Throughout my life, I have set really high standards for myself. I've always expected the absolute best. Inevitably, I set myself up for failure. Once I'd reached a goal, there was always a higher one to attain. I rarely stopped to enjoy and celebrate my successes. They always felt somehow anticlimactic. Instead, I wondered what I needed to set my sights on next.
I never stopped to wonder what I was trying to prove. And to whom.
It was only when I became a mom that I realized my pursuit of perfectionism couldn't continue.
Ironically, striving to be the perfect mom made me a worse mom.
I couldn't achieve all the targets I set myself; I couldn't maintain the standards I had previously strived to meet. I couldn't work until I dropped.
Because my little one needed me.
My failed attempts at trying to complete household chores with a toddler in the room entailed that I had no choice but to let go of perfect. I didn't have control over things anymore: No matter how many parenting books I read, there was no manual for the unpredictable little creature who had abruptly transformed my life.
Striving to look like a supermodel wasn't even a remote possibility anymore (like it ever was?!), and I had to redefine what attaining a healthy body meant – losing pounds suddenly wasn't the most important thing anymore.
Suddenly, I needed to do things that I had previously perceived to represent procrastination and had, therefore, forbidden myself from doing… like taking care of myself. Relaxing. Napping.
I realized that if I continued trying to chase "perfect," I'd drive myself crazy. I'd drain myself. I'd break down. I'd scream and cry more often. I'd be the opposite of the role model I wanted to be for my daughter. I'd be the opposite of the calm, strong parent she needed. I'd be showing her that I couldn't make myself happy and that I would never be enough.
What's more, I wouldn't enjoy being a mom.
Our babies change so quickly. If we continually chase our shoulds, we kind of miss the fleeting moments of our babies' childhoods, the moments in which we make a connection with them.
That was exactly what I had been doing.
I recently made a list of all my shoulds, and the results scared me a little.
- I should work more to achieve my business goals – I am constantly behind, especially compared to others.
- I should write more – it is my passion, and my work and should be a priority after all.
- I should be more active in social media
- I should be a better steward of our finances and spend less money.
- I should connect more with friends.
- I should network more.
- I should exercise more and be slimmer.
- I should spend more time with my daughter.
- I should spend more quality time with my husband.
- I should be a more productive and efficient homemaker (an endless list of cleaning shoulds to feel guilty about).
- I should educate myself more and learn to be a better parent.
- I should be a better, more patient mom.
Yep… The list goes on.
However, one thing was particularly scary about my list of shoulds: I had to confront myself with the fact that I couldn't let myself be happy, couldn't let myself feel enough, couldn't let myself stop and enjoy life RIGHT NOW.
I was postponing my happiness, my life, my connection with my daughter.
I lived in the "if I do this, then ..." mode. If I am a better homemaker, a better parent, slimmer, had a more successful business…then. Then I can stop and relax. Then my life can start properly. Then I can be ... what? The perfect version of myself that would be allowed to be happy and be present? If I could just get all that work out of the way, I would have earned the trappings of perfectionism.
The problem is that there is always more work. There is always more to do. There is always someone else to compare me to. There is always the next thing I need to attain. There is always a new, better version of myself I'd need to become. Because nobody would say to me: "It's okay, it's enough. You've done it." I would have to be able to say that to myself. I would have to feel it.
In the meantime, my daughter would be missing the "mom right now." That was the only mom she needed. Me, because I was her mom, by design, however imperfect or unsuited for the job I felt.
Me, there, present.
Having realized all this, do I still read tons of parenting books and worry about what I should be doing? Sure.
Do I still have professional, personal, and even motherhood goals? Yes, most definitely.
I want to live my dreams and having goals is part of achieving this. However, I have contemplated to what end I want to reach those goals. I have defined what is important to me and what success actually looks like for me. And being present with my family and making a connection with my daughter is right at the top of that list. Breaking the habit of perfectionism is hard. So I make a habit of reminding myself every day: In motherhood, you need to find a balance between doing your best and giving yourself grace. You need to find joy in the imperfect now instead of waiting for the perfect "if I have achieved this, then" future.
You need to surrender.