We Asked 14 Moms What it Means to be the “Perfect” Mother


In case you hadn’t noticed, moms have opinions. Whether it’s warm enough for a light jacket in October. How fast is too fast for someone else’s kid to ride their bike on the sidewalk. What to do to get that baby on the other side of Target to stop crying. You get the idea. Come to think of it, you probably have better, more exotic examples of mom’s opinions in the wild.

I think I speak for most of us, though, when I tell you we had pretty egalitarian and idealistic principles before having kids. We said things like “to each her own” and “live and let live” as we strolled to brunch carrying nothing more than a coin purse at 11:15 on a Sunday. We lamented female relatives we considered overbearing and vowed to keep our distance respectful and our lips sealed on how other moms handled their business.

Then a new life was given unto our care and with it, the superpower of divining the right answer to situations we have nothing to do with, for people we have no relationship to. (See the first paragraph.) But—as harsh as we can be on one another, in no category do we have stronger opinions than on the topic of ourselves as mothers. Maybe another family’s “shoes-on” or “shoes-off” in the house policies when guests are visiting, but I digress. We question and obsesses over whether WE are the ones “doing” motherhood right. Trying hard enough. Leaning in. Taking enough space. And on and on.

And since we all seem to have big ideas on parenting I wondered, in light of this month’s W&D topic on stereotypes, whether any of us could define the “perfect” mother and what it might take to get there. Or whether that was even a good question to begin with. It’s something I needed to ask (and have answered) before I celebrated another Mother’s Day, and the opinions from the 14 women who wrote back are poignant, forgiving, and truly worthy of being said over and over again, and to anyone who will listen.

“The perfect mom realizes there is no perfect. She doesn’t compare herself to other moms, she just tries to connect. She loves herself, and her kids. She knows that each day is a new opportunity to do different, better or more of the same.”  — Karri, mom to Sofie and Iris

“A perfect mother doesn’t take life, or herself, too seriously. Teaches her children to do the same. Someone who doesn’t take things too seriously probably won’t spend much time thinking about perfection, let alone trying to achieve it.” — Laura, mom to Cliff

“The perfect mother loves her kids hard. Deep in that animal place.” — Sarah, mom to Cora

“To me, a perfect mother is someone who loves being around her children, while acknowledging that she needs time away from them. A perfect mother is someone who works to expose her children to healthy food but doesn’t beat herself up over ordering pizza and having a little too much ice cream on movie night. A perfect mother sets limits, teaches good manners, and encourages kindness, while demonstrating grace when things don’t go as planned.”  — Rachael, mom to Riley and Braden

“Am I perfect? No. Do I love my kiddo with my whole heart? Absolutely. To me, that’s all that matters 😊.” — Lizzy, mom to Matthew

“’Perfect’ is word I might use to describe pizza or the rare moments when no one is bickering or rushing or making a mess or staring at a screen, and we’re simply together, talking or laughing. I would never hold my kids up to the impossible ideal of perfection, so I try to be as reasonable with myself. I try not to hold myself up against mothers who make beautiful cupcakes and put every photo into an album…the very same year it was taken. I try, and sometimes, I fail, because I am not perfect! I’m okay with my kids knowing that. As long as they feel safe and loved and challenged, as long as we can end the day with a book, and a song, and cuddle time, I think we’re doing pretty good! — Ali, mom to Oscar and Ezra

“Loves her kids. In whatever fashion she knows how to love.” — Jill, mom to Oliver and Finn

“I would set aside the word ‘perfect’ as it might apply to the way a family photo fits perfectly into an heirloom frame. Rather, I think mothering is about setting firm boundaries for safety and at the same time developing resilience and wholeness in the child. Those boundaries should protect the child from permanent scars but provide challenges and discovery that encourage their learning, struggle, independence, failures and successes.” —  M.J., mom to Fred and Liz

“Forget perfect and forget striving to be perfect. I did that. It would have been better to have relaxed sometimes and left the clothes on the floor. Wish I would have known to enjoy it more. Just be with them and love them, however imperfectly that appears or feels.” — Deb, mom to Matt and Jess

“Looking back, I think the constancy of effort, of trying, is what matters. One day you can say, ‘It was the best I could do.'” — Julie, mom to James and Annie

“I think the perfect mother is unattainable. We all have a vision in our heads of what she looks like, but tend to fall short. I would tell a mother who is struggling, to stop caring what anyone else thinks. Get fast food for dinner, take an extra 5 minutes in the bathroom and appreciate the small things. Like when you arrive on time at playgroup or when the kids actually eat what you cooked for dinner. Because when you look back after they’ve grown-up, all you’ll really focus on are the fun times. Not the time you made 10 pounds of homemade baby food because that’s what a ‘good’ mom would do. So, enjoy motherhood and stop doubting yourself. Do what feels right in your gut, ask for help when you feel overwhelmed and take lots of pictures especially with yourself in them too!!!” — Kat, mom to Colt and Keara

“The ‘perfect’ mother prepares her children to be there for each other, no matter their differences, long after she is gone. Families have their share of issues, but in the end, it’s family that holds life together.” — Susan, mom to Grace

“IMO, the perfect mother is imperfect. She cherishes her strengths and accepts (and learns from) her ‘flaws’. ” — Sharon, mom to Josie and Remy

“I don’t think there is a perfect mother. Be a good role model. Don’t tell your kids to be strong or kind or understanding, show them.” — Jane, mom to Scott, Aaron, and Mark

(If you enjoy the top graphic, shop the Wit & Delight Trust Occasion Cards!)


Image by 2nd Truth

Kate Smith is the writer and voice behind Katewordsmith, a modestly humorous, mostly self-depreciating Twitter account and eponymous copywriting studio for clients of all shapes and sizes. She makes her home in Minneapolis-St. Paul with her equally self-loathing husband, verbose three-year-old son, joyful infant daughter, and untamed Boston Terrier.