Why it's time we stopped trying to be the perfect mother

We all know what motherhood's really like.
We all know what motherhood's really like. Photo: Stocksy

Trying to be Sheryl Sandberg at work, Martha Stewart at home? No wonder you sometimes feel as if your life is about to reel right out of control, says Lauren Sams.

'Perfect Mums' are different in their methods but similar in their madness for their kids. Which kind of mum are you?


Are you Foodie Mum? Do you make nutritious, delicious meals for your children, often at a moment's notice? Do you swear it's "the same old thing" every night? (When actually it's homegrown kale – painstakingly, lovingly massaged with extra virgin olive oil – and pearl barley "risotto", liberally sprinkled with nutritional yeast – the new parmesan! – from Nigella's latest.) Do you spend the six weeks prior to your child's birthday scouring back issues of the Donna Hay kids' edition for sausage roll inspiration? Do you make your kids themed birthday cakes every year, from scratch, from a dog-eared copy of The Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book (the updated edition, without all the artificial food colouring and potato chips for ducks' bills)? Is your freezer stocked with balanced meals and brownies made from sweet potatoes and agave syrup (white sugar being, of course, off limits)? Is your freezer decidedly not filled with gin?


Or maybe you're Patient Mum. You never begrudge another story at bedtime, another song in the car, another five minutes in the bath at night. In fact, you usually read several books before tucking your children in, calmly, without a fuss. You don't mind if the kids get up to go to the toilet five times. They're only little once, Patient Mums say, smiling as they fetch their four-year-old a seventh glass of water.


You might be Martyr Mum. Did you insist on a natural birth, without intervention? Did you feel like your body was about to implode, collapsing in on itself like a punctured lung or a basketball that's lost its pep, because you were so goddamn sore and tired? You got through it, though. Martyr Mums do – they just keep soldiering on. You feel, quite understandably, very proud of this achievement, wondering if maybe there's a space to add it to your LinkedIn profile. You also breastfeed. Like, a lot. Are you breastfeeding now? Photography by Getty Images Not just in general, but right now, as you read this? Did you stick with it even though you struggled at first and because, no matter how much it hurt, you knew that breast was best? Do you love it now? Are you, perhaps, not quite sure when – or possibly if – you'll give up? Do you co-sleep? Are you careful to tell only other confirmed co-sleepers, lest you be judged by society and its misguided insistence on sole-sleeping? You might be Martyr Mum.


Are you Stylish Mum? Stylish Mum looks good. Obviously. She does not wear a crumpled T-shirt, stained with last night's dinner and possibly this morning's breakfast, to the park. She Instagrams her outfit – an Être Cécile T-shirt (ironed) with an ironic slogan across the front, her Frame jeans (the ones she fits into again thanks to her thrice-a-week Pilates habit) and Repetto flats – cold brew/green juice/child optional. Stylish Mum blow-dries her hair, manicures her nails and would not think twice about wearing white jeans. Because Stylish Mums beget Stylish Children, who have a very adult respect for pale denim (and their shoes, too – they would never dream of kicking off their sandals in the park, befouling their naked feet with dirt. Stylish Children are too busy reading Madeline and sipping their babycinos).

ORGANISED MUM Then there's Organised Mum. Organised Mum knows the exact date of her child's next vaccination and precisely how much Panadol can be given to an 18-month-old with an ear infection, without so much as looking at the bottle. She recalls the contents of the fridge with a precision that borders on military. Organised Mum takes her children to the park, and to playgroup, and to Rhyme Time, and to Gymboree, and to the pool. She knows what, specifically, to pack for each of these different events. She never forgets sunscreen or wet wipes or water or snacks or her child's hat. Organised Mum fills her schedule with child-centric activities and enjoys catching up with all the other Organised Mums she meets there.


Are you Involved Mum? Do you volunteer at playgroup, preschool, and school and weekend sports (not as coach, mind you – that's a job for Involved Dad)? Can you hear the words "canteen duty" without shuddering, wincing and choking on your sav blanc? Do you have next year's Halloween outfits sorted for all your kids before the Christmas tree comes down? Have you ever attended a Mums'n'Bubs ballet class?


Or are you Hipster Mum? Hipster Mum feeds her kids organic chia seed milk but has forgotten why. Her kids are called Arlo or Edie. She thinks it's important that kids learn a second language – and that's the only reason Dora the Explorer is allowed to be screened in her house. If you're a Hipster Mum, you'd sooner strangle yourself with your fair-trade organic cotton scarf than buy your kid a toy from Kmart. You don't know what canned soup tastes like, and neither do your kids. They prefer bone broth, anyway.

Or maybe you're not any of these mums. Well, are you? I didn't think so. None of these mums actually exist. But for some reason we tell ourselves they do: these perfect mums who are different in their methods but similar in their madness for their kids.


We tell ourselves that we should seek to be one of these mothers, these mothers who think of nothing but their children, day in and day out. Whose worlds revolve entirely around their kids, to the exclusion of everything else. We tell ourselves that is what motherhood really is. But it isn't. We all know what motherhood's really like.

Nobody has the energy to make sugar-free muesli bars for lunch boxes and compost every single scrap of vegetable and make a Sunday roast every week without fail. Nobody does it all the time. Nobody plans Play Doh fun crafternoons every single day, without ever resorting to plopping their kids down in front of a Ben and Holly DVD and sneaking off to the kitchen for a glug of wine from the bottle.

My bet is that you're a Just Trying to Keep Everyone Happy Mum. You have a child – or children – and a job. A husband, maybe a wife. Friends. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. A boss. Employees. Your own interests.

Your life is full, which you like but also find terrifying because if one ball drops the rest may come crashing down. You're perpetually tired in a way that is hard to articulate (mainly because you're so very, very tired). You want to keep everyone happy and do everything properly and be in many, many places at once. 

You are very sick of people telling you to "slow down", "meditate" and "get a dog" (you do not have time for a dog!). You are sick of answering questions – like "How do you do it?" – as if you are some sort of superwoman. You know the real answer: by missing out on other things. You are late to the Easter hat parade every single year, despite all your best efforts. Best efforts like choosing your employer based on their "flexible working policies" and "support of working parents", only to find that this equates to an annual family picnic to which you must bring your own booze.

You have heard of "me time" and think it is ridiculous bullshit that women have to justify simply doing something for themselves for once. You're tired of having to explain how much you do for others in order to "earn" said "me time". (Still, you nick off for a pedicure once in a while under this guise – because why the hell not?)

You send emails while singing to your kids in the bath and cooking tomorrow night's dinner. You braid your kid's hair while memorising a speech you have to give later. You tuck your kids into bed and race away after the final kiss to finish a report. Sometimes, in dark moments, you feel that Cat's in the Cradle was written with you in mind. You know it is supremely audacious to love both your child and your job. And you sometimes wonder if your life is about to reel right out of your control. I mean, what the hell were you thinking? 

Edited extract from Crazy Busy Guilty by Lauren Sams (Nero), out January 3.