After a near-fatal brain aneurysm knocked me down, I thought I was cured from chronic perfectionism.
I mean, really, when you're getting back on your feet again after dodging that proverbial bullet, you take some insights to heart.
Live in the moment.
Let it go.
I'm doing way better at embracing messiness than I did prior to my major life interruption. My former straight-A honor student self has made tremendous strides in not freaking out about a blog typo or if the design font is not quite right, but still serves its purpose. Heck, I've even gotten comfortable with being late (The shock! The horror!) as long as I've tried my hardest to get there on time. I don't (always) scream at traffic like a psychotic drunk anymore, but simply exhale slowly and let the other party know I'll be there in 10 minutes. Seriously. No one is going to die.
But, as with most things, it's easier to change after a bolt-of-lightning-slap-in-the-face catalyst than it is when you are facing everyday deadlines, demands and desires. Naturally, I thought I was free from the chains of perfectionism.
Then, in April 2014, my beautiful baby boy came into the world. A second after delivery, his quiet cry pierced the air and I sobbed with joy. If I thought I had let go of perfectionism in my childless days, well, then, color me delusional. Life had more lessons to share.
There is absolutely no room for perfection in parenting. No median. No bike lane. You will screw up. You will doubt yourself at every turn. Consider this daily stream-of-consciousness conversation that must happen in the mind of every mother out there:
Has he had enough to eat? Is he full? Does he need to nap? Wait, the books say I should do it this way... but then someone told me it worked for her baby, so... Should we be worried about that red dot on his skin? What if I did this wrong? Are we cuddling him too much? Are we not cuddling him enough? I knew should have done more skin-to-skin contact with him in those first few months. Did I ruin him for life? Should I offer him more bottle before bed? What if I'm not reading enough to him? Is he crying because I did something horrible and didn't know it? Wait...he's not sharing his toy? Oh no, what did we do wrong?!!
For a perfectionist, parenting is one of Dante's Circles of Hell. You can't possibly know the "right" answer because there is none. The entire experience is one cruel trick question. There are no nice, neat answers like when you once memorized vocabulary words for a Spanish 101 test. There is no grade scale, no answer key and no gold star based on the exact right thing to do.
Motherhood -- and parenthood, for that matter, because my husband experiences this on a daily basis as well -- is just not that simple. We have to learn to embrace it as it is and let it go, the hardest thing for a perfectionist to do.
To help you cope through your own "detox" as you panic your way through motherhood, here are eight truths motherhood has taught this recovering perfectionist. The sooner you accept them and cast aside your perfectionist chains, the happier you and your little one will be:
- Stains happen. You will walk out on stage to deliver a keynote presentation, show up at an important interview or meet up for lunch with your fabulously gorgeous (and childless) girlfriend and discover a formula, food or baby vomit stain on your designer jeans. One you didn't even notice. It will happen. At least you left the house with pants on. Consider that a win.
Being a perfectionist is who I am. It's my identity. I'm not suggesting we have to completely abandon who we are once a tiny human enters our world. But motherhood has enabled me to relax the rules a little and let go with humor and grace. You might be able to control a lot of things but one thing you can't control is another human being. Even one you created. But I promise, the payoff will be well worth it. And besides, all your perfectionist glory is still in full effect. Just look at that face. Isn't it perfect?
Did you enjoy this essay? Please tweet me @redslice and share your own wise gems and insights.
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