The postnatal transition to mothering is experienced in a range of ways, and brings with it diverse emotions and reflections on one’s own identity and the anticipated (spoken or not) actions that should accompany those identities. Accounts of mothering highlight some difficult and contested ideals and behaviours that new mothers have to work through. Based on empirical work conducted with new mothers from a west London borough, I will show how most mothering practices and behaviours appear to continue to be in constant battle with institutional, social and cultural expectations. The paper highlights how participants navigated those contested ideals and behaviours, judging themselves and other mothers, thereby feeding into a cycle of idealistic mothering. By embracing or challenging conceptions, a mothering identity emerges as a way for new mothers to legitimate their own feelings and seek agency while also trying to fit into a perception of what makes good mothering.