Being a perfectionist has just naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental US, 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 rhyme or reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem. That is, until, I became a mom.
However, even 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 easy going 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 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 breast-milk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.
For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it is total madness and sucks 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 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 perfect.
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" like it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than 3 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 non-slept 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 had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.
I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-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) Love and joyful encounters with my children was 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 life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.
The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this was 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 four-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.
I feel strongly that perfectionism and control are battles faced by most mothers today. I also feel strongly that motherhood is the ultimate challenger of that mentality. I believe that it is by strategic design that our Creator pleads with us through motherhood to lay down control, rely on His strength and grace and to walk in his plans for our lives and not our own.
So without further ado, here are my tips for how a mom like myself might start practicing being impefect:
Get up every day + CHOOSE to lay down perfection and control:
It doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out discussion or prayer (most moms of young children don't have the luxury of early morning time). It can be as simple as saying, "Lord, give me this day my daily bread." In other words; God, provide me with the things I need for just today. "Help me not to think above and beyond what is expected of me in just this one day. I lay down control over how my day will turn out. I will try my best, give me strength and peace through the trials that lay may or may not lay ahead. I am not perfect, nor do I need to be. This season is hard but it is beautiful. Thank you God that You are in control and You are the only one that is perfect."
- Love yourself!
Motherhood has a way of bringing to the surface all of our hidden issues and flaws that we've managed to somehow keep under wraps, pre-motherhood. It’s the ultimate refiner, if you will. It forces us to deal with our personal anxieties, fears and failures in a way that seeks to overcome so that our children can experience a joyful childhood.
Accept your "flaws" and embrace and lean on your strengths in motherhood. It may be helpful to make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a mother. And learn to wholeheartedly L O V E that person, flaws and all. You will probably find you have way more strengths than you do weaknesses.
Again, you weren't made to be perfect and nobody actually is perfect, no matter how much they might appear to be on social media. Learn from your weaknesses and walk proudly in your strengths. Let areas and moments of struggle become opportunities to learn and not to beat yourself up over. Give yourself a ton of grace and forgiveness. Motherhood is hard.
- Set aside designated times to clean so it doesn't interfere with being present
One of my biggest challenges has been to enjoy the moment with my children by playing with them and having fun instead of focusing on the mess that they are currently making. I used to (and still do, occasionally) clean all day long and it is foolish and exhausting. It has helped me to get into a routine of trying to only clean or pick up the mess during two times a day (after breakfast and at night when the kids are going to bed). When the entire house is messy and things are out of place, it helps me to envision how it it will look when the night is over and the kids are in bed.
- Get rid of stuff:
When you have kids, clutter and useless things build up very easily. Birthdays and Christmas alone feed into this madness, not to mention your addiction to Targets' $1 section. It is stressful having to constantly keep track of and put away millions of tiny (often worthless) items all day long. Try to go through one room a day and get rid of one or more items. Keep a box in each room for Goodwill. The less "stuff" cluttering your mind and your home, the less amount of things you have to keep track of in your weary mom brain.
- Focus on people and not things:
I know this is sort-of a broad generalization but it has really helped me in times of indecision of what I should focus on. Should I mop the floors or spend extra time talking with my son before bed? Should I go to park with my daughter or should I stay home and clean? Is anyone coming over to see your endless piles of laundry or messy dining room floor? If the answer is clearly a no, spend your time nurturing your children's heart instead.
- Create your own mothering style:
You don’t have to be someone else, you just have to be who you are. I believe that motherhood is an opportunity to step into who you were really meant to be. Sadly, too many moms are focused on what they think they should be and instead of who they are. Social media exasperates this problem since we forever looking at another person's idea of motherhood and thinking that's the way we should be a mom too.
You are the way you are for a reason. And it is okay to have different ideas about motherhood than your mom, your sister or your best friend.
- Accepting others as imperfect too
Now that you have let go of the idea that you're suppose to be perfect, its time you let others around you off the hook, too. Sorry, mama, but your husband is not perfect. Nor will he ever be. And this whole parenting thing is hard for him as well.
