Imperfect Motherhood Stories
with Dr. Lydiana Garcia, PhD and special guest, Gladys Aguilar, LCSW
Gladys Aguilar, LCSW
Gladys Aguilar, LCSW provides individual and family psychotherapy to children and their families for over 15 years in the Los Angeles County. She is a bilingual in Spanish and self identify as Salvadoran American. She specialized in anxiety disorders and is currently in the process of obtaining certification in perinatal mental health. Her goal is to have a specialty in working with childbearing individuals through their pregnancy and in the postpartum period.
Tell us a moment, a story about motherhood in which you felt like you make a mistake. And then what happened, and how do you deal with it, and what happened afterwards.
A mistake I feel like that I did while mothering is an interaction I had with my daughter when she was around one year old. I would take her to these parent and me classes at a little kids gymnastics play place, and the kids got the opportunity to run around and pick what they wanted to play. And whenever a parent she didn't recognize was near her, she would become fearful and freeze in place. She would stop what she was doing literally stopped in her tracks and look down, avoid eye contact and not move until essentially the parent would leave kind of the area she was standing in. What I would do as a mom during this time is I would attempt to comfort her with my words. I would say, It's okay, Mommy's right here, You're safe, Come here, come to mom. I wouldn't actually physically walk over to her, kneel next to her or pick her up or hug her. None of that. I felt like my words were comforting. She knew I was there and I kind of wanted her to walk to me. It just didn't really hit me as something that was not helpful until her father joined one of these classes. And the moment she did it in his presence, he immediately ran to her side, picked her up, hugged her, said the same things I said, and relief just came over her face. She smiled, engaged with dad, and you could see just the sense of safety, she felt protected at that time. I remember telling my husband, Oh, yeah, she's done this before, she's having the fight flight freeze response, and that's just something that happens. But when he said he felt so sad for her, it just broke his heart to see that of his little girl, it made me start to think, why am I not walking over to her. She’s really little, she needs to feel protected, and in close proximity to me to feel safe, to be okay when she's in a moment of feeling incapable of knowing how to defend herself, or knowing how to cope with the situation.
When I really thought about it, I realized that it has a lot to do with my own childhood, and feelings of insecurity, not confident, and that my parents in my perspective would rescue me from feeling intense emotions, or if I was very overwhelmed, they would kind of get rid of whatever threat was around even if it came at a cost to them. They would do that just so that I would stop crying, stop being upset. So I often think they cuddled me too much, or they didn’t toughen me up. And I realized that by me stepping back with my daughter, even though she was so little at the time, what I was trying to do is to kind of toughen her up to let her know, Hey, I'm here but you know, when you're ready, come out of that. And I didn't want to feel that I was "rescuing" her from the situation. At the time, I felt like the worst parent. How could I cause her to feel unsafe and unprotected by me, and I was doing it unintentionally. But you know, I wanted to correct and fix all the things I didn't want her to be, which is what I feel that I often am, insecure, not confident, not "emotionally tough enough”.
I recognize that that has a lot to do with what I was going through, and not her own story, her own journey. By saying it out loud and seeing what my efforts really were geared towards, which was to protect her essentially, I was not only able to separate my own stuff from her experience but I had to reframe the experience for myself, that my actions were a protective one, they were attempting to help her navigate the difficulties of life and it came from a place of love. And when I recognize that and I reframed it, I didn't feel like such a horrible mother anymore. I just knew that the way I did it was not achieving that goal, it wasn’t really helping her feel the safety and protection. But by knowing that I came from a place of love, and to protect her, I didn't feel so bad anymore. When I recognized that, I felt less guilty and it made it easier for me to change my behavior as well.
What is the message you have to other moms who are feeling the pressure to be perfect?
What I would say to moms who are struggling with the pressure to be perfect, first and foremost, you're not alone, you're definitely not alone. Mothers struggle with this all the time, we all feel the pressure. But don't forget where that pressure is coming from. It's not always coming from within, it's also largely coming from outside sources, societal expectations, what we see on TV, social media, that have placed this on us unfairly. In the same way we give grace to our children, for not knowing things, for being new to the world, for being inexperienced with life. We need to do the same with ourselves. We are new to this role. We're learning this as we go. We are also inexperienced without a parent, they say kids aren't born with a manual, and boy is that for sure. And even what I found to work with my oldest daughter, I found didn't work with my youngest son. So oftentimes, we're just going blindly forward, trial and error, as they say. Becoming a parent, literally, for the first time is an overnight transformation. No matter how much we've watched others do it, or how many books we've read. Imagine playing professional basketball one day without any prior intensive training, no competitive practice, but then one day, we're expected to be out on a court getting ready to play a professional game.
It's so unrealistic with parenting we learn as we go and we can correct what didn't work. And even then what works one day may not work another day, may work with one child and not the other. In essence, it's an impossibility to achieve perfection here. Also, let's remember that social media is fake for the most part in the sense that it is not a true reflection of life, of what motherhood is. No one's perfect. And the best thing we can do and you can do for your child is allow yourself the grace to be just as you are. And when you make a mistake, acknowledge it, tell them that it was a mistake, apologize if need be. And by showing that you are not perfect but willing to work on the things that you want to improve, you’re teaching them coping, problem solving skills, resiliency, and giving them an accurate representation of what being a human actually truly is. If we only try to appear perfect all the time, then we're not really being any different than social media. And it won't prepare them for what adulthood truly is, which is trying our damndest best and not giving up despite our failures. I'm sending all the mothers out there a giant virtual hug you're doing the absolute best you can This is hard. I see you. You deserve to be seen and heard.
