I am a recovering perfectionist. It is sad but true. I have a vivid memory of being in the 6th grade and making a handmade poster about penguins for a presentation. It was the day before my poster was due and I spent hours trying to perfect the title with a magic marker. See, it was the late 90s, before you could whip up and print out a title with a nice font. I had to write it out by hand, and it HAD to be perfect. I remember the tears shed over that “P” that just didn’t look the way I expected it to. Man, I wish making a perfect “P” was my greatest worry now!
The Quest To Be Perfect Continued
When I reached high school, perfectionism still clung to me. In my mind to be noticed, I had to make varsity soccer as a freshman because I had to be the best. Anything less was a failure. And then I decided I had to be in the starting line-up and I had to be the best freshman out there. Not only am I a recovering perfectionist but I am insanely determined, that’s a dangerous combination!
Outside of sports, I also had to be the perfect student. But, one day, in my junior year of high school, something shifted. School got harder and I realized I couldn’t be nor did I want to be the best anymore.
Because trying to be perfect was EXHAUSTING. I realized that once I achieved my goal, I was never truly satisfied. I knew I would never be content at the top because I always had to find a new goal to reach higher for and to beat everyone else at. It was a very vicious cycle. So, that year I approached school differently and I was okay with not being the best. I realized life is not all about achieving at the highest level. When I began to let go, I began to really enjoy myself.
The Quest To Be A Perfect Mom Begins
Fast forward to the birth of my first baby. That pull to be a perfect mom crept in and it wasn’t just about me being a perfect mom, it was about my kids being perfect kids too. According to me as a first-time mom, my kids would never eat fast food, would only eat organic food, and would reach all of their milestones before their friends. And tantrums? Not even in their DNA (ha, what a fool I was)!
Back then I thought life was a race and we were going to perfectly win it. Oh wow, I was so wrong! Trying to be a perfect parent is so much harder than trying to be a perfect athlete or student. I mean keeping small humans alive is a hard enough task in itself! Doing it perfectly is NOT EVEN POSSIBLE. Needless to say, I am really, really bad at being a perfect mom because I am just an imperfect human raising other imperfect humans.
I have days where I raise my voice too much or grow impatient with my kids over little things. And I feel guilty that I failed them. But I often remember a psychologist I learned about in grad school, D. W. Winnicott. He coined the phrase “the good enough mother“. And, boy, does it resonate with me. The concept is that a parent will do everything they can to keep their child healthy, happy, well-fed, thriving, and feeling loved. But of course, there is too much to balance in life, let alone child-rearing, to do it all perfectly. So they do everything they can well (not perfect though), still making the family stable and healthy…and good enough.
His Grace Is Sufficient
The thought of being good enough reminds me of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Just like Winnicott said the good-enough mother will still result in a stable and healthy home, God never intended us to be perfect either. If we were, we wouldn’t need Jesus’ grace and salvation! Therefore, we boast in our weaknesses and embrace our imperfections as people and parents because it deepens our need and desire for Christ. And it brings us closer to Him!
Far From Perfect
When I was able to adopt this concept (and it is still an ongoing work in progress) I felt like the pressure was lifted and I could stop being so hard on myself. And you should see us now. Two kids later and child number 3 is usually in his pajamas all day, covered in dirt and yogurt. When it is time to get ready for bed, he puts on clean pajamas and starts the cycle all over again. My minivan (that I swore I’d never get because PERFECT moms only drive SUVs) is littered with crumbs and FAST FOOD french fries. It smells like a hockey bag and onion rings. My kids will go a day without watching television, followed by a day where they watch two movies straight. And do not even ask me the last time they took a bath…couldn’t tell you.
But you know how I know I am doing a grace-filled, good enough job? We have a lot of fun and we laugh A LOT. Dance parties occur regularly, but we sometimes yell at each other. However, when we are done being angry, we say sorry, and ask for forgiveness. Then we ask for second-tries and do-overs. We also hug and tell each other we love each other about 100 times a day. I am super happy and so are my kids and NONE OF US ARE EVEN CLOSE TO PERFECT…and I am very grateful for that.