it’s a snapshot, funny because it’s true, but ultimately lacking any function beyond eliciting a knowing head nod or Instagram like. What if we keep adhering to standards of perfection because no other standards are clearly laid out?

Motherhood is the only job I know of aside from testing nuclear bombs where every single moment to moment decision seems to carry the potential of a lifetime of consequences. When the stakes feel so high in ensuring our children have a healthy, stable start imperative for a happy life, it’s easy to get sucked into a perfectionism trap. This urgency paired with a lack of guidance on how to be “good enough,” is a set up for some major self-doubt. In case anyone out there is a good enough parenting expert, here’s what inquiring minds want to know:

How many times exactly can we eat take out before my kids are guaranteed to get heart disease or diabetes? How many times can I give the baby Tylenol for what might be a tooth coming through before he ends up with liver damage? What EXACTLY can I pick from the menu of dental no-noes (pacifiers, bottles after 12 months, letting him eat raisins) that won’t culminate in an Austin Powers grin by age 12? Am I one juice box or 30 away from getting him dentures when he’s 20?

Then there’s the stuff that really keeps me up at night: all the ways I fail to either manage my own emotions or to show up with kindness to my son’s delicate feeling world.

How many times can I choose to do the dishes, scroll through Facebook, or just willfully refuse to play trains with my oldest before he starts to feel like I’m not interested in him? How many times can I yell, powerless and terrifying, before his inner voice turns toxic and critical?

Here’s Where Mindfulness Comes In

I am by no means winning a parenting award any time soon, but I am a noticeably more patient and present mom when I commit to my cushion daily. When I take a much-needed break from being consumed with my thinking mind, it’s like wiping a muddy pair of glasses clean.

The annoyance I would feel seeing my oldest cover the youngest in yogurt doesn’t take permanent hold and I’m able to see more clearly how much he wants to help feed his little brother. I’ll still feel a slight surge of frustration, but it’s not so great that I lash out. The moments when I’ve told my son ten times to get in his car seat, which would ordinarily end in me shouting, giving in fully to my anger, I’m instead able to breathe through my sense of powerlessness, overwhelm, or anxiety.

Before reading on you might want to pause her and meditate with Dr. Candice Creasman to start healing your inner critic and practice acceptance:

  1. Healing The Source Of The Inner Critic: The Wounded Child Dr. Candice Creasman 10:20
  2. Healing Your Inner Critic- Developing Awareness Dr. Candice Creasman 9:38
  3. Turn Stress to Compassion Dr. Candice Creasman 2:57
  4. Acceptance and Forgiveness Dr. Candice Creasman 8:46
  5. Healing Your Inner Critic In Relationships Dr. Candice Creasman 5:48
  6. Let Go with Love Dr. Candice Creasman 13:52

The difference between an awakened response and an extreme reaction is the result of plenty of factors besides whether or not I’ve been meditating, and so many of those factors (sleep, regular exercise, eating in a balanced way) take a major hit while raising small children. No amount of meditating is a substitute for getting a full night’s sleep more than once a month. But 10-20 minutes a day of intentional stillness can be the difference between hitting a 6 or a 10 on the distress meter, and the difference between being kind or chaotic.

Read more: Fleur Chambers shares valuable guidance for mindfulness for moms allowing mothers to be more present and engaged with the people and things that matter the most. In another article, she also takes a look on how to strengthen family resilience with mindfulness.

Quietening The Hungry Inner Critic

The more I’m able to stay cool and open with my kids, the greater the impact on my overall experience and assessment of myself as a mother. Meditation gives me access to grace; the willingness to use my less than stellar moments as motivation to do better rather than become fodder for an always hungry inner critic.

Stillness connects me to a general OK-ness, and on the far off horizon, I can sometimes glimpse an inherent worth—the peace that arises from recognizing our basic goodness. I haven’t managed yet to stay in that space, but it seems real enough to keep working. I also acknowledge that the goal isn’t to trade one ego-based identity (terrible mother) for another (mostly ok mother). Mindfulness helps me to hold all the self-assessment more loosely, preventing a spiral of aversion to myself when I’m not at my best, as well as attachment to self when I think I’m doing well.

Read more: If you are unsure how to bring meditation into your busy life, you might want to explore inspiration for practicing one-minute meditation throughout your day.

Discovering & Embracing Good Enough Motherhood

Maybe nobody can give me a step-by-step guide to being a good-enough mother. Maybe it would be counter to the work of self-acceptance to have a different (albeit lower) bar to meet. Being a person isn’t an exact science, so cultivating and nurturing new people likely isn’t either. What I do know is that while the quest for perfectionism is draining and harmful, the underlying motivation to do right by our children is heartbreakingly beautiful.

As we allow ourselves to sit in the vulnerability of loving someone more than we love ourselves, maybe good enough is waiting to be discovered in the last place we would think to look—right here in the present moment warmth of our hearts.

Parents can lead by example and share mindful techniques with children to foster a sense of calm, confidence and appreciation for each other. Discover free guided meditations for parents.

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