You can know more about Gladys and her amazing work over on Instagram @gladysaguilarlcsw, and on her website gladysaguilarlcsw.com.
My Imperfect Motherhood Story
I'll also share a little bit about one of my stories of a moment that I felt that I was not being a good mom or I was not being "that perfect mom", that ideal mom that I expect to be. Probably you heard part of this but when I had my eldest, I went through a very difficult time. I had mastitis, I felt very confused and all this emotions that I was unable to label, and I felt disconnected. I felt like all of that and recovering from birth took over of me connecting with my son. But when he was around 2-3 months, I started putting it together. Because first I was like, Oh, baby blues, I just need more support. I attended some moms groups which was helpful. I was trying to first address whether I was like moving toward a postpartum depression or something. I look for the support I needed, I look for therapy. And I remember when I had the realization that I was not connecting with my son, I was seeing all these people in social media or even the moms that I would spend time with hanging out with that, they will be like, I love my kids so much and sharing all this things. I would smile and kind of pokerface that I was also feeling the same thing. But I was not. And there was that sense of guilt and shame. Why don't I feel the same way, why don't I feel that love that they mentioned, that they said they would die for for their child, I bet I would have died for my child, but I was not feeling that.
The day that I opened up and told the therapist that I don't feel like I'm connecting with my son, and that's really hurting me, especially because I have in my head all this information about attachment theories, and I was also reading a great book at that time, Parenting From the Inside Out by Dr. Dan Siegel. But I remember the therapist telling me to stop reading it at the moment because it was also highlighting all this stuff that I was carrying, of attachment stuff with my mom as well, and then how I was reading all these things and feeling like even worse, because I was identifying with an avoidant attachment and being a good enough mom. I did follow her advice and she assisted me in sessions to kind of connect with my little one, and I remember that being so helpful. And to be honest, it is still something that are working progress. And when I had my daughter, I would spend time just trying to savor it. Because with my son, everything was so overwhelming that I don't think I had that time to just sit down and savor it and just be looking at the newborn, smelling the newborn, all of that. Now, it is much better. I love my kiddo, and we have a really good relationship.
There's still times that I want to go into that flee mode, especially when I feel like he’s demanding a lot of my attention, or a lot of me, sometimes his energy can feel too much for me, but that’s my own stuff that I'm dealing and I'm working through. I want to shut down and want to flee. Now I know that when I go into that mode, I don't go into that guilt shaming, and any shame because it's not helpful. I just normalized that that's part of motherhood, especially motherhood during Covid-19. And knowing that and normalizing and talking to myself that it's okay to not want to be with my kid all the time. It’s okay to feel that way. So now I know that when my son is overpowering or it's demanding a lot of my attention, and I go into that flee mode, I just try to also show compassion for myself as I'm breaking or changing that intergenerational pattern. I also tap into that internalized ideal mom and compassionate for myself, that it's okay for me to feel that way. And that it's okay to be a good enough mom.
I am changing consciously by also showing my kiddos that I'm not perfect, and I want them to experience that because when I started this whole motherhood journey, that's what I saw. I saw a perfect mom who was always the giving and being there all the time and I don't recall seeing any imperfections, and that was really hard. And right now with my kids, I want to show them that I'm not perfect. What I mean with that is when I make mistakes, I apologize and work on a resolution or something, but I allow myself, compassion enough to experience that.
My Message for other moms who are feeling the pressure to be perfect
Here's a message that I would like to send via the podcast episode and the reason I created it, is to just know that whatever you're doing, wherever you are, it's okay. There's always ways that you can kind of talk to your kiddos whenever you make a "mistake" and use that as a learning experience. I think it's so important that our children learn to see imperfect parents, because that also is going to highlight the pieces that are imperfect in them, and knowing that that also includes that unconditional love because at the end of the day, that's all what we want. As human beings, we want to be seen, heard, felt, and by us having to hide those in "imperfect sides" it's not helping us to feel completely loved, appreciated, felt seen. That's the message here, knowing that by you showing "your imperfections", you're allowing your children to feel okay when they make mistakes, to feel okay when they're not perfect, and to still love them unconditionally. You're changing a lot of our culture by just doing that.
I wanted to normalize different things and to burst that idea that we have to be this perfect mom, that we have to be this regulated mom, that we have to be super conscious about everything that we're doing. Yes, we're healing intergenerational trauma, we're changing patterns, and at the same time, we're still human. And even if we try our best, there still stuff that is going to be passed down. And this is super important because the pressure that I'm seeing people putting on themselves to heal all these kind of things can be actually overpowering and getting in the way of you actually changing some things and changing some patterns. We must also remember that there will be lessons that our children will need to go through that's part of being a child and then an adult.
I hope that these messages get across and that you let it sink into your heart, and you let it resonate and go deep into your bones. We're working through this, we're changing, we're showing, and we're breaking that pattern of this perfect woman, because we’re not. And that's okay.