Being a Mom Was the End of My Perfectionism

When I was three years old, I attended a gymnastics class. As the now-famous tale is told, the teacher had all the children in the class hang from a parallel bar in contest to see who could hang on the longest. My dad recalls watching my face turn red, my white brows furrowing deeply with determination, and shouting from the side of the gym that it was okay for me to let go. Over the years, as I continually pushed myself in every facet of my life, my dad would retell this tale. He was always proud to talk about his tenacious, perseverant daughter and all I had accomplished. I strove for perfection. Failure was never an option.

I was (and still am) quite driven, but I had to undergo the massive identity shift that is motherhood to realize that my drive for perfection was really a fear of failure. I had always worked so hard to be the best because I was afraid of being the worst. As a younger woman, rewards and awards reinforced my perfectionism. I collected scholarships, trophies, and yearbook superlatives as material signifiers of my hard work. I was always prepared, always put in my very best effort, and I always received recognition for it. As a mother, I quickly learned that even when you think you’re prepared, you’re not. That even when you try your hardest, sometimes it still isn’t enough. I learned that reading every book and following every blog and graduating summa cum laude with degrees in early childhood development doesn’t mean you’ll ace every real life test. I also learned that my husband truly loves me and truly thinks I’m beautiful. I know this because I yell at him (well, whisper, we’ve got a light co-sleeper) every single night about blankets and room temperature and snoring. I walk around with days-old hair, no makeup, and legs that haven’t seen a razor since I turned the last calendar page. I see now that he didn’t marry me because I was constantly chipper or because I had the best highlights and spray tan. He married me because I love with all I have. I give to my family everything I can give, and then when I don’t have anything left to give, I give some more. I learned that the fruits of all my love and giving show in funny ways, like a messy kitchen, an unmade family bed, and me in the same old sweatshirt I’ve been wearing for two days. I learned the hard way that real mothering, most of the time, doesn’t look like Pinterest or Instagram makes you believe.

Motherhood has shown me that “the best” really isn’t measurable, and that no one will give you a scholarship or a trophy or a superlative in the Mom Yearbook even if you’re it. Moreover, motherhood has shown me that  even when I feel like “the worst,” I am still my baby’s greatest comfort on a sleepless teething night. I am still a woman who can simultaneously hold a toddler, a dog on a leash, and an overflowing but contained diaper bag while singing a personalized version of “Old MacDonald” and literally single-handedly unfolding a clunky stroller. Most days I feel like I’m hanging from the proverbial parallel bar of life, but my hands are now too full to keep a firm grasp. It’s not a matter of it being okay to let go. Letting go is a necessity. Motherhood may have stripped me of my perfectionism, but it hasn’t stripped me of my tenacity or my perseverance. In fact, it has only highlighted those qualities. Every time we visit with my parents, my dad tells me how proud he is of the way I’m mothering, and it’s certainly not because I’m the best. It’s because I’m trying my hardest and giving myself permission to let go.