The Myth of Perfection

My whole life I have striven to be perfect. To always get a perfect score on that science test in grade school. To have perfect attendance. To be on the Honor Roll. To avoid a single hair falling out of place in my ponytail. To have perfect handwriting—sometimes even if it required starting over. More recently, I’ve apologized to guests when the cheesecake I baked cracked or my mashed potatoes needed more salt. I’m guilty of dressing my baby in cute but uncomfortable clothes to show her off to friends and family. I’ve tried to rush my kid to reach milestones when he wasn’t quite ready. My attempts at perfection could go on and on.

The last several months have been a struggle for me. My plate has been overflowing with changes and new responsibilities in our family. My kids started a new school; we moved to a new home; and I’ve started a new job. All of this has been life-changing in a wonderful way. As a result of the sweet new chaotic life we live, however, I’ve come to terms with the reality that there is no room for perfection.

No. Room.

As much as I would like to make heart-shaped sandwiches for my kids each morning, I just don’t have the time. As much as I’d like to keep their closets filled with clean uniforms every single day, sometimes I forget to do the laundry—or I’m just too tired. I’ll admit I’ve taken their uniforms from the hampers and thrown them in the dryer with a scented sheet when I’ve been in a crunch. So, shoot me. Call me a bad mom. When it’s 7:00 A.M. and you know the kids have to be out the door quickly, you do what you have to do.

I’d love to serve my family healthy, home-cooked meals each night, but I just can’t keep it up. I’d like to look my best with perfect clothes and makeup, but honestly, I’d rather sleep 30 extra minutes in the morning.

But recently it hit me: Who cares that I’m not perfect? Who am I trying to impress anyway?

My husband doesn’t care if I don’t cook our meals every night. He’d be happy with a turkey sandwich and chips. He doesn’t care if I make our bed in the morning. He actually says it’s a waste of time since we will be getting back in it at the end of the day.

My kids don’t care what my hair or clothes look like. Just the other day my six-year-old son told me I looked pretty. The funny part is it was a Saturday morning while I was still in my robe, mismatched pajamas, and my old thick glasses. Oh, that boy melts my heart! The days I do make more of an effort to look nicer, it often goes unnoticed. My children really don’t care what I look like.

My friends know I’m not perfect. I’m overly sensitive, don’t “get” most adult jokes, and fail to plan or commit. Oh, and I’m always late. They’ve witnessed it for themselves, and they still keep me around. They don’t seem to care that I’m not perfect either.

My parents think I’m the best thing ever, no matter what I do. They’ve seen me fail—like the times I lost tennis matches, didn’t get the part I wanted in a play, or didn’t like my grades. On the other hand, they’ve also seen me thrive. As the first generation in my family to graduate from college, I am perfect in their eyes. I even got a Master’s degree! They stood by my side as I got married and had my three beautiful babies. They think I’m perfect, even if I know I’m far from it.

As a mother, I often think about how my actions affect my children. What do I want to teach my kids about perfection? I don’t want them to place unreasonable expectations on themselves. At nine and six years old, I already see them struggle with this…

“I missed one on my spelling test.”
“That’s great,” I say.
“No, it’s not. I shouldn’t have missed any.”

“I’m not good at drawing. This doesn’t look like a horse.”

“My cursive isn’t pretty.”

“I can’t throw the ball the right way.”

When I hear them say something like this, I encourage them: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Did you do your best?”
“Yes.”
“That’s great! That’s all you can do,” I say.

My kids are not perfect. I want them to know I don’t expect perfection from them, only their best effort. It saddens me they have set unrealistic expectations for themselves at such young ages. It’s not hard to see the cause, though. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

But it’s a new year, and new years bring new beginnings. This year, I’m not going to focus on perfection. We simply cannot be perfect, no matter how hard we try. So why try to be? Why do we continue to put so much stress on ourselves? Why do we constantly live with disappointment, discouraged by what we can’t/don’t do?

For me, that ends in 2016. Instead, I am going to focus on living—and living real. I am going to focus on teaching my kids that it’s not only OK to be imperfect, it’s OK to fail. After all, how they handle that missed test question or overthrown baseball is more important than doing it correctly to begin with. Life is about challenges and what we learn from them. This year, I am going to show myself grace. It’s a new year, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings.

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