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Perfectionism and Motherhood: Non-Mixy Things

I’ve thought a lot about the nature of perfectionism – my perfectionism in particular – and how it is totally screwing me as a parent.

Perfectionism has pervaded most my life. I’ve always felt that I’m either “not enough” or “too much” and neither of those options are acceptable. For example, I’ve felt like my body is too much by nature of being on the roundish side. That it takes up too much space, that it’s not attractive enough, firm enough; it’s not enough and too much at the same time. This perception makes it hard to be comfortable with my body, and it makes it harder to take good care of it because I never reach my own standards.

I really wish I could exercise every day. It makes me feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally. But it just doesn’t work out that way all the time. Sometimes I have to make it to an appointment. Sometimes it’s just too dang hot to take the baby outside for a walk. Sometimes I want that extra hour of sleep after being up 5 times during the night.

I realize that I’ve faulted myself for not exercising “enough” even though all the above reasons are valid. That every day I don’t exercise is a FAIL. What if I stopped looking for enough and started going for “the best I can do right now”? Wouldn’t that be wild?

Especially when I was a singer, I clung to my perfectionism like a barnacle. I thought it gave me an edge; without it I wouldn’t be any good. But it really just caused me a lot of pain and wasted energy. When I’d listen to a recording of myself I’d invariably decide it was crap because it had audible flaws. Especially I’d felt like it was a good performance before I heard the recording. There was no good enough, only perfection or failure. And since perfection isn’t attainable, guess how I felt most of the time?

I realize that I’ve applied these same standards to parenting. If I can’t  get Lillian to nap enough (what the hell is enough?) during the day, I’ve failed. If I don’t narrate my whole day to her, sing her songs, dance with her, read her books, and otherwise force her brain to develop I’ve failed. If she has a bad night, I’ll review everything I did the day before and find some reason it’s my fault.

This is totally insane. There is no perfection. It’s an ideal that changes from moment to moment. And trying to apply it to taking care of my child is bad for me and probably not great for her.

So my new mantra is “I’m not perfect.” This probably seems uninspiring, but I really used to get my panties in a twist about not being perfect. Now I’m trying to take comfort and refuge in it. It’s okay that I didn’t do yoga today because I’m not perfect. It’s okay that the dinner I made the other night was kind of crappy because I’m not perfect. Instead of thinking “FAIL!” I’m just thinking “I’m not perfect.” It’s pretty relaxing to realized that I can ditch that checklist of things I think I’m supposed to do every day on Lillian’s and my behalf and just get what I can done. And some of what I want, too.

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