Perfectionism: Why It Has No Place In Parenting

I started babysitting when I was 11 years old. My mom worked in day cares for years so I was around babies in those settings. I knew a good bit about taking care of children despite being the youngest of two by seven years. What I didn’t realize was that besides the usual physical and emotional challenges of raising kids that perfectionism would rule over all for me and be my deciding factor of how I parented for many years.

Due to years of watching “A Baby Story” on TLC I got it in my head that a water birth at home was THE way to go when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter 13 years ago. But once you commit to a home birth, you’re now on the slippery slope of attachment parenting. I found this wonderful group of women in my town who opened my eyes to a whole new world. I was like Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue. It was all slings, nursing four year olds, wheat berries, organic food, homeschooling, vegetarians, to vaccinate or not, cloth diapers, Bradley method or Hypnobirth, no television. It was all so overwhelming! I just wanted to be one of those badass mamas on TV who quietly slipped a baby out in the water. I didn’t know all of this other stuff was necessary too. But being Ms. Type A perfectionist I had to conquer so I subscribed to Mothering magazine. The moment I would begin to feel like I was on my way to fitting in with this group, I’d go to a Mom’s Night Out and someone would mention another magazine that had way more crunchy points. Damn…failure. Then there was the mistake that one time of moving a knife out of the way of an older baby to have the mother tell me how it’s good for babies to play with knives and I should read the Continuum Concept. Double failure. It felt like middle and high school all over again. Never being the cool kid, never having my own group of friends that I really felt accepted by. I just felt like an outsider fighting to fit in. I mean I couldn’t even buy the right sling. I got the one from the baby box store instead of the one from some indigenous tribe that lived deep inside a remote South American mountain that picked berries and sucked on them until they turned into magical hairs that became the threads sewn together by women’s toes that would then hold your precious cargo. But I couldn’t give up so with my continued spirit of being the number one crunchy Attachment Parenting mama I persevered and decorated my placenta bowl at the make your own pottery store to prepare for my birth. FYI, it’s important that your placenta bowl have dual purpose. The obvious reason and to serve as a chip bowl at future parties to make your guests uncomfortable when you tell them about the first purpose.

After days of pre-labor and 11 hours of screaming I pushed a beautiful 10 pound not so little girl into this world. Not in the water. She made life worth living and was everything I had ever dreamed of. But that wasn’t enough. I still needed my trophy of awesomeness as a rock star parent. So I got the cloth diapers, I did the elimination communication, I nursed for two years, I made my own baby food. The list went on and I never felt like I’d arrived. I just spent my time trying to make everyone else who did it a different way wrong. Then something happened a couple of years later. I gave birth to twins. Oh of course I earned my trophy then. I had them at home and they were almost seven hours apart. Plus I carried them to 39 weeks and they were big babies. What a great bragging story, right? Yeah I won. Except I didn’t. Anyone who’s had multiples knows exactly how damn hard it is to raise those babies. Tack on a failing marriage that ended when they weren’t even two and I was losing my shit on a daily basis. The fact that they were born uniquely to the norm in this day and age didn’t matter one bit. I could never carry them in slings because I was exhausted and it hurt my back. But then I would see those twin moms on the AP message boards with a baby on the front and the back and a big smile on their face. The feelings of being unworthy, not good enough, and full of shame set in. I weaned the girls at 15 months because I just couldn’t give my body to the baby milk vampires any longer. That was the final straw. I was officially an attachment parenting failure.

At some point I realized that was maybe okay. That people in the AP community (and maybe a lot of other parenting communities) put so much pressure on ourselves to be something that doesn’t necessarily line up with who we are in this society. I didn’t arrive at being comfortable with not being perfect as a parent overnight. It’s been a 13 year process. It took a lot more failure to see that I didn’t want to be perfect. I just want my kids to have a happy and healthy childhood. Whatever that looks like for us. These days I don’t beat myself up anymore. Recently my five year old didn’t come home with her hoodie and said her teacher took it home to wash it. My first thought was Oh My God my kids clothes are that dirty that her teacher has to wash them!?! But she spilled something on it and her teacher just didn’t want to send it home wet. For one moment I felt that pang of sucking as a mother.

I can tell you all the busy things I do but the honest truth is that I’m just living life like everyone else. Sometimes I feel like dealing with laundry, sometimes I don’t. I’ll never be one of those Pinterest moms who take beautiful photos of their recipe creations or lovely crafts. I think those women are wonderful. But I’m not them and I’m good with that. My hardwood floors are generally covered with unexplainable smudge. Sometimes I mop, usually I don’t. It’s been years since I gave my children’s rooms a good cleaning. They probably have penicillin growing in there by now. Or maybe it’s the cure for cancer. Wouldn’t that be wonderful and a great excuse for not feeling like it’s my job that they have spotless rooms? I usually pull Christmas and birthday gifts off just a couple of days before the actual event. I also despise the idea of Santa and there will never be an elf thingy in my house. Mostly because that’s just more work I don’t have the energy to do. My kids play on their electronics more than they should. But Minecraft has significantly reduced their sibling rivalry. That and their love of Dr. Who has really brought them together, so it’s not going anywhere as long as I can help it. I no longer spend hours at my kids school volunteering when I don’t have the time or energy just to prove to everyone else that I’m an awesome mom. Because I am an awesome mom even if I spend a day in bed watching shows occasionally instead of cleaning my house or doing origami with the girls. I love my kids. I do the best I can without sacrificing who I need to be for me and that is good enough.

I don’t regret my years of attachment parenting. I loved many aspects of it, I just wish I’d had the ability to be a bit more middle of the road and less judgmental of others choices. There is no right way. We all need to learn and accept that. What works for you will not work for others. We also need to look at our choices and think deeply about why we’re making them. Are they really what’s called for? Or are we just proving something to ourselves or maybe others? Be authentic, parent from your heart, and you will always win.

2 thoughts on “Perfectionism: Why It Has No Place In Parenting

  1. Really lovely thoughts. I tried to have a homebirth (transferred to hospital) and do the whole AP thing. I loved aspects of it too. Mostly the encouragement to carry my baby. But when she hit 9 months I gave up. My back hurt and I just wanted to use the stroller! I also hated co-sleeping and only did it for 4 weeks. I think I’m finding a much better balance now.

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