Saturday, March 15, 2014

Musings on Motherhood: Why Perfectionism is a Dead End

Perfectionism is my Achilles' heel. It always has been.

I distinctly remember resolving at the young age of 7, in a Primary lesson preparing us for baptism at the age of 8, that I would remain perfect and pure after my baptism. We were taught that any sin could be washed away by baptism, but that afterwards we would inevitably make mistakes that required change and repentance. Repentance sounded so scary, so humiliating. No way was I going to deal with the messy effects of sin, guilt, and the arduous process of repentance. I was going to stay perfect; simple as that.

Of course, I was crestfallen when shortly after my baptism I got frustrated with and snapped at my sister. The first of many, many post baptism sins. It took me many long years and I'm still learning that perfection is not something you be by sheer force of will, and nor should you waste precious time and energy harping on past mistakes.

Being a perfectionist will never, ever make me perfect. Only God can do that.

Demanding perfection of ourselves accomplishes nothing. Either we will begin to believe the lie - that we are perfect and hence our own God, our own universe. Or, we will define ourselves by failure and collapse into ourselves in a destructive cycle of anxiety and depression.

It had taken me 21 long years to learn this lesson: that I can not and am not expected to be perfect. That it is an arrogant, fruitless endeavor to even try. My role is to learn and to always be just a little bit better - to place my imperfections on the altar, to be humble enough to acknowledge and eventually overcome them bit by bit with my Savior's grace. But then, this happened:

I became a mother. My whole reason for living, for breathing, for moving, for loving shifted. I and my husband were no longer the center of our own universe. We had been given a miracle and I wanted so desperately to live worthy of her. She was tiny, helpless, and perfect. And I needed to be perfect for her because she deserved nothing less. 

I have since realized that one of the most heartbreaking realizations is in life is that no matter how much we love and desire perfection in ourselves for our children, we can never give them that. And the truth is, we're not meant to. Our children already have perfect Heavenly Parents. They do not need us to fill that role. Our responsibility is not to show them how to be perfect, but to show them how to be human. They need to learn how to acknowledge their own shortcomings and imperfections - how to be humble enough to apologize, to repent, to pick themselves up and be better the next day. If we as parents are so consumed with the heights of perfection that we fail to teach our children how to build upon and be better for their mistakes we will have done them a far greater disservice than if we let them see us at our weakest. We must be what we want our children to be and I am realizing that I would rather my daughter learn how to face the trials and realities of imperfection from me than from her own failed experiences with perfectionism.

I still pray to be the best mother I can possibly be. But I am slowly but surely accepting that I can not be perfect. I can never be "good enough" for my precious baby, but that's ok, because God is always good enough. I can only love and point her to Him. And that is all she needs from me.

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