Hello, all! I am a new contributor to Catholicmom.com and a recently converted believer to the power of the blog. Yes, ten years later, I am finally getting my head around the idea and importance of the social media experience because I am a ninety-year-old trapped inside a thirty-year-old body. God has been moving in my heart lately in a way that seems happenstance but that I know to be His grace. I’ve stumbled upon some authentic wisdom about motherhood like here, and here (especially this one), and here and God is using it all to sing the same song over me; one that is communicating a simple and deep message to this uncertain heart of mine and the message says: it’s okay to be who you are.
If you have walked any distance at all down this road of motherhood, you know that this particular vocation has the tendency to illuminate the dark corners of your life until you are totally exposed. It trudges up the issues that are deep below the surface; the things you never knew were there. I’ve come head to head with something in myself that has been hard to ignore: perfectionism. I never would have considered myself a perfectionist by any means. I am late for everything. My kids’ faces are always dirty. And I never (I mean never) mop my floors. I sound pretty cool and laid back, right? Let me tell you what has not been cool: this mistaken idea that I can give my children the perfect childhood and that somehow because of me and all the correct choices I will have made as a their mother, they will most definitely become perfect adults.
Welcome to the pressure cooker that is my life. Trying to operate by that principle of perfection is proving to be a sure-fire way to drive myself (and my husband) insane—not that he doesn’t enjoy listening to me sob for two hours on a Saturday night because I’m worried that I am going to turn my son into a drug addict. Did I mention that he is five? Five. Yea…things have been a little out of whack here lately.
Psychology explains perfectionism as a striving towards goals that are unattainable and says that the perfectionist measures her worth by her accomplishment. It’s pretty scary to be measuring your worth by the accomplishment of a goal you will never reach, in the case of the mother, the perfect children with the perfect childhoods.
Hence my hesitation in the blog world because man does it have the potential to make it nearly impossible to avoid falling prey to the idea of a perfect motherhood. It’s all there at your fingertips: what a perfectly clean and decorated home filled with well-dressed and happy children looks like. We get tricked into thinking it’s attainable when in reality it’s just an image on a screen, a documentation of a millisecond in someone’s life when everything held still.
For me, though, it runs so much deeper than how my house or my children look. The unattainable goal in my mind is that my kids will get through this life without being wounded or hurt. The pressure that I am putting on myself is in the belief that I hold the power in my hands to make them perfect people, or terrible people for that matter. I’m forgetting that they have lives to live outside of me; people to meet, experiences to have, a gospel message to accept or reject.
I’m making my kids’ childhoods all about me. Perfection paralyzes, telling me it’s not okay to be who I am. As a perfectionist, I’m not living a life. I’m just trying to avoid a failure.
I’m still mulling over some pretty profound pieces of the homily I heard at Mass on Palm Sunday. My priest said that the people rejected Jesus because he didn’t come as their idea of what the Messiah would or should be. He didn’t meet their criteria. He didn’t come as a king, but a carpenter’s son. He had no wealth or riches. He was a wanderer with no home or wife. He went to the disenfranchised, not the noteworthy.
He was Who He was and He didn’t play to the crowd. There is a lesson for me in that as a mom. He could have come to us in a million different ways, so the way He chose must have been intentionally to tell us what true freedom looks like. According to the way Jesus walked the earth as a man, true freedom lies not in having all the pomp and circumstance society demands of you, but in simply being who you are, who God made you to be.
God made me to be His child, in need of His grace, quite unable to function without it. I can only pray that my kids grow to know this need for God’s grace, a grace that will fill in the gaps that will surely be left in their childhood. I know because of my own life that this grace is enough to heal every wound and sustain every heart in the midst of struggle. And I know my children will struggle because we all struggle.
But here’s the beautiful clincher God has been singing to me: we are supposed to be struggling. In our faith lives, like Jacob, we are meant to be wrestling with God. My husband loves to wrestle with our kids at night. Watching them, I see that when you wrestle with someone, you get close, physically close. There’s an intimacy and a bond that has to happen if you are going to engage in that kind of activity. So as you struggle, if you continue to come to God in your weakness, you are wrestling with Him and thus moving into a deeper intimacy with Him. There is freedom and there is life.
With that in mind, I can shake off this perfectionistic pressure I am putting on myself in regards to my kids (an intangible act made tangible by the kitchen dance party I will naturally force them to have with me). I have to accept that in order for them to know God, they will have to wrestle with Him. In order for them to wrestle with Him, they will have to struggle. So, I can stop trying to make their entire childhood perfect and it’s a good thing because my son has a mouth full of cavities and spent three years growling at everyone who attempted to engage him in conversation.
I hope my kids don’t remember all the times I’ve lost my patience and gone berserk when a Frisbee hits me square in the nose or after the hour-long van ride with a tantrum-throwing toddler (red instead of blue sno cone=death to a two-year-old). But, maybe they will remember that wild look in my eye, my clenched teeth, the crazy lady I never knew I could be until I started raising kids. And they will look at their lives and recognize that it hasn’t all been perfect. I’m not perfect. They’re not perfect. And hopefully we can all accept that truth about ourselves and our lives. I love the organic food movement, but I grew up on squeeze cheese and crackers. I’m working on it, but I probably won’t be the picture of nutrition anytime soon. As a mother, I have got to start looking at myself and being okay who I am—far from perfection but saved by grace.
Do you have some hidden idea in your mind as a mother that you have the power to make things perfect? I invite you to reject that today. Reject perfectionism and embrace the mess. Look at the stable. Look at the cross. If our God is intentional in all that He does, it seems to me that He is saying something to the effect of “I know all about a mess. I want your mess. It’s okay to be who you are. Just come.” But, women of faith, don’t just come, run. Run to the grace of God especially in the sacraments. There we will find the remedy to the perils of perfectionism: a grace that makes it okay to be who we are.
Copyright 2015 Kelly Pease
Art: Mom with two kids, James Vaughan, 2015, PD via Flickr