The Perfectionist Era
I am an imperfect perfectionist. But I used to be a perfect perfectionist. By twenty, I had completed my bachelor’s degree with honors and launched a professional career. While acquiring my master’s, I set a goal not to miss a single point on any assignment or test, and achieved it in several classes. I drove myself to be the top performer in every position I held and was frequently promoted.
My success and the approval I received from professors and employers made up a substantial part of my identity. Then I left my challenging, rewarding, influential position with a prestigious tech company to stay home with my new baby.
When I originally decided to stay at home with Ariana (Ari), I thought it only fair that I do all of the meal planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, money management, and household errands. What else was I going to do all day? I imagined a structured schedule that included reading, singing, tummy time, and story time at the library three times a week to further her development. I sincerely didn’t understand why some stay-at-home parents couldn’t manage to do all of these things. They had 8-10 hours every day to knock it out. What were they doing with their time?
The Gigantic Failure
Then she arrived, eating every 2-3 hours, peeing every 2-3 minutes, spitting up every time she ate, crying for no apparent reason, and never letting me sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time for the first 3 months of her life. We immediately scrapped our Saturday morning cleaning routine. We ate fast food for most meals because we were too exhausted to cook, let alone grocery shop. I abandoned the idea of a structured schedule as we shifted into survival mode.
My husband and I constantly held fatigue battles. You’re nauseous with a headache? Well, my migraine has struck me pretty much blind. Yeah. It’s super serious.
Some days, Ari and I managed to attend story time, grocery shop, and even brush her two teeth. I felt like I was finally “getting it”. But “failure days” immediately followed, where I didn’t leave the house, didn’t shower, didn’t change her out of pajamas, and watched more TV than I intended just to keep her in one place and give myself a much-needed break.
I didn’t always accomplish what I had set out to do in a given day, sometimes not even in a few days. Although I managed our finances, I felt like a lesser person for not contributing to them. I had hit an all-time low. It felt as if I had no value or use to the world outside of “babysitting”. I felt like I was a failure.
The Mind-Changing, Life-Changing Moment
Then one night, my husband was out and it was just Ari and I in her room. I had closed the door to trap her inside and was mindlessly flipping through my phone as she played on the floor. It was another lazy parenting night. I was playing old songs from my phone when I noticed Ari start waving her arms to the music.
As she stood on the floor, I shook her arms and hips to make her dance like a little puppet. She laughed so hard that she was gasping for air. I picked her up and started bouncing, twirling, dipping, and throwing her to the beat. I hadn’t laughed so hard and so genuinely in maybe 10 years. For as simple of a moment as it was, it was the best moment of my whole life.
It suddenly struck me that Ari didn’t care about our schedule, that we weren’t getting social interaction, or that our house wasn’t spotless. She was just happy to be with me and to spend time with me. She loved me. I realized that the only thing that truly mattered in my role as a stay-at-home parent was loving her.
The Imperfect Perfectionist Era Begins
My only “failure” was not allowing and adjusting to imperfection. I was insisting on perfection despite the fact that I didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to achieve it. I wasn’t recognizing the utter importance of my own mental, emotional, and physical health and capabilities, and not taking them into consideration before adding another task to my list.
My failure was attempting to make everything an equal and top priority, rather than determining what was most important. Was it more important to me to make the bed or to use those five minutes to snuggle with my child while she still fit in my lap? Don’t get me wrong, we’re still neat freaks, but we don’t allow the small things to get to us anymore. Maybe becoming an imperfect perfectionist was even more of an accomplishment than being a perfect perfectionist?
How to Accept Being an Imperfect Perfectionist
As we strive for perfection, setting high goals is important, but we must also be realistic and adjust to prioritize tasks when life doesn’t fit neatly into our plans. The first step is to accept what realism says:
- You are one person with limited resources.
- Some things can and should be prioritized over others.
- You must make your own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health a priority or you’ll eventually break down.
- Maybe most importantly – your value and identity are not based on task completion.
Once you’re viewing your situation realistically, the second step is to prioritize by asking yourself:
- What is most important to me?
- Are all of these tasks necessary and/or enriching?
- What has to be accomplished today and what can wait?
Wrap It Up
I still strive to take my daughter to story times, play gyms, parks, and other activities important to her development. But I’ve learned to accept and enjoy lazy days at home too. I’ve found that taking more time for myself, even if it means dinner dishes wait until the morning, has made me a better mother and person. This imperfect perfectionist has learned to say no to guilt and busy-ness, and yes to grace and a more meaningful life.
Imperfection is inevitable, so be realistic about your capabilities and prioritize what’s most important to you. Prioritizing and adjusting accordingly doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a success.
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