“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 75 … and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness…. It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.” – Anne Lamott
Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I’m a recovering perfection-aholic. Believing it meant clothing myself in attention to detail and hard work. I once boasted about my addiction.
Perfectionism raged loudest when I wore the hat of young, confident classroom teacher. I arrived early, worked late, and drug work home. I obsessed over units and redesigned every handout that landed in front of my students. Determined to appear professional and capable, I labored over my parent newsletter, ensuring the layout and content were perfect. Standing by the copy machine each week watching my work zip out, I thought myself fabulous. Exhausted and frazzled, but meeting my self-imposed expectations for “good teaching.”
Then, a new teacher moved across the hall. Sillier, more relaxed, and probably the better teacher, my antennas went up. She worked hard and loved the art of teaching, but left on time. I caught a glimpse of her newsletter and discovered that she was writing by hand into a template. I’m guessing it took her about 15 minutes, including copying. It was informative and adequate. She was a master teacher, gloriously unburdened by perfection.
I saw my perfectionism with new eyes and didn’t feel like bragging. Realizing I’d wasted hours obsessing over details that had little to do with effective teaching brought regret.
Later, blessed with kids, I designed a mental catalogue of mommy excellence, and pulled my perfection addiction back out of the closet. I read books and blogs, noticed stylish mommas and Gap kids on Facebook, and hung ideals onto hangers: a pantry with organic food; healthful meals around our table; a playroom with minimal, educational, creative wooden toys; classic literature read aloud; daily art projects; clutter free rooms; museum play dates; Bible study; monogrammed, matching outfits; and entirely obedient kids who never embarrassed their momma. I adorned myself with a sneaky perfection that I labeled “good mothering.” I also layered on social events, date nights, keeping life calm and controlled, serving in ministries, and flawlessly hosting parties with every detail attended to.
Here’s the deal though. All organic food got expensive, PB&J was easy and kinda yummy. Giant tubs of plastic, handed down toys spilled across the carpet brought squeals. Six people created staggering laundry piles. I ran out of paint, grumped about glitter, and was too tired to read. Little boys didn’t flush the toilet, and my kids threw tantrums on farm play dates. I was too cheap to pay a babysitter for date nights and am more Patagonia than monogram. I started thinking I was letting my family, my friends, and myself down, so I snuck into my closet to eat dark chocolate almonds and pondered how I got so darn off track. Again.
Using ideals to measure mothering, I came apart at the seams. I’d picked out some beautiful intentions, but wearing every garment at once is not practical or possible, and makes me more fussy than fun, more vigilant than creative. More focused on agenda than memories, and on appearance than souls.
I stood in the mirror layering on expectations that had little to do with mothering hearts, while my little people stood behind me peering around for their momma, just wanting me to smile more.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4
Having “great worth in God’s sight” is my soul’s desire, but adorning the outward is my tendency. For too long, pockets full of perfection kept me from pursing the kind of beauty that doesn’t fade.
My spirit isn’t gentle when I’m wound so tightly that my family could never please me. My spirit isn’t quiet when I care more about being embarrassed by kid behavior than I do about guiding hearts.
It isn’t easy to release my grip, but I’m working on clearing off hangers in my closet full of expectations. Saying “yes” to messy playrooms, spur of the moment hikes, spilled paint, kid-made party invitations, hugs for screaming toddlers, smoothies from a set of Golden Arches that I swore I’d never drive through, afternoons blocked off for backyard play, ice cream dinners, and outfits picked out by “creative” 7 year olds. We’re picking battles and finding more chances to say “yes” to juicy living, even when it means letting go of ideals.
As a busy mom, I’ll always have a long task list and will always want to care for my family well, but I can pray against my tendency toward outward adornment. The price tag for perfectionism is too high. I’d rather wear a comfy t-shirt and live a bit more undone. We have six souls to nurture, a gentler, juicier creative life to live, and unfading beauty to pursue.