A mom is supposed to be a perfect being. She may rise before the sun and head butts her system with coffee to jumpstart energy production. She can harness this energy to start school lunches, load the dishwasher, write lunchbox notes, and warm sausage biscuits. Other morning tasks may include running the trash can to the corner and picking up a heap of building bricks the toddler left in mid-manufacture. Then comes the work of motivating the children awake in time to bathe, dress, eat those sausage biscuits, and make it to the bus/carpool/back of family vehicle. Said children are sleepy/irritable/slow and require various degrees of encouragement/bribery/threat.
Perfect mommy takes a fast shower. It is her day to volunteer at the little one’s school. She artfully scribbles paste on those teeth, combs that hair, slides into that go-to outfit, and rolls, applicable children in tow. She grabs her coffee on the way out.
She pulls up to the school and parks. She steps out, pumps clicking melodiously against the concrete lot, then the sidewalk. So poised and classic. She is charming, waving and smiling and yelling promises to “Call you later!” They love when she volunteers.
She is exhausted already and hasn’t even thought about her commute to work. She also hasn’t yet realized that all lunches are still on the kitchen counter.
Many mothers feel the pressures of perfection
Being seen as and feeling like a “perfect” mother is redundant and antiquated and, yet, many mothers suffer through fancies of parenting inadequacies daily—from whether the children are having healthy meals to if she is missing out on a milestone because she is working or if her home is clean enough or her children love her enough or if her (non)efforts will forever proffer their ill memories of childhood. Insecurity can be sudden and intense. Emily McCombs, Editorial Director for Parents at The Huffington Post, claimed an example, “The narrative of the mother as the primary caregiver has not evolved along with women’s increasing presence in the workforce, leading women to feel highly conflicted about their roles.”
As moms, we often fault ourselves for the smallest adverse contemporaneity because we continue to notice and criticize the results of “successful” versus “poor” mothering in society’s people. The complete wholeness of our children–their humanity and their goodness (or lack thereof)–falls on our shoulders, usually unfairly, unwarranted, and unchallenged.
Mothers have been perfect for decades
Let’s think about Clair Huxtable. Clair, the iconic working mother from “The Cosby Show,” counteracted a career as a lawyer with motherhood to five, teachable moments and family activities in abundance. She was loving and dressy, level-headed and wise, an affectionate wife, a proud woman, rarely angry, slow to burn, wearing pearls. She is important, in part, because it was unprecedented to see that black mothers also fought for the balance that small-screen television showed white mothers engineering: mothers like June Cleaver, Morticia Addams, Marion Cunningham, Carol Brady, and Elyse Keaton. Refreshingly, this opened up insight that more families than realized, even those wearing different skin hues, looked to their matriarchs, too, as motivators, initiators, employees, cooks, maids, guinea pigs, and closet-monster-killers.
During their respective eras, those mothers epitomized perfect “mothership.” In her article for The New Yorker, writer Elizabeth Weiss stated, “During the women’s movement of the seventies and eighties, some . . . depicted the Ideal Mother as a powerful multitasker, endlessly capable of balancing work and home.” Because of these concrete images, we still look to those persons as models to follow today. This is unrealistic.
Social norms and societal expectations were high then. The expectations are now higher because our faster-moving families have to do more with less time. “Our current parenting culture of taxing schedules, organic snacks, and profound emotional involvement—motherhood as a contact sport—pressures women to perform to impossible standards,” says Weiss. Thus, we are all…doomed.
Or, are we?
It is essential to recognize the mysticism of such perfection. Even as conclusive, quintessential “good” mothering still stares us in the face and mocks our attempts through our own trials and errors, we must explore a rewiring of our idealist pursuits because, quite simply, we cannot win them.
Mommy perfection listed on a resume displays its absurdity
The myth of perfect mothering is, ironically, much like preparing a resume for a new job. There are many unchanged standards to follow and definitive guidelines to consider to present the best self.
If 5 timely resume rules are paired with a “rule” dictating perfect mothering in a way that shows the absurdity of motherhood expectations, here is what we may observe.
Resume Rule 1: On a resume, applicants should not include personal information, such as marital status, hobbies, age, or include a photo. An applicant usually does not know who will review the resume, and the hiring manager’s biases may subconsciously interfere with an objective hiring decision. Besides, a hiring manager is busy; he or she must fill a job as quickly as possible, and they will have little time, or interest, in sifting through information non-related to the job opening.
Rule (to break) for Perfect Mommy: “Moms should exude familial dedication and avoid activities that take time away from her children.” In much the same grain as a hiring manager, children lack the awareness (and care, really) of their mother’s need for leisure, particularly if mommy’s aspirations do not specifically align to their own wants. This is not a shoddy reflection on mom; this is normal because children are often selfish.
However, it is professionally encouraged for mothers to pursue activities outside of the home, especially if a mother feels overwhelmed. Research psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler agreed: “The act of mothering should not obviate personal needs, and it’s essential to carve out space for yourself.”
Resume Rule 2: It is no longer mandatory for the phrase “References Available Upon Request” to appear at the end of a resume. This phrase now stands understood and silently stated, as hiring managers are fully aware that an applicant can furnish references if needed.
Rule (to break) for Perfect Mommy: “Mommy can do it all.” Many feelings of helplessness and frustration can be alleviated with a single command: Delegate. Oftentimes, mommies need mommy friends, or references, for lucidity and comfort. Mommies need spouses…mommies need their mommies…or grandmommies…or cousins…or just a portion of network village to call on during times of need. Depending on the day, a “time of need” could be as singular as a hug or a weekend away.
