I have something to confess: I used to be a perfectionist as a mother. I was the mom who didn’t allow her kids to watch certain shows or play certain video games. My boys needed to play with toys that did not involve a battery. I read to them and I would buy them any book they wanted. I enrolled them in gymnastics, dance, music classes, early education classes, ice skating, t-ball and golf. In essence, anything I thought that would make them better adults and more well-rounded learners.
I stopped learning unless it had to do with my kids. And that was the problem; I lost myself along the way. The boys always had haircuts and clean clothes. While I wore baggy t-shirts and mom jeans. The boys looked great. Me? Not so much.
I was exhausted trying to be the perfect mother. Our home was always picked up. The toys were organized and the books lined the shelves by categories, like you would find in a library. The toy bins had labels with words that the boys could understand. I even hired an organizer to help me and she walked in and looked at me like I was nuts ― I perhaps was.
My husband would come home at night and help the boys pick up their toys from the day, always going in the right bin or basket. But once again, I had lost my identity. I was first a student and then a law student, then a wife and then a mother. That was my role.
Now as my youngest is set to graduate from high school this spring, I am a little nervous to find out who I am after mother. Yes, I understand that I will always be a mother, but my participation will lessen as the years go by.
I got a note last week from a reader who likes my honesty when I write. Another woman approached me at the airport and she had heard me speak and said how my permission to not be perfect really resonated with her. So I give this as a warning to all the young mothers out there who are watching their friends and families through the lens of social media: We only post our best selfies and best adventures.
Few people are posting about their baby having a blowout and having to be naked in the grocery store because they forgot to pack the extra outfit. I am grateful that social media wasn’t around when my boys were little as I am afraid I would have been the mom who disclosed too much despite being a perfectionist. Like, “Dropped husband off at airport for conference in sunny Florida as we expect a blizzard and he didn’t service the snow blower before he left, but I do have two kids with double ear infections. Hate him.”
Or, “Showered once this week, forgot to wash my hair!” Perhaps this gem, “Made supper, it was a bag of fun sized snickers.”
These are all real things that happened to me. While my kids continued to look great, I continued to be exhausted, I was a good faker. I really feel for the moms that are trying to be perfectionists now. I say stop. Please stop. You will lose who you are even more than I did. You will find yourself trying to get that perfectly staged photo at the pumpkin patch and miss playing with your kids.
From a recovering perfectionist, I give you permission to do the following things: Put the phone down. Make eye contact with the kids and maybe pick up the phone to play music and have a dance party. Make a mess. Clean it up later. Go and play in the rain! Get rid of the toys your kids don’t play with. Keep it simple. Kids get overwhelmed with too many choices and so do I. Heck, I can’t even figure out what to order at Starbucks and I don’t even drink coffee! Put your hair in a ponytail one day and schedule yourself for a blow out the next day. It feels great to have someone shampoo and blow dry your hair. Be real and surround yourself with real people.
I surrounded myself with people who were not real and they brought me down and made me feel inferior. The older and wiser me wishes someone had told me to stop being friends with those types of people. Find exercise by going for walks with those real friends and discussing the struggles in life.
If going to a gym overwhelms you don’t go. But I do know of moms who love going to the gym so that they can shower by themselves. Feed your family simple food and don’t worry about posting your gluten free, soy free, free ranged organic chicken soup made with bone broth. Yes, that’s a thing. And yes it is okay to have snickers for dinner once in a while, just balance it with an apple and broccoli.
To Joyful, Simplified Organizing, MS.