As a life-long perfectionist, I am near constantly tormented by a voice that lets me know that nothing I ever do is good enough. For some time now, I’ve been paying attention to that voice, noticing how the noise level changes–sometimes quieter, sometimes louder, depending on what I’m doing–or not doing–in the moment. My big discovery: nowhere is the critical voice of impossible perfectionism louder and more clear than in the context of the parenting of my children. It doesn’t matter how good I am, how patient, how many times I overlook something annoying–it’s that one time that I become irritated, impatient, and bark at my children that sticks in my memory and rises up over and over to confirm how terrible a mother I am.
And then there’s real life that happens around me outside of my prison of perfectionism. I was an elementary schoolteacher for five years and worked with children coming from all sorts of backgrounds: kids of single parents working multiple jobs; kids being raised by aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings; kids whose families were homeless, living in shelters; kids living in a two parent household where the parents’ marriage was on the rocks; and there were kids living with parents who had a balanced and happy marriage. The last group of kids had a tendency to be the most well-adjusted. Given that my husband and I are happily married for the most part, I know that we already have something huge going for us as parents. Working together as a team helps us to be more successful, there is absolutely no doubt.
And then there’s the fact of my keeping my children fed and clothed, providing a living space that meets their needs, keeping them clean and groomed (mostly), taking care of them when they’re sick or injured, reading to them, playing with them, giving them lots of love, affection, praise and encouragement, and offering them opportunities to grow, to explore, and to enjoy the magic of childhood.
My kids seem happy. Most of the time. Occasionally they’re over tired, and they become very fussy. Sometimes they get frustrated and openly express their annoyance. Very loudly. In public places. But on the whole, my kids are happy little beings that wake up with an enthusiastic smile, ready to meet the day and give it their all.
So why the mean perfectionistic voice that tells me my mothering is sub par? Why does it tell me that to become angry and snap at my children means that I have failed them, myself, and the whole world? Why does the perfectionist flash in front of me the faces of other mothers I know, and remind me how those women are so much more kind, gentle, and patient than I am?
It’s time to free myself from unrealistic expectations and allow myself to be a good enough parent. It’s time to pat myself on the back for raising two healthy, happy kids. It’s time to allow myself to be moody when I’m tired, and to forgive myself when I let fly some words of annoyance. It’s also time to remind myself that it is perfectly normal to just plain lose my temper.
Knowing that listening to the hypercritical voice of the perfectionist makes me just plain miserable, it’s time to tune into a kinder gentler voice within myself. It’s there, if I can quiet the perfectionist down and listen intently for a moment. The perfectionist might be a disguise for the child in me who felt sad when her parents lost their temper. This child might also balk at the idea that Mom can be aware enough of herself to practice some self-restraint. She might be angry and envious that she wasn’t shown the same kind of consideration that I try hard to give my kids.
To become a good enough parent means to me that I need to find some resolve within myself about the parenting I received. This is pretty dangerous, because my emotional system wants me to stay exactly where I am and perpetuate what I inherited, so that I might pass it on to my children and my children’s children. It seems disloyal to look back and identify mistakes that my parents made, instances in which they could’ve been more kind, more loving. But looking back helps me to learn about myself and thus grow as a parent. When I identify a painful memory and remember the feelings I had as the situation unfolded, I can muster the determination to not revisit that same pain on my own children. Finding resolve within myself means that I can stop the cycle of not being good enough, and relax into who I am right now.
The change happens now. I don’t have to wait to go a whole month without losing my temper to earn the title of “Good Enough Parent.” I can identify where and how I am good enough right now. Here we go. Deep breath. Say out loud, “I am a good enough parent. I am a good enough parent. I am a good enough parent.” Repeat until you believe it.
Whew. Poem, then meditation, then bed. Mama is tired!
Dear sweet child,
do you see how much you’ve grown?
How the pain of your past
has carved a space in your heart
to give and receive great love?
Precious one, you are good.
You are talented, and lovable, and wonderful.
You need do nothing to earn love,
you ARE love, in every fiber of your being.
It has been a delight to watch you grow
into the fullness of who you are now.
I celebrate the being that you were,
the being that you are now,
the being that you will be.
From now until the end of all time,
my precious, sweet child–
I love you.