The pain of the perfectionist who became a parent
The first time I dared venture out of the house with my newborn son was around the corner to the supermarket. It was a big deal. I had washed my hair, put make up on, put actual clothes on. I was almost dressed up. I’d even put my boobs away. The baby was dressed in one of those perfect white all in ones with matching white mittens and hat and he lay in our brand new black pram wrapped in a white shawl.
I walked down the road towards the supermarket exhilarated to be out of the house, terrified at being out of the house, feeling like there should be a fanfare. I welcomed the many coos and sighs from passer’s by at the newborn feeling so incredibly proud and then I saw two mums walking my way with two buggies. They acknowledged me and smiled as if to say “welcome to the club”, then they glanced at the pram and laughed before one said “it won’t stay like that!”
I smiled and wondered what they meant. I glanced at their buggies, worn and heaving with the weight of several coats and shopping bags. I felt absolutely convinced that it would stay like that – why wouldn’t it?
Three years on I still have that pram. It’s in the hallway, covered in biscuit, bread roll and fruit juice. The bottom is smeared with mud and the container at the bottom is full of crumbs, a used, dried out wipe and an empty juice carton. The rain cover doesn’t fit anymore because the sides broke. It’s no longer black. It’s no longer perfect.
Now you can let go of things like that! Of course the pram isn’t going to stay that way.
You can let go of other things too – no longer being perfect, however much it might hurt – especially to a perfectionist:
A tidy and clean home for example. Clutter and mess actually hurts my mental health. I can’t cope with a house that looks like a squatter’s hovel. But after a while you just have to accept that some days you will not get any tidying done. You just can’t. Your home doesn’t look great anymore.
Then there’s my appearance. Long gone are the days of spending hours straightening my curly hair and perfectly applying make up. Long gone are the days of wearing heels and choosing matching outfits. This is how I look now, casual and exhausted with under eye concealer heavily applied. It’s not perfect but that’s ok.
Then there’s the body – ok my tummy will always be a bit saggy, a bit larger than it was before and will always bear a scar. But it was never perfect before – or it might have been at some point but I never appreciated it.
The thing that really hurts, that you can’t come to terms with, is the difference between the perfect parent you were convinced you would be – and the imperfect parent you have become.
Because I had a very specific version of the parent I would be. I thought I would excel at it like I excel at anything I put my mind to (and if I don’t I tend not to do it – driving for example, or pole dancing). As a teacher I am graded with the highest being ‘outstanding’ and the lowest being ‘inadequate’ (how nice!).
I presumed I would be graded 1 (outstanding) at pregnancy (nope) at labour (no….) at breastfeeding (good Lord no) and then being a mum. Well I would be the best mum in the history of parenting – obviously! It looked piss easy and I seemed to see so many other people who were obviously rubbish at it. (Hangs head in shame).
But I’m far from perfect. Far, far from perfect. More days than most I would rate myself as inadequate or satisfactory. It hurts. For a perfectionist in particular this dawning realisation that hits you little by little, day by day that you’re just not the perfect parent – it’s painful.
It was painful when the health visitor didn’t throw down her pen and scream “you’re the best! better than all the rest!” It hurt when the maternity support officer didn’t belt out “We have found her! Finally, call off the search – THIS is the perfect mum” It was a kick in the teeth when the breastfeeding support lady didn’t want to live stream me on Facebook as a perfect example of how to get the baby to latch. It stung when the midwives didn’t do a little dance and high five me at how well I took the contractions and my pushing power. Why aren’t I bloody outstanding at all this? Where are my awards? I got a bloody distinction in my Post Graduate Diploma! Don’t they know who I am?
So here I am, an imperfect parent, in an imperfect house, with an imperfect appearance and my report card stamped ‘satisfactory’ with elements of ‘good’.
All I can do is remember that although I’m far from the perfect parent – I am the perfect parent for my boys. In their eyes – hopefully I am perfect.
Note the imperfect picture to accompany the post