Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Perfection Is Perfectly Impossible

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

Where did we come up with the idea that we needed to be perfect? At what point in our lives did this idea take hold so fiercely that even the most brilliant among us still can find something about him- or herself to criticize? Why is it that we constantly compare ourselves to others, not to marvel in each other's uniqueness, but to either pump ourselves up for being "better than" or to tear ourselves down for "not being enough"? 

When I used to see clients in my healing practice, one of the exercises I frequently used to help determine where people were losing power in their lives was kinesiology, or muscle testing. A sure fire way to deplete yourself was to simply think the words "I am not enough". I am not pretty enough. I am not smart enough. I am not a good enough mother. 

Catherine McCord of Weelicious.com
I notice that my own perfectionist tendencies come out in full force now and then (my husband will tell you they are out more often than not). I have had full-fledged meltdowns over not being able to find the right bedding for my children's new bedroom or not having the appropriate wrapping paper for a 3-year old's birthday gift. I have looked at the beautifully prepared, incredibly healthy and diverse lunches Catherine McCord of Weelicious.com makes and wept over the sad salami, cheese and crackers lunch that my daughter insists on eating at school every day. And while we're at it, I look at the impossibly beautiful Catherine McCord and wonder why my hair doesn't blow in the wind like hers and why I can't look quite so fabulous in a simple pink sweater 4 years after birthing twins. I used to not let people into my house except on days the housekeeper had been here; I still feel the need to apologize for its messiness even though I do know I have two 4-year olds, a huge dog and a cat....life is messy, yet there is a part of me that thinks I should be able to rise above it. And don't get me started on my parenting. Hardly a day goes by that I don't beat myself up over a harsh tone or a frustrated sarcastic remark or the wish that school would be 7 days a week instead of 5. Bad, bad mom.

How I usually feel
So let me take a breath and think about what I am really saying to myself: if I were really a good mother, my children's bedroom would look as though it was straight out of Ohdeedoh, my food preparation and personal grooming would be a constant glamour shot and my house would be straight out of Martha Stewart Living. Oh, and my parenting? I can come up with any number of parenting experts that have all the great tips and tricks that I should know and should be able to use effectively with every given scenario. Realistic? Or crazy making? Talk about losing my power.

I read recently in "A Beautiful Place Of The World" (a blog I really like) on this idea of perfection. In it, Nathan M. McTague writes, 
Of course, our children are of absolutely paramount importance, and the drive to be the best that we can be for them is not the worst thing we can have as a parent. But we would do well to remember -- we are just as much "works in progress" as are our developing children. And if the drive to be at our best gets to the point of interfering with being our best, then (even by perfectionist standards) it has to go.
It's fairly easy to look at my 4-year old twins and remember that they aren't perfect, that they are still learning, that they have the right to screw up. Why is it so hard to give myself the same gift of understanding? I would never teach our children that they need to be perfect in order to be wonderful people, why do I think that way about myself?

An early incarnation of the "perfect" mom
The idea of being a perfect mother has been around for a long time. I am sure that even before the 1950's TV moms there were women who felt that they didn't quite live up to some set standard. We compare ourselves in every possible way. I read a terrific post the other day on Feast After Famine (another great blog worth checking out) in which the author, suffering severe mood swings due to early menopause, wrote a tirade against judgmental comments made regarding women who used hormone replacement therapy:

I remember a moment in my early 20's when I realized people didn't grow out of their catty, judgmental teen selves. They just became catty, judgmental adults. That was a brutal gut punch. 
I suffered a similar letdown recently when I realized the Perfect Police will dog me into old age. The hypercritical folks who find fault with my decisions to work or stay home with my children, nurse or formula feed, use cloth diapers or clog the landfill with disposables aren't going to stop once I become an older Mum. They're just going to change their focus. Apparently, the people who do things the "right way" want to tell me how to experience menopause. 
For me, this is the crux of the matter. Our own insecurities about being less than perfect drive us to find fault with others. For many, the need to be right is more powerful than the need to be real. Does it really make us feel better to try and take away someone else's power? Is perfection really an attainable or desirable goal? What are we trying to achieve by being perfect parents? Perfect children? Nathan M. McTague again:

"...when our perspective on parenting, and our own parenting specifically, is too narrowly focused on perfection. Any deviation from the ideal is seen, not as part of the process, but as an affront to it."
I think back to my last post about being mindful and realize that in my push to be this perfect mom, I am creating so much stress in my life (and therefore in my children's lives). Is the push toward being perfect really what I want my kids to learn? Or do I want to remind them, as those Leonard Cohen lyrics say, that it is through our imperfections that our true beauty and our true selves shine through.

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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7 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

I love, love, love this piece! It's great that you can talk about your own perfectionism. I definitely don't want my kids growing up thinking they have to be perfect. If they do, I will be very sad. I think we all grapple with trying to be perfect. But, parenting does make you let go of some of it...either by choice or by circumstance. Lately, I've been saying, "it could be a lot worse" when I look in the mirror or start to find fault with myself.

somethingsweetblog said...

Why are we all so hard on ourselves? Having twins pretty much knocked the perfection gene out of me! I try to let more go each day, knowing that a neat house doesn't really mean much in the end. And I agree with you, these "perfect" worries are not what I want my kids to learn from me!

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you so much, Christina. I love what you say in the mirror...it's totally true (and a great reminder)! And LeAnne, you hit the nail on the head. Having twins is a sure fire way to force yourself to give up on perfection. Life is too chaotic to even try! Thanks for your comments!

Dana said...

You're so kind for the shout out!
This was an interesting read especially because I was just thinking about the notion of parents as "works in progress." I keep hoping my children won't remember this nutso stage I'm going through - won't remember the mood swings and anger. Sadly, I think they will. So, I hope hope hope they'll recognize I was a work in progress, just as they were, but no matter how comforting it is to think they will... they may not.
I think it takes maturation and, frankly, age for us to realize our parents were just people plodding through, doing the best they could.

The Twin Coach said...

Dana, I clearly remember realizing one day that my father was "just a man" & that was why he made mistakes, hurt my feelings, said "stupid stuff" etc. I was well into my 20's. I hope my kids realize it a lot sooner! You're welcome for the much deserved shout out!

MultipleMum said...

I have never really been a perfectionist (too lazy I suspect) but I still think the goal to be a 'great Mum' is there for me. It is hard to be mindful of what you are projecting to your children all the time when you are stressing about getting the troops out the door on time, or keeping some other deadline. I reckon kids remember the cuddles and the eye-contact and the listening ear more than they remember what doona cover they had. I am going to sleep on this post and hope to wake a little more enlightened. Thanks!

Missy said...

I really enjoyed reading this piece - I found it after reading the Dove beauty campaign piece. I can relate to it on so many levels. Thank you for sharing - I'm glad to know I'm not the only woman, parent, wife, etc... that isn't perfect. The part about apologizing for the "messiness" of your home made me laugh out loud. I can't tell you how many times I've done the same thing. Why???

It made me think of a fantastic piece that Erma Bombeck wrote called "If I Had My Life to Live Over." It's all about enjoying life's imperfections - in ourselves and all around us.

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