Perfect moms are everywhere these days, aren't they? You know the ones. They wear the perfect outfits, push the perfect strollers, respond to the needs of their babies at the perfect moment, and always flash a perfect smile. No? You're not familiar with the type? That's because the perfect mom doesn't exist.
We all know this fact, and we like to remind ourselves that perfect parenting isn't really a thing when we are under stress and feeling less than perfect, but the truth is that the perfect mom does actually exist... somewhere in the back of our minds. We all create her at some point along our imperfect parenting journeys (mine is tall with a perfectly swishy chestnut brown ponytail and perfectly pressed dark skinny jeans). We do this because we are constantly bombarded with images of perfection and information that will somehow perfect our parenting practices. Moms are constantly under pressure to be everything to everyone, to navigate this parenting gig with ease, and to bake the best cookies for the gluten-free, peanut-free, sugar-free, natural-dye-only bake sale. And obviously swishy ponytail mom would have no problem tackling all of that.
As a partially reformed perfectionist who learned early on that putting swishy ponytail mom in her place is essential for survival, I can tell you that life is certainly better on the other side of perfection. Even if I learned that lesson the hard way.
My husband was 12 months into a world tour with his band when perfection came crashing down on me. With two babies on my hands, exhaustion surrounded me. Twenty pounds lighter and with dark circles rimming my tired eyes, I struggled to keep up. I felt a powerful need to enjoy each small moment, and I didn't want to miss a thing. I wanted to be everything to everyone -- the perfect wife, the perfect mom, the perfect daughter, and the perfect friend. But each night as I stared back at my reflection in the mirror, I saw that I wasn't really any of those things.
I had little time for phone calls, email, or time with friends. To answer the phone was to ignore the kids. To play with the kids was to ignore the people who wanted to connect with me. And when my husband returned home for breaks from the tour? I was so exhausted that I just wanted to sleep.
I started to unravel. I cried at night when the lights went down. I worried that I was a disappointment to everyone. I made promises to try harder, to achieve more, to be the person I once was... even if that person seemed to exist a lifetime ago.
The stress overwhelmed me. I got sick... over and over again. I lost more weight. I was happy by day but anxious by night. And then I made a decision that changed everything. I said no. I stopped trying to please everyone and be everything, and I said no.
I stopped cleaning the house every single day and taking on every single client. I stopped hosting every play date and attending every super fun yet educational toddler class in town. I embraced messiness, chaos, and, finally, imperfection. And I learned a few very important lessons in the process.
Self-preservation isn't selfish.
In letting go of perfection, in finally telling swishy ponytail mom to take a hike, I learned that self-preservation is crucial. People will always have expectations, and I won't always meet those expectations. I will, in fact, disappoint people at times (even the people I love). But taking care of me, putting my needs first, makes me a better mother, wife, daughter, sibling, and friend. Preserving my soul means that I have more of my soul to give, and that can only be a good thing.
Big moments make for great pictures, but small moments make memories.
Letting go of the need for perfection opened my eyes to the imperfect moments, the real moments, that make my life complete. I might not have the perfect family picture for my holiday card each year, but I have hysterical laughter on the seawall as my son makes a "racing" face while my daughter mugs for the camera. I have countless memories of little hands reaching for mine. I have exclamations of pure joy when my little one finds a piece of sea glass. A green one -- the best kind. I have block towers, underdogs on the swings, and cuddles during moments of sickness. I have ice cream cones running down the chin and jumping off the dock for the very first time.
Small moments make us human. Small moments reset our souls. Small moments last a lifetime. And letting go of perfection is the only way to dive headfirst into a lifetime of small moments.
Messy is good for the soul.
To know me is to know that I believe in messy. Messy play. Messy art. Messy baking. And big messy kisses. But, for a long time, I always cleaned up after. The other side of me craves neat and organized. Clean and neat provides a false sense of control. "I've got this," I would think, as I put away every last toy every night of the week.
Until messy freed my soul. Little by little, I learned to let go of the need for perfection on the outside. And little by little, I learned to embrace the chaos of messy love, messy fun, and messy, soul-saving laughter. Messy, as it turns out, makes the world a happier place.
Perfection, it seems, is highly overrated. So go ahead and tell swishy ponytail mom to take a hike. You won't miss her. That much I can promise.