When Ry was a toddler and P an infant, I had a breakdown/meltdown. I was an exhausted mom of two kids under 2, pushing myself beyond the limits to be the perfect mom, wife, and homemaker. And one night, I fell completely apart. The proverbial straw was a stack of 32 oz plastic cups which would not fit into our dishwasher and needed to be hand-washed. Seeing them sitting on the counter at the end of a very long day pushed me over the edge. It was very apparent I was overwhelmed and much of it I brought upon myself. I reached out, and found a counselor to take me on. I only saw her six times, but it was enough for me to understand what was going on, and to learn how to better manage. The first thing that counselor had me do was to throw away those plastic cups. What a novel concept, right?
I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life. My mom gave up making my bed for me when I was about six years old. One night, upset that my “sheets weren’t right,” I stripped and remade my entire bed, at 11pm. I thrived when things were in their places, when there was order in chaos, when there was structure and certainty. When those things were not there, I struggled, I became emotional, and overwhelmed. As a child, I was unable to recognize what was going on, what I needed, and how to address those needs, as well as how to keep it in check.
I still have an inner need for perfection. The difference now being I am much more forgiving of myself, much more realistic as to what will be, and capable of recognizing when I’m letting that desperate need for order, structure, and perfection overwhelm.
Last year, E’s therapist asked who at home was the OCD perfectionist. I sheepishly admitted my guilt. I thought I had been doing such a good job of keeping that from affecting the household and children. Apparently, I was not as successful as I thought. She told me the perfectionism was reaching Ethan, tapping into and increasing his anxieties. Guilt tore through me. I thought I had come so far from that night of the plastic cups. I thought I was so much better at tossing them out, literally and figuratively.
In the past year, I’ve worked very hard, again, at letting myself not be that perfectionist. While it stresses me out, I have to be okay with laundry sitting on the table for a day or two. I have to be okay with someone else putting dishes in the dishwasher, even if they’re not put in the “right way.” I have to be okay with someone else doing some grocery shopping, even if they might not get the “right” brands. I have to be okay with letting the kids have some control of their bedrooms, even if that means they are not as clean and organized as I would prefer. For my sanity, and to help keep my issues from affecting Ethan’s anxiety increasing, I have to be okay with things not always being in their places, with things not being perfect, with our home not looking like a model home, with outfits that might not match completely, and with a child who will wear his favorite pair of sweatpants every single day if allowed.
I looked at my kitchen this morning, and felt my anxiety rising. I felt close to tears….there they were…a stack of plastic cups waiting to be washed, the dishwasher unable to hold them all. At the same time, I was seeing posts from those “perfect” moms…or the ones I perceive as thinking of themselves as perfect. I started to get that feeling again…the feeling of failure because I’m not perfect, the sense of my own insecurities and self-judgement, the defensiveness that typically comes when I see or hear *those* moms (and granted I realize this is my perception of how they see themselves and me).
I am not perfect. My house is not always the cleanest. The laundry is not always put away right from the dryer. Towels hang crookedly on their racks. The upstairs hallway has a few half-built Lego creations laying around. My bed awaits clean sheets. The walls are banged up. The car is full of sand from our beach day Saturday. There’s some cat hair on the couch. I don’t cook gourmet meals every night and am perfectly fine with one (or sometimes two, depending upon how busy we are with the kids’ activities) frozen waffle night a week. Does it make me a little crazy? Do I still have mini-meltdowns? Certainly. But for my sanity, and to help my babies see it is okay to NOT be perfect, I have to be okay with all of it. So throw those dang plastic cups away. There’s freedom there.