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.
- You will make your baby cry. Yes, there are some men in my work or personal life whom I may have wanted to make cry with a well-timed comeback or scolding for bad behavior. But when this little cherub instantly squirts tears and stares at you, pleading with his eyes, Why, Mommy, why? simply because you strapped him into a car seat, your heart will explode. You have not done anything wrong. They cry. Yes, they cry when they are in pain or hungry, but they also cry because they want to destroy your mobile phone or you won't let them play with a steak knife. Trust that you know what's best and when they make it through those first years unscathed, you will be Mom of the Year.
- You will learn to leave the dirty dishes in the sink until morning and not feel an ounce of guilt. Seriously.
- You will, on your worst days, become a stressed-out, unreasonable -- dare I say psychotic -- drama queen and snap at your spouse. You will apologize later and it will be fine.
- You will admit that you judge other parents -- and have always done so, whether meaning to or not -- and breathe a sigh of relief at letting that saintly façade go. Just as you hope the parents judging you will do so you can all have a good laugh about it.
- You will never feel you are doing enough - or doing any of it well. Just know that you will feel this, no matter what you do. Remind yourself often, "He's happy, he's thriving, he's healthy, he's loved." It helps.
- You will not have the nice, neat and oh-so-fashionable nursery from the Pottery Barn Kids catalog that you swore you couldn't live without. Or maybe you will, in which case I hate you (kidding... sort of). But no matter what the nursery looks like, when your baby smiles and giggles at you from his crib in the morning, you will realize that he is what makes that room sweet perfection.
- You will accept various food stains on previously unacceptable locations, such as your shirt, the couch or your bedspread, and revise your standards as to what really needs to be washed right away and what you can hide for a while longer. Sounds gross, but show me a mom who's not accepted this and I'll show you... no mother ever.
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?
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