A Secret to Parenting Sanity—The Shift from Perfectionism to Allowing
This blog post was a long time in the making. It has taken me over two years to figure out how to be a happier mother. I’m still not always happy. Who is? Part of parenting is the ride—the terrible times that make the sweet times sweeter. Frustration and struggle are normal parts of parenting. Still, I've found an attitude of "allowing" increases satisfaction and peace rather than chasing it away. Some people are already great at allowing and to those people I bow! For me, it is a work in progress.
Allowing is the opposite of the parent joy killer called perfectionism. Perfectionism is, on a deeper level, desire for control in a chaotic world. It is also wrapped up in our self-worth. Some of us feel that if we just try hard enough we can be perfect parents and everything will feel less crazy and we can avoid self-doubt, fear, confusion, as well as the judgment/comparing of others.
With allowing, when perfectionism rears its head, we get to notice it and say “No! I will not beat myself up or be angry at my child/partner/self because this situation isn’t going as planned or as I think it should (or the books say it should).” “No, I will not be attached to an outcome that looks good to others or that quiets my fears about doing this parenting thing wrong.”
When you find yourself struggling with your child/yourself, ask the following questions:
-What is the worst that can happen if I let this play out differently (e.g., the way it is already playing out)?
-Is perfectionism impacting how I feel about what is happening right now?
-Can I be gentle with my child and myself, releasing expectations?
-Can I change course so that this goes more smoothly? (e.g., leave a planned event if my child can’t handle it, accept a later nap time/bed time or no nap at all, etc.)
-What can I forgive in my child or myself in this moment?
I recently tried treating my toddler son’s conjunctivitis with antibiotic eye drops. The first step in allowing was accepting I had to give him antibiotics in the first place, something I try to avoid. The next part of allowing was accepting that I was not able to get them in his eyes! I tried everything—the direct route, sneaking up on him, distraction, rewards...you get the picture. I felt really stressed out imagining his crusty eyes becoming further infected.
Finally, I let go and allowed the situation to be as it was. I was only able to get these stupid drops in his eyes while he slept—once, maybe twice, per day rather than the recommended four times per day. Sometimes, I was only able to get a drop in the more affected eye. I had to release my belief that doing it the way the doctor told me was the ONLY WAY. I had to allow that I was doing my best and would just have to wait and see if it was enough. I had to say "no" to the perfectionistic part of me that wanted my son’s eyes to look better so that nobody at daycare worried we were infecting them! I had to say “no” to holding him down while he screamed just to do it “right.” So, what happened when I threw my hands up and let go? Sweet relief. My son’s eyes did get better and I stopped caring about what others might be thinking. What unfolded was not perfect but it was good enough.
Your awareness of when perfectionism is at play will increase over time. A few times when I have been able to notice it and redirect my energies, something really beautiful and unexpected has happened. For example, a skipped nap resulted in a new mom connection at the park, or my son and I bonded deeply over something that was previously really annoying me (e.g., his current obsession with tearing Play Doh into teeny tiny pieces that end up all over the floor). Sometimes, when take a stance of allowing, nothing special happens, but at least we are more at peace and able to laugh at life rather than feeling frustrated!
I hope you will get better acquainted with allowing and send perfectionism packing. And no, you don’t have to do it perfectly!