And those children of yours, they aren't perfect either. They are so far from perfect its not even funny, actually. But you know what? Even though they aren't perfect and won't share their toys with all the kids at the park, at the heart of a child is pure 100% goodness. They just need someone to stand by them and hold their hand as they learn things about life.
- Breath through the tough times
Somewhere between the 98th time you told your son to put his shoes on and the 42 minutes it took for you to buckle everyone into their carseats, its easy to lose your cool.
Just B R E A T H E when things get stressful or seem out of control.
If breathing doesn't do it for you, try to say something like "this isn't a big deal" or "I'm okay, I can handle this" This too, shall pass. And being 10 minutes late to school isn't going to be the end of the world, either.
- Get OUT of the MOM CAVE:
I don't care if you live in Canada and its currently below zero, get yourself outside. There is something freeing and peaceful about being outside, even if it's for a brief walk or taking your kids to play out in the neighborhood playground. Go where the people are. It helps to let go of the messy house or unfinished laundry when you're outside enjoying some fresh air with your kids. It's a little bit like avoiding the subject but it also is the most helpful way of getting out of any mom rut day.
- Allow good enough to be okay:
For the longest time I (subconsciously) thought that things had to be perfect in order for me to be a good mom. It turns out that couldn't be further from the truth. Kids don't care if their hair is messy, their rooms are clean or the dinner is perfection. All the really want is a happy mom. It took me a long time to finally allow good enough to be okay with me.
Maybe some nights I don't wash everyone's hair, but it's good enough.
Maybe some nights I leave the playroom a complete disaster, but its good enough.
Maybe my daughter takes her nap in her car-seat because I have errands to run today, but its good enough.
Practice saying "its not perfect but its good enough."
- Make a list of your priorities:
This is SO important. Take time to write down a list of your top 5-10 priorities. If being a nice mom is to your children is at the top of the list but you're more focused on scrubbing the bathroom floors, then move things around in your life. Make a plan for how you're going to change to make room for the important stuff.
- Try to focus on only one thing at a time:
There is something that drives me crazy about not being able to accomplish everything on my to-do list. But I know I get frazzled trying to do a million things at once and I end up not really accomplishing the most important thing. Focus on one thing at a time, and try to do a good job at that thing before you try tackling 700 other less-important things.
My theory is that it isn't necessarily the amount of things I accomplished that given day that actually matters but rather that I accomplished one thing that matters, thoroughly.
- Practice being still
This may sound a lot easier than it actually is for a mother whose prone to striving for perfection. Just CHOOSE to be still in moments with your children.
Forget about the mess. Forget about the schedule. Focus on their giggles, and live a little. You might even try PLAYING and laughing a little too.
After all, if you can't have joy in raising your little ones, than what is it all worth anyways?
- Allow people to help you:
This can be as small as letting a friend watch your child while you go to a dentist appointment, or letting someone help you with your laundry or cleaning the bathrooms once a month. It is absolutely OKAY to admit that you can't do everything yourself.
The sooner you allow someone in from the outside to hold your hand by helping out with something small, the sooner you'll realize you were never meant to do motherhood alone.
Practice letting others see you in a less than perfect situation:
This is the one that has been the most challenging for me and also the most freeing. It is actually lovely in a strange way to let someone else in on your imperfections and challenges.
Practice having a friend over for a play date when you haven't cleaned your house. Practice dropping your kids off to school in your shameless mom sweats and bun. Practice letting others see your children eating chicken nuggets for dinner. Practice letting an outsider watch you struggle with your toddler, who is having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery aisle, and try not to die of embarrassment.
Also practice letting other moms in on your imperfections by talking about your fears, anxieties and challenges in motherhood. I was talking to another mom just the other day at the park about how I struggle with not sweeping the floors after EVERY MEAL and it just so turns out that she is struggling with the same thing too! It made us both feel a little more sane and laugh a little that we were both trying to lay down the same striving for perfection in this crazy season. We are all cut from the same mold. Nobody is perfect and if they appear to be perfect, they're 100% putting on a show. They struggle with the same things you do, just in lesser than or greater degrees.
Letting someone in on your secrets helps you move past them. It helps you realize that no one really has this whole parenting thing figured out, after all.
2 Corinthians 1:3,4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Isaiah 40:11: "He gently leads those that have young."