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What Happened When I Stopped Trying To Be A Perfect Mom

As mothers, I believe we all know and, at least intellectually, understand that there is no such thing as perfect. But what we believe and what our actions reflect can tell a very different story.
10/14/2015 05:13pm ET | Updated October 14, 2016
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As mothers, I believe we all know and, at least intellectually, understand that there is no such thing as perfect. But what we believe and what our actions reflect can tell a very different story. Sometimes we are holding onto beliefs about ourselves we don't even know are there. They have embedded themselves so deeply into our psyche we think they are part of us, and that we have no choice but to act out on them.

Let me tell you what I'm talking about.

I have always been an overachiever. I feel like practically my entire life has been a quest to improve, succeed, do more, get faster - in essence, get one step closer to being perfect. My mom used to tell me it didn't matter how well I did as long as I did my best, but for me "best" meant "perfect." This behavior served me well in school. I was rewarded for working hard and getting good grades. I was also rewarded for doing more, showing up more, raising my hand more, studying more - the list goes on and on. What I didn't realize was I was doing all of this to prove to myself and everyone around me that I was smart enough, pretty enough, and good enough.

Stepping into adulthood didn't change this drive in me at all. My life became an endless stream of checked-off boxes on my to-do list of life - get married, check; good job, check; buy a house, check. As soon as I checked off one box, I was onto the next.

Then I became a mother.

I would like to tell you everything changed, and I reformed my perfectionist ways, but that would be a lie. My challenging first-born son created inside of me a conflict that I had never felt before. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many books I read, no matter what experts I consulted, I felt like I just couldn't figure it out. The methods I had relied on for success my whole life no longer worked for me.

I believed I was failing at motherhood. I just wasn't good enough.

This went on for several years, and then my son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. I was equally devastated and relieved, because for about 5 minutes I realized this wasn't my fault. Then I went back to my default mode of figuring out how to be a perfect mom of a child on the spectrum. I tried so hard to do everything the "right" way, until one night, crying and exhausted, I laid down next to my sleeping child because I just wanted to remember what it was like to want to be near him, to feel that love flow out of me without having to think about if I was managing a meltdown the right way or if I was messing up my kid with my own failings as a mommy.

As I listened to his steady breathing, my heart told me what I most needed to hear. It said, "You are the best mom for Ryan. Your parenting is unique to you and to him. Stop trying so hard to do what you think you should be doing, and just be. You are enough. You are enough for you and you are enough for your son."

I was enough. I am enough.

I will never be perfect, but I am enough yesterday, today and tomorrow. Trying harder to make my life and my parenting look like what I think it should look like does not honor my son's or my own unique gifts and abilities.

If I can leave you with one thought today, it is that you are enough too. You are worthy today, no matter how many parenting books you have read or craft projects you have (or haven't) posted to Facebook. You are worthy today, even if you yelled at your kids this morning or let your son go to school not wearing underwear. If you seek perfection, you will always be looking and never satisfied with the amazing parent that you are right now.

"There's no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one."
~Jill Churchill