Raise your hand if you have ever felt like crap about yourself for not being perfect. 🙋🏻♀️ Me too. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life in a constant state of fear that everyone will find out that I am (GASP!) not perfect.
On the surface, this sounds ridiculous. I mean, of course, I logically know I’m not perfect. I have cellulite, stretch marks, and at 32 I’m starting to see some signs of aging on my face plus lots of grey hair.
All of these things I’ve only just started to accept my new mombod. But there were other imperfections on the outside and inside for my entire life. I mean… I’m human, right?
But of course, becoming a mom means a new role to fulfill that requires perfection beyond any I was attempting to fill before.
Changing perceptions of who you are
Just over a year ago, I was separated from my husband, living in a home by myself with my three kids (including twins that weren’t even a year old yet), and hyper-focused on my own personal development.
My goal was to learn to finally be happy. Even though I had all I had ever wanted on the outside, I just couldn’t fully appreciate it. Of course, I felt overwhelming joy when I looked at my kids, but I couldn’t get past focusing on all the negatives in my life instead of the abundance of positives.
The truth is… I’m a victim of the Disney movie.
I grew up a big fan of the princesses. I yearned for true love, marriage, and a family, plus all the things the modern woman is supposed to have like a high-powered career and oodles of money, not to mention a perfect body that has no traces of having born children.
It honestly never occurred to me, even in my 20’s and into my early 30’s that this drive for perfection might not be realistic or healthy.
I grew up quite privileged, had every opportunity possible, went to a great college, and yet I always felt like I was falling short. Like I could never quite reach the goals I had set out for myself.
Why? For one, I had set goals based on other people’s expectations of me whether they were loving and well-meaning family members, or just the general societal expectations most of us feel. It wasn’t until I separated from my husband that perhaps the view I had of myself as a career woman with a househusband/stay-at-home-dad for a partner wasn’t what I wanted. What if I (gasp!) wanted to have a more traditional home life where my focus was just mothering.
It was through this realization that I started to shatter the perfect notions of what I thought my life should look like, and what I as a person should expect from myself and others.
Learning about perfectionism
I did a little bit of research and it turns out perfectionism is really just a result of some of my other issues in life… like anxiety. I’ve had some form of anxiety or depression for most of my life, and unsurprisingly as I started to work on myself during this separation, the perfectionism start to ease a bit too.
Spoiler alert, my husband and I got back together. From time to time I regret this separation, but the truth was that I needed it. (Whether he would admit it or not, I think he did too if his own progress with personal development is any indication.)
Our relationship had become quite toxic. At the time I blamed 99% of it on him. The ways in which he was toxic in the marriage were much more pronounced and obvious than the subtle and more insidious ways I was creating an unhealthy situation, and it again all stemmed from my perfectionism.
My obsessive (yet still subconscious) need to be right meant that I could rarely admit fault in arguments. I could admit when I might have said something a little too mean in an argument, or overreacted, but I could never actually give him a point and admit that I was wrong.
I just literally couldn’t see it because if I had to admit I was wrong that would mean I wasn’t perfect, and in that case, my ego would have shattered.
The ego gets a bad name, but the truth is that the ego is just really your self-concept. What you think about yourself. The ego could be healthy or unhealthy.
Mine was certainly not healthy.
But the irony is that on the surface it appears that I had a huge ego and thought a lot of myself, and in some ways I did, but it was a hollow or shallow form of self-esteem. That is why the perfectionism was needed. If I was ever wrong or did something “bad,” my self-concept would fall like a house of cards. I would lose my identity and who I was.
It was during this separation that I was able to allow my identity to fall and to start to rebuild who I truly wanted to be, including a healthy dose of self-love and acceptance.
Instead of shooting for perfection, I was shooting for truth, love, and happiness.
Now over a year later, I sit at the kitchen table in the home I share with him and our children and reflect on how much progress I’ve made in this time.
We just got home from our first family vacation to Disney World. Really it was our first family vacation we have ever had. While it was jam-packed with amazing memories, it was NOT a perfect trip.
It was 97 degrees and I dripped with sweat in a not so sexy way the entire time, one of my twins puked almost every single day in the stroller from consuming one too many treats, and my daughter was constantly complaining about the walking so much.
Add missed fast passes, being late to dining reservations, and even a bit of a fight between the husband and me… and this trip could have completely gone off the rails.
I even spent one evening crying because my little tendency of perfectionism reared its ugly head again.
