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“Mother knows best” is a phrase I’ve heard all of my life. Although some may take it as a compliment on our collective intelligence as mothers, it may also be seen as another expectation that we must live up to. The fact of the matter is that mothers don’t always know best. We’re not endowed with some universal knowledge post-delivery. But this is often how we’re made to feel. I’ve spoken with countless mothers, including my own, who have admitted to feeling ashamed when they are unable to live up to the expectations set forth by our society. In this post I’m going to address some of the expectations that plague us as mothers, as well as share some helpful tips that I’ve pulled from our 8 week parent education course: Mothers Matter.

Mothers are undoubtedly the focal point of their children’s lives. Not only do we teach our children how to behave and interact with others, we teach them how to love as well. As mothers, we are fundamental to the positive growth and development of our children. It’s clear that mothers influence their children, but who or what influences mothers?

“This is your future,” My mother said as she pointed to herself. She sat in the recliner before me wearing her favorite velour jumpsuit, carefully stroking the cat that lay asleep in her lap. “Don’t try and fight it, Elizabeth. In the end we all become our mothers.” I shuttered a moment before realizing that she was probably right. Like most children, I modeled my behavior after my mother’s because she was the strongest female role model in my life. As a little girl I never played “house” and I absolutely refused to pick up a baby doll. Instead I would pull an end table up to our living room couch and talk into the television remote and play “business woman” because this is the behavior I was exposed to. It’s no secret that children will do as their parents have done. This is why it’s critical to set a good example for your children by being the person that you want them to become.

As with most things, the media has played a significant role in our expectations of mothers. From celebrities who shed their baby weight only weeks after giving birth to commercials that reinforce the concept of “supermom” there is mounting pressure for women to do it all. There is a major misconception swirling around that if we are unable to fit society’s idea of a perfect mother then we have somehow failed ourselves and our children. By comparing yourself as a mother to the unrealistic portrayals of women in the media you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Who you are as a mother should never be defined by how you measure up to society’s standards, but by how you influence and support your children.

Personal experiences can shape who we are and influence us as mothers. The way that we were treated as children ultimately affects who we become as adults in some way or another. For example, if you had an unstable home life growing up you may find that it’s difficult to provide stability for your child now. In my opinion, love is something that is learned. Just as in an environment that’s not conducive to learning can cause delays in young children, a home life that failed to provide support and affection can lead to emotional delays. Giving your child the love and affection he or she needs may be more difficult if you weren’t given what you needed as a child. Breaking a pattern like this may be difficult but with support and encouragement it can be done.

There will always be some kind of expectation from your family regardless of its dynamic. My mother is one of nine, so for her, there was always constant pressure to have more children. She chose to combat this issue by ignoring her family’s wishes all together. Of course, for many women that’s not so easy. Family expectations can be either supportive or burdensome and can vary depending on culture and economic status. As a mother it’s always best to listen to your own intuition and needs before addressing those of the people around you. Remember that there is a difference between support and coercion.

Parenting is no easy task but it becomes all the more difficult when we feel pressure from outside influences. When we struggle to live up to expectations that are not our own we ultimately lose sight of what’s really important: our relationship with our children. As mothers we must constantly remind ourselves that we don’t have to do it all and that it’s okay to ask for help when we need to. Societal expectations will try to define what a good mother should be when in reality parenting is much more subjective than that. Techniques that work for some mothers may not work for others because we are individuals and our parent-child relationships differ across the board. When great expectations have gotten the best of you, don’t forget that you are the mother and you define the relationship.

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