Perfect is a very hard thing to strive for.
I didn’t know I was a perfectionist until I became a mom. But it’s been in me all along. I think it’s an innate thing rather than something that was cultivated in me. I went to private school all my life yet my parents never pushed me to attain the unattainable or to be the best at anything. I never got, “Where’s the other 3%?!” My mom encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. To be who I wanted to be. When my dad dropped me off at school he said, “Have fun. Learn lots!” The pursuit of perfection didn’t come from my parents.
I wonder where it came from?
I still don’t know. I only noticed it was there when it became the standard by which my experience as a new mom was measured. I thought having a baby would be manageable, if not easy. I assumed everyone who told me my motherly instincts would kick in were right. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy all of it, but I certainly didn’t think I’d hate it. But I did. And it made me hate myself. The questions I directed at myself were relentless: Why can’t I do it? Why am I so angry? Why can’t I cope?
The criticisms cut to my very core: Everyone else seems to be managing just fine. I’m never going to be able to. I’m a horrible person and the worst mom ever.
I let it define me and became overwhelmed by it. I let it obscure the good and all I could see was the bad: Having a baby was a mistake.
It’s awful, and totally unwarranted. I see that now. I see other mothers struggling with similar issues and want so badly for them to know they’re not bad mothers. I see women beating themselves up over their own not good enough and I want to cry because I know they are so very enough.
I have high standards; I know I do. I don’t do things by halves. If I get a chance to do something I go for it and throw my whole heart and soul into it. I think this is generally a good thing, but I now know I need to allow myself a little breathing room.
Striving for perfection as a mother not only caused me to like myself a whole lot less, it nearly killed me. I spent three years battling postpartum depression, and most of my focus was on trying to annihilate the PPD rather than attempting to understand how I ended up in the thick of it and accepting some things about myself that might allow me to move past it. It took me crashing—hard—and months of clawing my way back up to see what I needed to see: Perfection is not possible.
I learned that lesson the hard way, but I also learned some other things that have helped me settle into my imperfection:
I’m not weak because I struggled.
I’m not a bad mom because I find spending time with my kids difficult at times.
I’m not any less of a woman because I work while my husband stays at home with our kids, and frankly he is better at it than I could ever be.
I’m just me, and my high standards are fine. I don’t need to abandon them entirely. I just need to allow myself a bit more wiggle room so that if I fall, it’s not quite so far.