A mother can do it “all;” she just shouldn’t–to save her sanity. Resulting from a study involving 240 working mothers, Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development, revealed an “emerging theme. . .balance is a fallacy no matter how much effort gets exerted. Working mothers are criticized for neglecting their children (working is seen as ‘not devoted’ to children). These dueling constructions . . . result in the ‘superwoman’ image, which can take women down a path of steering for perfection, where they are expected and expect to ‘do (and have)-it-all.’”
Resume Rule 3: Detail positions on the resume that are relevant only to the position applied for, even if this means uncovering unemployment gaps. For this reason, applicants should consider a functional style instead of a chronological one. A hiring manager attempts to weed through the many elements of a resume quickly to seek out why an applicant would be ideal for one job and its coordinating set of tasks. So an applicant should give an assortment of qualifications, particularly highlighting those sort after in the job advertisement, and just a few more that can translate to the position for hire.
Rule (to break) for Perfect Mom: “Mommy must multitask, at all costs, to get everything done in a day.” Realism has a grip like no other; therefore, it should be welcomed to have a rotating to-do list and to rarely see it blank because “assorted, but relevant” is key to motherhood functionality. This means that the house must go some hours, or days, without cleaning if that means mommy must assemble towers with the preschooler or read four books twice or suddenly have to rush a child with a boo-boo to the ER. “Life with kids” is as qualified as we can get. If a list is needed, prioritization and a pragmatic time goal for each venture should be imposed…and build in some slack.
Resume Rule 4: Honesty is the best policy. It is ambitious to pursue a position that an applicant may believe is out of his/her arena, but there is no harm in the pursuit. However, harm does apply if an applicant soups up his/her qualifications to appear more qualified than they actually are. A smidgen of embellishment is minimal; never is it a good idea for an applicant to flat-out lie on their resume to boost their chances of standing out. That is called falsifying information and, for most companies, could mean later termination or worse.
Rule (to break) for Perfect Mom: “Mommy cannot show a forthright weakness because her children will run over her.” It is vital to be precisely honest about motherhood and to neutralize expectations to fit that honesty. It is also vital to stand unafraid of what the children will think. For example, a particular mother may be constantly tired; such is the nature of the mothership business. It is essential that her children understand that mommy is not a robotic being and that it is okay for mommy to get tired. However, fatigue can make anyone physically ill over time. Mommies must seek out help, whenever possible, and just rest if sleep is her most urgent need at the time. Mommy cannot pour from an empty cup.
Resume Rule 5: Simplify the resume–the language, the information, and the overall presentation of qualifications. An applicant should avoid fluffy, redundant phrasing such as “Responsible for…” or “Performed such duties as…” in addition to any construction of the “very” variety, as in, “very qualified” or “was very important in…” It is a good point to ensure that the resume has enough white space in the margins to act as a natural border, but that does not distract from the crucial profile presented. Some hiring managers may also appreciate an applicant making their job descriptions as “parallel” as possible, as in, establishing a similar number of bullet points for each position and a consistent pattern for each of the lines.
Rule (to break) for Perfect Mom: “Good mothers fill their schedules with activities surrounding the family.” We really do need to sit down somewhere. Simplify. Society tells us, though, that it is not enough that the children only go to school and go home in the afternoon–more activity is obligatory to character building and moral development and physical fitness. This, even if the likely taxi driver—mom—feels as if a bus ran her over (and she suffers guilt because of it). “Mother blame and the perfect-mother myth come from the idea that mothers are principally responsible for their children’s development. When a problem arises, the mother is assigned culpability,” says writer Jeanie Keogh. “The perfect-mother myth . . . sees mothers blame themselves for failing to be perfect.”
Mom’s loving efforts are the ideal
This mythic creature—this “perfect mother”–is a stronghold figment of the healthy, amazing, energetic, mentally athletic mommy we all wish to be for our families. Those aspirations are enough, in themselves, to reach for. Believe this: To get close is enough of a celebration; to be a good mom, not a perfect one, is VIP.
Dr. Drexler summed up: “Mothering takes softness, strength, and awe but it also involves suffering and sadness; despair; conflict; breakdowns and build-ups; learning to hold on and learning to let go. We suffer guilt: from not being there, from being there too much.” One day, not soon, the perfect mother would be as nostalgic an ideal as the thoughts of a unicorn summoned via rainbow.
Drexler, Ph.D., Peggy. “The Myth of the Perfect Mother.” Our Gender, Ourselves, Psychology Today, 14 May 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201205/the-myth-the-perfect-mother. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
Klein, Tovah. “You Can’t Actually ‘Have It All’—Here’s Why.” Igniting Architects of Change, Maria Shriver.com, 6 Apr. 2015, http://mariashriver.com/blog/2015/04/working-mothers-raising-children-somethings-gotta-give-tovah-klein/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
McCombs, Emily. “Does Being a Mom Suck Worse Than Being a Dad?” The Huffington Post, 6 Oct. 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/moms-more-stressed-than-dads_us_57f69420e4b0c1a524cbe6f7. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.
Weiss, Elizabeth. “Selling the Myth of the Ideal Mother.” The New Yorker, 8 May 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/selling-the-myth-of-the-ideal-mother. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.