Striving for perfection has naturally been part of who I am for as long as I can remember. I could blame it on living in the continental US, where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or maybe even my family dynamics from growing up in a household of five women.
Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved.
Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem. That is, until, I became a mom.
When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.
Nap time schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night.
I did struggle (tremendously) with breastfeeding. Since I took this failure as a great assault on my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom-guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect parenting game, in another way, by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was about 18 months old.
For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it is total madness and can feel like its sucking the joy out of life.
Managing a toddler was definitely W I L D, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect.
All felt relatively fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of "perfect."
I was living in a new city with no help, no village, and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and trying to put healthy dinners on the table each night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way.
I felt like my body was a wreck—there was no "bouncing back" like it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights as I tried to calm her. I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to soothe her and get her settled for sleep.
Meanwhile, I was a non-sleeping zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.
The demands of motherhood laughed at my ideas of picture perfect motherhood.
Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.
It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.
Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and permission to loosen the reigns.
I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the three-day old stain on the dining room floor.
I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, screw it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc.) These joyful encounters with my children were incomparable to the latter.
The beauty in the moments when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a lifelong pattern of perfectionism and control.
The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for over 30 years, after all. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.
So, I did. And I still am—practicing being imperfect.