When Elliot was born, I thought being a mom meant giving 110% on every single task. I kept floors spotless months before he could crawl. I ate up parenting podcasts and books at every turn. I was all too happy to give my husband pointers (commands?) when his swaddling technique differed from my own. Mother knows best, after all.
I thought that the more time I spent learning about parenting, the better I was at it.
When Elliot napped, I rarely did the same. There was always more to be done! And if I didn’t get it all done, I wasn’t a good enough mom. Or so I told myself.
That’s the constant struggle with perfectionists. We hear “good” and we think “could be better.” There is no “good enough” in the perfectionist’s compendium.
The lack of sleep didn’t help. It stirred my anxiety around the clock. Even when Elliot started sleeping through the night, I didn’t. I would wake up around 4 am to pump under moonlight, worried my milk supply would drop.
When Elliot started eating solids, I made everything by hand. I wanted to maximize the “flavor window” and was determined to fill it with apples and peaches and lentils and squash. I took pride in steaming and pureeing organic kale. He loved it. (Just kidding.) As he got older, I soaked and skinned almonds to make almond milk. I briefly explored raising chickens in the backyard.
Looking back, these behaviors seem a bit much, but at the time, they felt vital to my survival.
When Elliot turned 6 months old, I went back to work—terrified of not being able to keep up with home life on top of work life, but insistent on not letting anything slip.
It was impossible. Dishes piled up. Dust bunnies taunted. I felt guilty on the nights we ordered takeout. I felt bad when new recipes were just meh.
My quest to do everything the best and be everything to my little one was sucking joy and energy from my life.
One morning I awoke with a horrible stomachache. Fever…chills…I wanted to dive under the covers and watch rom coms. But we host a nanny share at our small San Francisco apartment, and there was nowhere to hide. So I went to work. By 10 am, I was deteriorating fast. I left the office, unsure where I would go. It was raining, and I had no umbrella.
As I passed two women, I overheard them discussing a faulty umbrella. At a red light, I saw that one of them was Oscar (and Emmy and Tony) winner Francis McDormand, of Fargo fame. She tossed her umbrella—her navy blue Muji, covered-in-Hollywood-fingerprints umbrella—in the trash.
As they walked on, I pulled it out of the bin, figuring a busted umbrella was better than none at all. I opened it, it closed. I tried again, harder this time, and it snapped into place.
VICTORY! But…I still felt awful. I texted a few friends and found one who was home. I curled up on her sofa, and she brought me tea while I explained the story of my newest accessory.
I didn’t care if her house was clean or if her tea was organic. I just needed someone to take care of me.
Years from now, Elliot isn’t going to care whether I made all of his meals from scratch, or if his toys occasionally found their way into the dog’s mouth. He’s going to remember the time we spent playing, the forts we built, the books we read.
Elliot’s now a year and a half old. I have resolved to do less and to care less (which still sometimes feels like failure.) I still don’t nap when he does, but sometimes I read a book or watch TV. And yesterday, instead of cleaning the floor, I bought more socks.
As a mom, I have learned to compromise with myself. It’s not easy, but I’m learning.