I was going to be the perfect mother.

Freshly positive pregnancy test in hand, I headed to the grocery store to buy all the organic food my blueberry-sized baby needed.

Into the cart: Pesticide-free kale, DHA-enhanced milk (for baby’s brain, of course), wild salmon (only in the ‘right’ amounts), sprouted tofu and free-range eggs. This was my first big chance to get motherhood right, and I was going to eat the best, most nutrient-rich foods our budget could handle. $250 worth of groceries later, I was ready to make my body a temple for my growing baby.

The next morning, morning sickness hit me in full force.

And I didn’t stop throwing up for 6 weeks, surviving only on fruit punch, Gatorade and Saltines. (And truth be told, Zofran. God bless Zofran.) All of that food—the hundreds of dollars of organic produce that I obsessed over? It rotted in the fridge while I spent the winter hugging the toilet, barely able to get out of bed.

Only a few weeks in, and motherhood was already teaching me to laugh at my perfect plans.

Since that first idealized day at the grocery store—the weekend I found out I was pregnant with my first—I’ve never really felt “in control” of this whole motherhood situation. And somewhere along the way, I learned that being a mom is a wave I just need to learn to ride.

But the perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up, uninvited.

I’ve spend weeks trying to pick the perfect preschool. I’ve spent hours online, aiming to find the ideal activities to stimulate their social and intellectual development. I’ve obsessed over finding the “right” camp or the best whole wheat pasta. (SERIOUSLY.) I’ve guilt-tripped myself over screen time, going cold turkey, then over-indulging, and back again. I’ve planned their birthday gifts to perfection—only to have them tire of the presents a few weeks later.

The perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up, but that’s not the kind of mother I want my children to have.

The perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up, even though I know it’s an illusion and that nobody has it all together.

The perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up, but I don’t have time for it anymore.

The perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up, but I know it’s a liar trying to suck motherhood of its joy.

The perfection/ guilt complex keeps showing up telling me to do more, but I’ve learned to laugh back and tell it: NO. In fact, I’m going to do less.

I’m going to do less worrying. Less obsessing. Less planning for events that won’t wind up going my way. Less projecting onto how situations “should” be and more accepting them for how they are. I’m going to try and squeeze in fewer activities, and more carefree time together. I’m going to tell guilt to go away, that I’m too busy sitting down with my babies and hearing about their Lego-building plans.

Instead of all that guilt and planning for ‘perfect,’ I’m focusing on the few things I think actually matter for my family.

So instead, here are the 5 things I learned to focus on. This is what ‘perfection’ looks like to me—

You are safe

We have simple morning and bedtime routines. We constantly clear our house of clutter. We talk about the meaning of our marriage and the commitment we have to our family. We coach our kids through transitions and discuss any upcoming disruptions or changes so they won’t be too startled (at least when we can.)

I want our children to know they are in a safe place where they can share their fears and dreams. I want them to know they can fail—and that trying hard and learning and growing is what it takes to truly flourish.

You are loved

I want them to know that they are wholly loved. Just as you are. Even when I’m upset with you my child—you are loved. Even when you punch your brother (I wish you wouldn’t)—you are loved. When you wake up, when you sleep. When mom is at work, and when daddy is swimming with you in the pool: You are loved. In our words and our deeds. Our values and our priorities. You are loved. Always.

You have responsibilities

“But mom, I don’t want to go to camp today.” “But mom, I don’t want to put away my bowl.” “But mom, I didn’t make that mess—why should I clean it up?”

I want you to know that we are a family and we belong to one another. That means we pitch in to help the team. That also means we look to the world around us to see where we can be brave, to help those in need, or to do hard things that we don’t really want to do. We have responsibilities to one another. It’s part of life, and it’s where the authentic pride of hard work comes from. You have responsibilities. And that’s not a bad thing.

You are free to be you

My younger son’s favorite color is pink. My other son is obsessed with dinosaurs. One likes to wear his clothes backwards, and the other dreams of living at the library. They are free to be whoever they are. My child, we want you to thrive as the person you were created to be. We want to help you become the best version of you.

Well always be here for you—no matter what

No matter what happens, you can always come to us for help. We are home base. The soft place to land. The pat on the back. The shoulder to cry on. The fail-safe, get-me-out-of-jail card (I hope not literally, but even then.)

We might not have a perfect house. Their education might not live up to some ideal I imagined when I didn’t have real life budget and time constraints. Their dinners may consist of more macaroni and cheese than I hoped to deliver, but this is real life.

Goodbye guilt.

Goodbye perfection.

This is what really matters.

This is what really makes a family.