Ode to the Perfectionist Mother

Years ago I printed out a poem that spoke of the beauty of having kids and their accompanying joyful noise. The author wrote about blank patches in his lawn due to their exuberant play, and it stuck in my mind because I can relate to a less-than-perfect yard. 

I can relate to a lot of less-than-perfect everything. 

I suspect that your perfectionism might have started out much like mine, though, if in fact perfectionism is a thorn in your side, too? We hear the well-intentioned praise of others when we do something right or to their liking as a child, and that inner dial clicks on that tells us, "If I make this perfect, I will gain approval." 

Or maybe it's an inner drive you've fought your whole life. Some of us are simply wired this way.

But along comes that precious little baby, and before we can even hold tiny him or her in our arms, our perfectly crafted birth plan is tossed out the window as pretty much nothing in labor goes the way we pictured it. The first obstetrician I ever had told me after she broke the news that she wouldn't be delivering my baby, "Honey, when you're in labor, you won't care if the janitor delivers you."

Goodbye, perfect beginning to motherhood. 

(If we want to split hairs, my perfect motherhood was shattered the first time I threw up so violently from morning sickness, every blood vessel around my eyes burst into beautiful red lines that made me look I'd been smoking crack.)

After the first few months with darling newborn, life recalibrates and we begin to believe we have this all under control again. Some of us have two perfectly behaved children in a row with no medical issues, learning disabilities, or cowlicks. We believe that we have crafted lovely children by wielding our parenting skills we learned from the experts who wrote a book.

But some of us have children with mental illness diagnoses, disgusting habits like spitting loogies and chewing fingernails until they bleed, endless potty training sessions that result in underwear we just throw away because it's easier to buy a package of 4 + the bonus 1 from WalMart, inappropriate comments said aloud to the pastor, and terrible handwriting. 

Our perfect family is shattered.

Rather, our idea of what a perfect family looks like is shattered. Remembering the difference between the two is what will keep us from regret and disappointment, because first of all, there is no perfect family. 

Secondly, it's far easier to face the truth that we had a picture in our minds of how this would go, and heck, life happened! Things didn't go as planned! This happens to me pretty nearly every time I make dinner, so it's a concept I can easily grasp. 

Life almost never goes the way we think it should in our heads.

The picture at the top of this post is of our home. When we moved in four weeks ago, there was grass all around the tree, but the tree had an old swing hidden up in its branches and our kids spotted it like a hawk spies a chihuahua from 50 yards. I think it has a homing device inside its seat, too, because suddenly the kids from across the street, and catty-corner, and across the alley quickly made their way over to the swing and I think we gained two extra little girls at our house in the process.

Goodbye, lawn. Hello, dirt patch carefully constructed by feet dragging across and around and across and around again. 

My lawn isn't perfect. You should see the inside of my house. Oh, we keep it up and clean it and hang paintings and wash the slipcovers, but children live there. Homeschooled children who never leave, do not pack a lunch that gets left on the bus, and craft every science experiment in the kitchen using the same liquid measuring cup that I'll wash and repurpose for actual food preparation in a few hours. 

It isn't perfect, but this once-perfectionist mother has learned to see the beauty and peace that accompanies allowing life to take its course. Every once in awhile it's okay to perfection yourself to the point of frustration, but as the old adage so wisely reminds, choose your battles carefully. A flawed platter of cupcakes made with laughter and a not-quite-perfect shade of green food coloring trumps the three-layer chocolate Taj Mahal replica that forced everyone "out of the kitchen or die" any day.