Being the perfect parent is a good thing, right? I thought so. My perfectionism was turned on high volume when I became a mom.
Like so many other women I know, I wanted to get everything right. I am super-competitive and refused to show any cracks in my armor. I expected to excel at my job and be an awesome mom at the same time.
In my mind, I had to be perfect. What could be wrong with that? Well, the problem was that I did not think I was an awesome mom or good at my job. I saw struggles as failures and would beat myself up for mistakes and imperfections. This just drove me to set more unrealistic expectations of myself. To be a good mom, I needed to take care of everyone and everything else first, and that left me exhausted.
By the time I had my second child, the drive to be perfect at everything made me feel as if I was constantly failing at it all. The result was irritability and losing my temper with my kids. The same drive that I had in myself wound up affecting my kids in ways I had not expected or wanted. Despite my education as a Clinical Therapist, I was working in a completely different career and frankly did not have the insight I needed to see how perfectionism was negatively affecting my most important job—being mom.
Then, by an ironic stroke of luck, I was downsized from my job. Like many perfectionists, I wallowed in self-pity for a bit of time before deciding to focus on myself for the first time in many years.
I began working with a coach, taking courses, and learning more about myself while I revisited my first career as a Clinical Social Worker and Therapist. In doing so, I saw how much of my life and my parenting was negatively affected by my perfectionism and need to control. I wasn’t myself any longer. I needed to move past perfectionism to tap into my core character strengths, like kindness, gratitude and empathy with myself, my family, and my work.
I like to say I am a “recovering perfectionist.” To me, this means that l am more mindful and aware of my urges to be in control. I try not to get caught up in them or allow them to guide my thoughts, my actions, or my parenting.
One of the action steps that helped me “lose perfect” and gain balance has been practicing mindfulness every day. For me, it is an act of self-care to sit and just be for a few minutes a day. Allowing my thoughts to come and go without holding on to them or pushing them away allows me to not get caught up in believing my thoughts. I can now more often recognize when perfectionistic thoughts drive my emotions and actions in an unhelpful way.
Mindfulness taught me to be more patient and created a distinction between “reacting” and “responding.” I am more forgiving of myself and of my children. I accept my imperfections as I strive to improve. I recognize the negative effects that my perfectionism had on myself and on my family. I see how much added stress my negative judgments caused me. My negative self-talk and inner dialogue did not motivate me to be better. Only accepting myself did.
I used to think that being a good mom meant sacrificing my needs at all costs. I know many moms believe that to be true. Now, I think that this kind of thinking derails us from the peaceful and happy moments that we hope to have with our children.
Letting go of perfectionism not only helped me see the importance of taking care of my needs, but it also allowed me to be a role model for my children. This is especially important now as they move into the teen years. I don’t want my kids to grow up and feel overwhelmed and stressed because they ignored her own physical, emotional and mental health trying to be perfect. I want them to know that it is okay to make mistakes and keep striving.
Today my parenting is less about being perfect and more about being real and self-compassionate. That has made me a better parent. Not a perfect parent, just better and that’s okay.