Motherhood Part 3: Perfectionism and Inadequacy 

It’s getting real. This is part 3 of a series on how motherhood is changing and refining me as a person. It isn’t always easy, but it’s important to take note of these character flaws so I can address them throughout my kids’ lives. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed them. 

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We aren’t perfect…no one is. This is the real us.

I’m not in control

It’s easy to take an all-or-nothing approach to parenting. Either “Everything’s perfect. My home is spotless and my kids play nicely with organic toys.” Or the opposite “Life is crazy, the house is a mess, but what can you do? French fries for dinner!” 

Neither is really true. 

I’m not a perfectionist in every area of my life. But I do like some things a certain way. I like control. Or the illusion of control, at least.

If there’s one thing having kids probably teaches everyone, it’s that we’re not really in control.

From trying to get pregnant (or not get pregnant), to birth, to postpartum feelings, to the toddler years, there’s so little that’s up to us.

They’re not ours. They’re their own little people with thoughts, feelings, needs, emotions, and wills that aren’t our own. This is kind of a big deal.

I realized fairly early on, but I’m still reminded everyday – I’m not in control.

Yes, I can help steer my kids in certain directions. Yes, I can discipline them and train them to the best of my knowledge and teach them things I think are important.

But that’s about it.

There’s a lot I need to let go of.

We aren’t perfect

When I expect perfection from my kiddos and my husband, I’m going to be disappointed. It’s not their problem, it’s mine. Unrealistic expectations will result in disappointment, anger, and frustration. They need to know that I love them in their humanness and in their mistakes.

Now that we’re disciplining Malachi, I make a point to tell him even more often how much I love him. He needs to know that my love is unconditional, and there’s nothing he needs to do to earn it. I’m fully aware that he isn’t perfect and I love him anyway. No matter how he acts. No matter how he rebels or strays in life. My love is consistent, and I hope he makes the choice to love me back the same way. Because I will let him down too.

Things will get messy

I strive to have an uncluttered and tidy home. Doesn’t everyone? But what’s even more important than how the house looks is how my heart looks when I’m going about my tasks. 

Am I cleaning the floor begrudgingly wishing my toddler would stop spilling so much?

Am I cooking dinner resentfully, because I know I’ll only get to sit and enjoy it uninterrupted for a total of 10 seconds?

Am I folding laundry angrily, wishing my kids would stop wetting the bed? (Like it’s not unpleasant for them too??)

When Malachi first started solids and I was working so hard to make sure that none of us ate anything processed or non-organic, I was resentful. I was striving for an unattainable level of perfection in our diet. I was upset that I had to work so hard, sometimes hours a day cooking from scratch, and a large portion of it ended up on the kitchen floor.

“All I ever do is buy food, prepare food, feed the baby, and clean up after the baby!”

It was a healthy diet, but not a healthy attitude. Since then I’ve eased up a little and found a balance for our family that is both healthy and less labor-intense. I’ll write more about that another time.

It’s nice to have standards as long as they are enriching your quality of life. But the second they become disappointing and unattainable, it’s time to reassess.

I’ve found that listening to calm or worshipful music while I cook and clean really helps my mood. It reminds me that what I’m doing is an act of love and service. It’s about more than the food. It’s about more than the mess. It’s about serving God with my whole heart and taking care of my family.

Be realistic

Freedom comes when I intentionally lower my expectations a notch or two. I can maintain order in my home while cheerfully realizing that it’s never going to be perfect. I can clean things over and over joyfully once I acknowledge that they aren’t going to stay clean for very long.

I have a little bit of a schedule I like to follow on our days at home. But I realize not every day is going to go according to schedule. Some days are for cuddling a teething infant. Some days I won’t accomplish anything on my to-do list because my kids need my full attention, but that’s okay. It doesn’t result in chaos. It results in real time together.

Grace for myself

It’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough for my husband, my home, and my children. I don’t workout enough. I don’t sew our own clothes. I don’t do XYZ.

There’s a difference between holding myself to high standards and being a perfectionist. I actually struggle with this a lot. I have high expectations for myself. But I can have standards without feeling like a failure when I’m not awesomely awesome. Imperfection doesn’t result in inadequacy.

When I find myself doing this I need to take a step back and remember: the kids are alive and I didn’t burn the house down. Some days that’s good enough.

It’s important to give myself grace when I make mistakes or drop the ball. Sometimes I don’t change Shiloh’s diapers soon enough. Sometimes I let Malachi watch too many movies. Sometimes I’m on my phone way too much.

And while that’s definitely not ideal…maybe it’s okay. Maybe all us Western parents have set the parenting standards a little high, leaving everyone who isn’t focused on their child 24/7 feeling like a failure.

I like to think of each new day as a fresh start. Every morning I can try again and learn from the mistakes I made yesterday. I often catch myself thinking “I need a maid” or “I need a nanny.” But the truth is, I’m perfectly suited to meet the needs of my children. I can do it, even when I feel inadequate. They were given to me because God knew what I could handle. No one else is better suited for the job.

My children are resilient and bright. They will grow and learn in spite of my many shortcomings.

Grace for others

There’s room for all of us to have a little grace for ourselves, and grace with each other. Many of my friends with children parent differently. But we’re still friends! It’s about far more than whether we let our kids eat sugar or cry it out at night. There’s no “perfect” parenting style that’s been discovered. We all borrow a little here and there, and we improvise a little and forget what we read in parenting books.

I’m not perfect. My house isn’t perfect. My family isn’t perfect. And I don’t expect anyone else to be either! We’re flawed and we’re human. Only God is perfect. The sooner we embrace him instead of our own way, the better.

In what areas of your life do you like to be in control? How do you handle feelings of perfectionism and inadequacy? 

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One Comment

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  1. Thanks for your honesty throughout this series. I can relate to so much of what you’re saying. Sometimes I wish there was a way to warn others as they prepare for motherhood, but I think a lot of it has to experienced firsthand. God is definitely working a lot in my life through motherhood!

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