Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with 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.
A nap 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, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.
Since I took this failure as a great assault at 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 around 18 months old.
For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.
Managing a toddler was definitely wild, 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 was 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 perfection.
I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not “bouncing back” as 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 relentlessly to calm her.
I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a 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 idea 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 had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.
I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, “Oh, don’t worry about it!” (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. 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 life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.
The problem was, I didn’t really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. 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 so I still am, practicing being imperfect.