Perfectionism and motherhood seem to be natural bedfellows. We’re often led to believe there is a “right” way to do everything: from birthday invitations to breastfeeding, diapering to education. We have to get everything just right or our children will live in our basements until they’re 30 and we will be marked as failures.
Yet in reality, perfectionism and motherhood can’t co-exist. Motherhood is messy and nothing ever goes according to plan.Our kids have free will and opinions all their own, and no matter how “perfect” we are, sometimes they’re still going to punch another kid off the swing at the park.
If we get too comfortable in our role as the perfect mother, we are doomed.
As is true in so many ways, motherhood shines a light on our imperfections, including our perfectionism. It almost taunts us. Just when we think we’ve nailed this parenting thing, the rug is pulled out from under us. Motherhood is determined to rid us of our perfectionism, so we might as well give in.
Here are some ways to make friends with your perfectionism:
1. Have a sense of humor
Thinking we can ever do anything perfectly is preposterous, and there’s nothing more insane than thinking we can mother without flaw. It’s ludicrous! When you notice how hard you’re working to make sure you always act, say, and do everything just right, don’t be afraid to laugh at the absurdity of it. Really, it’s insane.
2. Get comfortable with discomfort
Sometimes you’ll run out of time to pick up the house before bed, you’ll feed your kids mac and cheese straight from the box for dinner, or you’ll completely forget to pick your kid up from school. And you’ll feel like crap. When we fail to meet our own standards, we often go into overdrive to compensate for our perceived shortcomings. We feel an overwhelming compulsion to regain control and prove our goodness.
Resist the urge to do, do, do to ease your anxiety. Sit in it. Feel how terrible and real it feels to make a mistake. And then continue to not do anything about it. Except for picking the kid up from school you forgot about, you probably ought to do that.
3. Practice self-awareness
You might recognize on some general level that you’re a perfectionist, but do you have the awareness to recognize that your perfectionism is rearing its ugly head when your kid gets an F or is sent to detention? Do you realize that you’re just spinning your wheels and making yourself crazy when you insist on making every single product that touches your baby’s skin from scratch?
The pressure you put on yourself is a choice, and you always have the option to decide to lighten up. If, of course, you see your perfectionism when it’s happening.
4. Cultivate self-compassion, and then do it again, and again, and again…
We can’t do this once, we must do it all day every day. Give yourself a mental hug when you’re berating yourself for being late to a play date or when you send your kid to school in dirty jeans.
Recently I was running late for an appointment. Nearly the entire way there I beat myself up for not planning better, for not being more organized, for being the kind of person who is late to appointments. In a moment of clarity, I realized how insignificant being late to this appointment really was, and I saw just how worked up I was getting over something so trivial.
“Look at you,” I said to myself. “All worked up over being five minutes late. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? Remember that this won’t matter this afternoon, let alone a week from now.”
It might sound silly that I was talking to myself, but it actually helped. It was like I gained a little perspective and saw the situation from the outside. When I did, I saw a woman trying so damn hard to do it all perfectly, and I felt a lot of compassion for her. What a burden to feel like we always have to get it right.
5 Give yourself a reality check.
Are you seriously the worst mom in the world because you yelled at your kid yesterday? Would you assume the worst of your best friend if she were in your exact position? Of course not, you’d give her a pep talk. You’d remind her that she’s amazing and that we all have bad days.
What makes you more deserving of condemnation than anyone else on the planet? Just because you’re you, it doesn’t mean you have the right to judge you. If you wouldn’t say it to your kid, your best friend, or the twelve-year-old version of yourself, don’t allow yourself to get away with saying it to the you of today. You’re better than that, and you deserve better than that.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s any one “right” way to be a mom. Save your sanity and increase your joy by embracing the mess that is motherhood.