I was questioning whether I should have even planned this vacation or if it was all a mistake. Maybe it was just too much for us and the kids. I had worked hard all year to create this magical experience and here I was fighting with my husband and most things that could have gone wrong did at some point (we even narrowly missed a Category 5 hurricane).
But I realized in the midst of those tears, which to be honest was mostly hormonal, that for everything that went wrong, so many things went right.
I thought of my one son grabbing Pluto’s whiskers in awe, or my daughter being announced as Princess Carolyn at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique before having lunch with princesses I had idolized as a little girl.
I thought about the night we stopped on our road trip down, and how the hurricane had forced us to take an alternate route. Instead of stopping in Savannah, we stopped in Atlanta and scored a great deal on a hotel with a huge tub and TV in the bathroom so the kids could have a fun bath while watching Spongebob.
Even with all of the things that went wrong, it was still the trip of a lifetime, and I had planned it and made it happen for my family. I could either stress about the details and imperfections or just be thankful for the good times.
I decided to be thankful for the good times.
This has been the way I have been approaching my life, my marriage, and my parenting over the last year.
Ditching the need for perfect, accepting what is, and focusing on the positives.
The need for perfection extends to also the expectations I have of myself, which in turn helps me extend some grace to others. When I expected perfection of myself, I expected it of everyone else as well. So when someone fell short, I catastrophized it.
If my husband screwed up and got angry or wasn’t the sweetest person one day, I turned it into a much bigger deal than it was because I wasn’t able to deal with anything unpleasant. The idea that my husband could be mad at me just didn’t compute. I used to assume that meant he didn’t love me anymore and we had to get divorced.
But the truth is that marriage can be kind of messy sometimes. Imperfections abound. Part of the beauty and tragedy of love and marriage is that you are comfortable enough with someone to allow all of your imperfections to show, and they do the same.
This can give you the opportunity to heal some old wounds and come to a greater understanding of each other. But if you are not both very careful, it can lead to a toxic cycle of fighting and hurtful words that can tear you apart.
I didn’t understand this about marriage and love when I first got married. I just believed in the happily ever after of perfection.
Sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but when the only vision you can have is one of perfection it excludes a lot of other incredible possibilities in the quest for something unattainable.
How perfectionism effects motherhood
I did always extend quite a bit of grace towards my children for their mistakes or shortcomings, which to be honest are few and far between. I don’t say that because they are the perfect little angels, but because I view all of their “bad” tendencies to just be absolutely normal aspects of their development.
Tantrums? Normal. Refusing to clean their room? Normal. Picky eating? Normal. Not sleeping through the night? Normal.
It’s ironically my ability to see that the imperfections in my children are not actually imperfections, but normal aspects of their humanity that have allowed me to see the humanity in myself.
The expectations that are placed on us as humans, and more specifically moms, is astronomical and not in alignment with the truth of our reality. While I’m no psychologist, I think that this is part of what contributes to our shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, and more (not to mention the Mommy Wars).
This massive drive to fit some ideal that isn’t even possible for the idols set up to represent the ideal is insanity. Even the picture-perfect moms we see on TV or IG are airbrushed, filtered, have had some kind of cosmetic procedure, or who knows what…
And this drive to be the perfect mom is also what drives the mommy wars and any ill will we have towards each other. Like I said above, my need for perfection meant that I couldn’t handle being wrong.
As mothers we NEED to be perfect in this role because it means so much to us. The idea that we’ve screwed up in the least is incredibly painful. So for example, if we sleep train and someone criticizes sleep training, it calls into question whether we are doing a good job. Or if we breastfeed and someone says the claimed benefits of breastfeeding are overstated it makes us wonder if all those bloody nipples were worth it.
We can easily feel really vulnerable and instead of sitting with that vulnerability it’s completely natural for our instinct to be to lash out if we feel we’ve done less than a perfect job.
Of course, it is impossible to be a perfect mom. Like the quote from Jill Churchill, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
I’ve been working on letting that quote sink into my bones and really believe it so that I can release the perfectionism that still clings to me a little bit, but it’s a work in progress.
I’m not perfect at this yet. I will never be. I mean, the point is to NOT seek perfection because it isn’t possible, so I also won’t ever be perfect at releasing perfectionism. And that’s ok. That’s life. Life is messy, but it’s also beautiful. Here’s to embracing all of life, even the imperfections.
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