Jenny Mathews, contributing writer 

I remember when I quit working outside the home to be a full-time mom to my oldest son. We were going to finger paint, take nature walks and I was going to teach him to read before preschool. Sure, money would be tight, but we would finally have time to go to the park. Our days would be filled with wonder.

It’s not as if it all fell apart at once, but all of a sudden one day I remember trying to decide if it was worth changing out of the clothes I had worn to bed — let alone shower and fix my hair — and wishing so badly we could afford cable so I could just sit my boy in front of cartoons and ignore all the mundane tasks on my to-do list. Who was I, and why did I want to do this again?

Nurturing is what we DO as mothers, but it is also what we NEED as mothers. Often our feelings are complicated and we feel ashamed to confide in others, so we bottle them up, tuck them away in our shame closet and pretend everything is great. A mother’s quest to create the perfect loving, healthy, clean and stimulating environment has the potential to come at a great cost to her own emotional well-being.

In Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she talks about feeling like we don’t measure up. She suggests that courage, compassion and connection are the gifts of these moments of imperfection. By identifying and facing this type of uncertainty we choose to rise above instead of being tossed about in what she calls the “shame storm.”

I don’t know any mom whose perfect vision of motherhood and parenting has become the reality. It isn’t perfect, and, according to Brown, it’s those times that soften the walls we put up and really help us grow. It is then we seek help courageously, reach out and connect with others who understand and nurture ourselves compassionately (see box below for ideas on how to do this).

Despite our best efforts, none of us will attain perfection in motherhood. One of my favorite quotes from Brown’s book is based on a classic Leonard Cohen lyric, “It’s through all of our cracks that the light can get in.” Go ahead and acknowledge the things that stand in your way, but remember that the best kind of perfection we can hope for is to never quit trying.

When I asked women what they did to nurture themselves, ALL of the answers fit in Brown’s theory:

COURAGEOUS ENDEAVORS

  • Reaching out for help
  • Telling my husband how I’m really feeling
  • Setting a goal like training for a race
  • Picking up an old talent/ skill that used to bring joy
  • Starting a new exercise routine

CONNECTION ENDEAVORS

  • Calling a friend or my mom
  • Planning a girls night
  • Meeting up with people for lunch or at the gym
  • Social media (ignoring the junk and focusing on the positive and uplifting)

COMPASSIONATE ENDEAVORS

  • Giving myself permission to cry it out/hide in a closet for a little while or vent to my sister
  • Catch up on sleep
  • Taking time to do something I love (i.e., reading, gardening, running, sewing) • Setting aside time for myself and making it a priority
  • Taking a day off from the routine: declaring a “pajama day!”
  • Encourage someone else who is struggling (looking outside of