Many of us—myself included—begin the journey of motherhood with ‘ being the ultimate goal.
We want to do everything perfectly. We want to minimize (or if possible, entirely avoid) mistakes. Because of the love we have for our children, we want the very best for them. We feel immense pressure to be the creators, the facilitators, the providers of “the absolute best”.
We are quick to crown ourselves as having failed to be perfect when we do perfectly human things—like losing our patience, or feeling overwhelmed, or doing something that we swore we would never, ever, do when we became mothers.
It’s hard to avoid the pressure to be a perfect parent. It comes at us from all angles—external sources and also from within. Decorate the ‘perfect’ nursery. Bake the ‘perfect’ healthy muffins. Throw the ‘perfect’ birthday party. Teach them the ‘perfect’ manners. Waitlist them at the ‘perfect’ preschool. Get back to the ‘perfect’ body weight within moments of giving birth to your ‘perfect’ baby, who, of course—if you’re doing your job as a parent correctly—will never “misbehave” because—you guessed it, you’re all doing everything ‘perfectly’.
In addition to all that, somehow we also expect to miraculously be the ‘perfect’ spouse, the ‘perfect’ daughter, the ‘perfect’ employee, and the ‘perfect’ friend. Whatever all of those things really mean.
We ask so much of ourselves.
We ask too much of ourselves.
There is a difference between striving to do our very best for our children, and striving for perfection. And the thing is, if we are putting our all into parenting—the issue is not the effort we’re exerting or the ideals we hold as our goal—but rather, the fact that when we fall short of our perfectionist expectations, we come down so hard on ourselves.
And here’s the thing: if our children see us coming down so hard on ourselves when we miss the mark of perfection—you guessed it—we’re just perpetuating this exhausting, unrealistic and unhealthy picture of how we are meant to live our lives.
And so, I want you to ask yourself: if I’m trying to raise children who are kind and loving and gentle, isn’t it important—no, isn’t it necessary—that I model those things towards myself, too?
If I want my children to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay not to get something the way you wanted it to be the first time, and that the courage and resilience it takes to get back up after you’ve fallen is what actually gives you strength of character, then isn’t it important that when I make a mistake or struggle with something, I am honest and show them that I am not perfect, but that I’m trying, and that I’ll keep trying again?
If I want my children to know that, sometimes, perseverance can be hard because you have to confront the fact that you still haven’t quite gotten there yet, over and over (and over) again—then don’t I need to make sure that they see an example of someone who can come across a stumbling block or a major hurdle or completely screw up altogether, but then have the conviction and to try again?
The beautiful thing is that our children can often be the best teachers when it comes to this.
Those little toddling legs that keep buckling and losing balance, but also keep getting back up? That baby isn’t going to give up on walking because she didn’t get it perfectly the first time.
That 3-year-old who has been practicing and practicing and practicing at pouring his own glass of milk straight out of the carton? He will leave behind a few drops on the counter or create spills demanding a mountain of paper towels, but he will most likely keep trying to get it right as long as you keep giving him that opportunity to try.
The 5-year-old trying to master riding a bike, the 7-year-old who finds it difficult and scary to make new friends, or the 12-year-old who is really struggling with a subject at school—if that child has seen their own parent come to terms with their own struggle, if that child has seen their own parent be kind to themselves when they’ve “failed,” if they’ve seen their own parent continue to push on, especially when we really, really think we should just write off our efforts once and for all—then that child will know.
That child will know that resilience and perseverance are an intrinsic part of being , and that actually, the process of getting to where you want to be, and not just the ‘perfect’ end result, is where we find true meaning and contentment.
So the next time you lay your head on your pillow at night and start counting the ways you fell short of parenting perfection that day, I want you to stop.
I want you to think about all the weaknesses you confronted, all the things you learned that day and all the future opportunities that you will continue to encounter so that you can keep getting better.
I also want you to remember this: embracing the imperfect and focusing your energies on accepting your humanity, building your resilience and nurturing your perseverance—that? That is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give to your children.