Role-modelling imperfection: the new perfect

Advertising, social media and celebrity culture bombard us with images of seeming perfection. The perfect body, the perfect baby, the perfect glowing image of motherhood. Maybe there are a select few for whom these paragons inspire positive change, but for me (and I suspect most) they only serve to highlight the yawning gulf between my flabby, fraught and failing self and the images of bright and shiny perfection.

I suspect we are all guilty of sharing only the moments of happiness. Nobody rushes to share what they see as failures: squawking babies, picky eaters, tantrums, bribery, and the million other ways we disappoint ourselves. We see delicious home cooked weaning recipes, not a packet of Wotsits, we see walks by the sea, not the battle to get them in the car, then out of the car and then back in the car, which all took twice as long as the beach walk.

Indeed, one of the first things mums do in Happy Mums online support groups is apologise – for their crying baby or tantrumming toddler, for the divided attention and their failed plans. That’s why I’ve come to believe it is vitally important we all lay bare our own frailties, even a little, to let everyone else know that it is ok to be imperfect.

It’s also a useful phrase for any minor mishaps – when you’re late or forget you’re meant to be on a Zoom call, when your child hangs up on someone or screams like they are dying in the middle of the Co-op – you’re not messing up, you are role-modelling imperfection. It is a sublimely selfless act, well done. It also goes against the pressure felt by many women to juggle many different roles and demands with ease and success. It's OK to fall short, to stumble, to collapse in a heap on the floor.

So let’s reclaim our niggling narrative of doubt and self-chastisement and reframe it. Our vulnerabilities can become strength – having the bravery to show the world when you are struggling can have a real and profound impact on someone else who thinks they are struggling alone.

Similarly, another frequent worry for mums, when we cry or scream in front of our children, perhaps we don’t need to feel ashamed. By showing our children a range of emotions and how we can recover and overcome them, maybe we are showing them a truly powerful message. Rather than making them think emotions must be hidden, we can teach them to express them and move beyond them.

So next time you, and your children, are all weeping into your Wotsits*, remember: you are role-modelling perfection and give yourself a break. Sometimes our failures are more powerful than our successes.

*Other orange maize puffs are available

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