Imperfect Moms Make Better Moms.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


I was raised by a perfect mom. She was smart; graduating from Radcliffe and Columbia Teacher’s College when most women were told education was for men. She believed in volunteering her talents: as president of my school’s PTA, founder of our beloved afterschool sports program, and co-founder of a local daycare center for low income moms. She espoused natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and early childhood development before T. Berry Brazelton wrote his first book. She worked too, as a renowned special education teacher with a long list of families on her waitlist. She also happened to be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Five kids later she still weighed what she did on her wedding day. She played three varsity sports in college and on the day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was ranked #1 in her age bracket in New England by the U.S. Tennis Association. At 75 she had better legs than I did at 17. She never yelled, cried, or burned dinner (of course, she was a gourmet cook who thought little of whipping up shrimp tempura, Coquilles Saint Jacques or fried squash blossoms for dinner).


Maybe, behind her closed bedroom door when we kids were on the other side, she would have understood French philosopher and Ecole Polytechnique professor Elisabeth Badinter’s latest observations: modern motherhood’s perfectionist trend toward “natural” motherhood can warp our views of good mothering. The desire to be the perfect mother, the “essentialist” mother who eschews epidurals, disposable diapers, baby formula, one’s own paycheck and eggs not laid in one’s own backyard, is a psychological trap. The focus on perfectionism – however one defines being “the perfect mom” -- restricts and demoralizes women by promising them superior self-worth and delivering crippling guilt.


Badinter’s argument certainly resonated with French women: her most recent book, Le Conflit: La Femme et la Mere (Conflict: The Woman and the Mother) debuted at the top of the French nonfiction bestsellers’ list and stayed at number two for the next eight weeks. The New York Times profiled Badinter in last Sunday’s “In Defense of the Imperfect Mother” with this cut-line: “Breastfeeding, cloth diapers and natural childbirth: a French intellectual knows chains for women when she sees them.”


Thank you for this article. I had an imperfect day striving for perfection...I feel guilty. But you are right, we all pay for perfection, and our children shouldn't have to bear the brunt of it. Just trying to sleep off the guilt and it ain't working. I'll imperfectly wake up to imperfect hair tomorrow and strive for an imperfect day...maybe that will take some pressure of me. Just maybe.