Huffpost Parents
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Joy Gabriel Headshot

I Don't Believe in Perfect

Posted: Updated:

The other night I wrote a blog post about why I don't believe in yelling at your kids and then woke up and yelled at my kid.

For yelling.

That's right. I went ahead and did the exact thing I said I don't believe in.

(Isn't that the definition of a mistake? When we act against our values and do the opposite of what we believe to be true and good.)

I felt an instant, searing regret the minute my anger erupted and would have done anything to suck it back in -- banished to the realm of Things I Swore I'd Never Do. But you can't undo, can you?

The worst part was the look of crushed confusion on her face. She was only yelling, after all. I honestly believe that she is behaving the very best she knows how. She is doing her best. She is acting like a child because she is a child. Losing my cool didn't teach her one thing about how to behave better (or differently).

Her tears broke the crust around my heart I had hardened against her with all my worry (She needs to stop the second I say! I'm in charge here! Don't negotiate with terrorists!)

I swallowed that pride hard -- banishing it to the place of Things That Never Made Anything Better.

Mama's sorry. Mama shouldn't have yelled.

She walked up to me, climbed up on my lap, and said, "I has an owie. Mama give me a hug." Then she clutched me tight for a 2-year-old forever (so maybe 30 seconds), then took a deep breath and said, "That feels better now."

I swallowed hard. Humbled.

This is one of my most poignant Mama Teaching Moments to date. It reiterated everything I believe about choosing not to yell, choosing love and loving guidance (the very definition of discipline) AND it helped me remember a Truth I know well.

I am not perfect and I am not required to be.

Being a good mother is important to me. I want to do a good job with these precious souls in my charge, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. I can't mess this up! This kind of anxiety has a way of building up until I reach the point where putting her in front of "Sesame Street" feels like an epic failure. Game Over. Child ruined.

Even if I'm not consciously telling myself I have to be perfect (because that sounds ridiculous), I am constantly telling myself Don't screw this up! You'll scar them for life! (Which isn't ridiculous AT ALL. Insert eye roll here.) And anyway, aren't they kind of the same thing? The funny thing is that listening to that fear robs me of my ability to mother and then I start yelling and doing exactly what I don't believe in.

Well, here's the truth: I am messing this up. Hopefully not in any Earth-shattering, irreversible way, but in a million little ways: lost tempers, distracted playtimes, TV time and mac 'n' cheese... I am messing this up because that's what we humans do. From the moment we are born, it's just a hot mess. (Have you been to a birth? It's beautiful because of, in spite of, all wrapped up in... a hot mess.)

This is called Being A Person. And I do not believe people can be perfect.

I believe "perfect" (or the perception of your parents as such) might be one of the worst things a child could have in a mother.

Because we are all human and constantly make mistakes. We have to learn to love ourselves and each other with all our flaws. We have to learn to apologize and course correct, bam, just like that. Because love is saying you're sorry over and over and over again.

If you never see that modeled, how on Earth can you grow up and expect to know how to do it?

One of my proudest accomplishments in life is my 10-year marriage (long by some standards, short by some others). I consider it an accomplishment because it's something I've put a tremendous amount of work into. Over the past decade, we went from kids who fought over clogged toilets and how to put sheets on the bed to grown-ups who have learned to laugh, to apologize, accept responsibility, repair the relationship and move on.

I no longer expect he won't hurt my feelings or I won't act like a crazy person sometimes. I fully expect it. But I also know we can fix it. As long as we both keep showing up with our humanity and our forgiveness, we can fix it.

And that's what I want to teach my children.

Not perfection. But personhood.

Acknowledging when you've caused an owie, without defense or excuse, accepting responsibility and repairing -- these are invaluable skills.

Luckily, just like my husband, my kids will get lots of practice with this stuff.

I'm not perfect, but I am a person and I would like to teach them how to be just that: real and open and unafraid of the mess of humanity. They'll have more than their share of owies -- some from me -- but even when I can't fix it, I hope I can at least hug it out until it feels better now.

In the meantime, I'll just keep practicing. Practice might not make perfect, but I think it might make a mama out of me.

2014-03-18-gabriel.JPG