I’m a recovering perfectionist. When the fruits of my labors are lacking I feel guilt. Guilt and failure. Somewhere along the line I picked up the message that my value is directly correlated to my productivity. While my heartfelt belief is that my worth has nothing to do with how much I do or how well I do it, this battle rages in my head. Most days the battle is fairly short, but other days it exhausts me.
Lately the battle is taking up more energy than I care to give it. Like most moms, I wear what feels like a million hats and rarely do I have time to take one off before putting the next one on. The weight of wearing all these hats simultaneously can feel crushing. Add to that my expectation that everything I do be done completely and perfectly, and I continually set myself up for failure. While I struggle with this at some level most of the time, the exact frequency and intensity I’m experiencing now feels so familiar. It’s like an unwelcome visitor who is starting to stink. This is the same feeling I had about seven years ago when my twins were one.
The birth of a first baby rocks your world. Having two babies at the same time is an earthquake. While I was beyond thankful for such a blessing, the change the boys brought to our lives was overwhelming. My house no longer stayed clean. Who am I kidding? It never got cleaned. I couldn’t keep up with the laundry. I rarely cooked for my husband and me. And the fury I sometimes felt at the end of the day when neither boy would nap and they were both screaming in my arms ran smack in the face of what I wanted to feel, and thought I should be feeling, if I were a good mom. For the first two years I felt like a total failure as a wife, and a pretty shabby mom.
But it got better. As the boys grew, I did too. I learned how to be more efficient in my housekeeping, and more importantly, lowered my expectations. The beds didn’t have to be made everyday, weeds in the lawn were acceptable (shoot — expected), and wear slippers in the house if you don’t want to feel the dirt on the tile floor. This balance gave me ample time to make amazing memories during Chase and Noah’s preschool years. This isn’t to say my perfectionism didn’t rear its ugly head anymore — I just got really good at keeping it in check.
And as they got older they needed me to hold their hands less often. They went to school and played in the back yard by themselves. Their independence allowed me to reinstate some of those old expectations, because I had the time and energy. My house was cleaner, laundry was routinely put away, I made bread and most everything else from scratch, I volunteered in the community, the list goes on.
It’s been 18 months since Jax was born, and I’m feeling like the crazy is back. More often than not my house looks like a train wreck. I’ve told the big boys on more than one occasion to just “dig your pants out of the dirty clothes.” Instead of “Hi, Honey, dinner’s ready” when Kevin walks through the door, it’s “Hi, can you hold the baby, set the table, put the carrots on the stove … ” I’m battling the crappy wife and mom guilt again.
I know the intensity of the crazy will pass as Jax gets a bit older. But I also know that adding a third kid to the mix means that there’s always going to be a bit of crazy, and that it’s going to be a long time before I can give every child and every task the attention I want to give it. Chase and Noah aren’t going to get as much of me as they once did, because Jax needs me too. And Jax is never going to get the attention Chase and Noah did when they were his age, because Chase and Noah very much still need their momma. My challenge lately is to accept “good enough”. I’m giving my all as a housekeeper, mom and wife. And my all has to be good enough.
It’s also helped to better understand why I need so much of what I do to be perfect and what to do about it. Here are my buckets.
When my house isn’t clean. If my house isn’t clean, organized and picked up, I feel out of control. When other parts of my life feel overwhelming, then my need for a perfectly clean house becomes more urgent. The problem is, of course, that those are precisely the times when I don’t have time to attend to my household chores. I keep myself in check by reminding myself that the house is driving me nuts because I feel out of control. Then I find ways to tackle the real issue that’s got a grip on me.
When I’m not giving the boys enough attention. I’m in a constant battle between feeling pulled to cook, clean, and in general “take care of stuff” and just hanging out with my kids. I used to be able to coax them into doing household tasks with me as a “fun” activity — those years have passed. In those moments when I just have to get something done (like dinner in the oven), I simply tell them they must wait. Waiting is part of life, and we can’t always get what we want when we want it. As long as this isn’t my standard response, I think learning that the world doesn’t stop because they want something is a necessary lesson. When I truly feel like I’ve pushed them aside more than I should have lately, but I still need to tackle other tasks, I ping pong between them both. I’ll do my task for 10 min, then play a game with the boys. I return to my task for 15 min, then read a few books to Jax. While nothing gets done quickly this way, everything is getting at least some of my attention.
When I yell at my kids. Gasp … yep, sometimes I yell. I don’t do it often, but every time I do I feel like a bad mom for a while. I’ve realized that I usually yell when the boys have done something that, deep down, makes me scared for their future. Like when they are acting ungrateful for all they have, I fear that they are going to turn out to be lazy and take the good things in life for granted. When they talk disrespectfully to me or Kevin, I fear they will disrespect their future bosses and wives. But sometimes I yell because their behavior has so frustrated and exhausted me that I have no energy to handle the situation more appropriately (because all parents know that it takes more energy to be calm and talk through disobedience, bad choices, etc. than to simply go off the handle). In both cases, I always go back to the boys and apologize for how I handled the situation. I ask forgiveness for yelling. We then talk through the circumstances that prompted me to yell and focus on that. Handling it in this way serves three purposes: 1) I model how to graciously admit my mistakes, 2) The boys learn that their behavior choices affect others (in this case mom’s emotions), 3) The core issue/behavior is addressed.
When I’ve neglected my husband. We’ve been married for almost 14 years, and I’ve learned that my perception of what a good wife is is different than Kevin’s. As a stay-at-home mom, I get caught up in thinking that I need to have dinner on the table when he gets home, clean laundry in his drawers, a spic-n-span house for him to relax in, in addition to nurturing our relationship in emotional and non-tangible ways. God so blessed me with Kevin because he continually tells me that, while things like dinner, laundry, etc. are nice, he doesn’t place a high value on those things. So this one is really a battle with myself — what I think a wife “should” do, and not what my husband needs and values. I’m learning that when trying to do all those tangible things stresses me out, it puts stress on him, which is the very opposite of what I want do as his wife.
Perfectionism will always be my battle. In addition to these coping strategies I do a lot of praying. My worth isn’t determined by what I do. In fact, nothing I do or don’t do could make me any less valuable. I know that, and through prayer this message is whispered in my ear when I need to hear it most. Every day I strive for perfectly imperfect. Not only is it attainable, but I figure I’m doing my future daughter-in-laws a favor. Yesterday, Noah told me I get more done in a day than the average woman does in a year. My boys’ wives don’t need that pressure, now do they.