My own mother was an old-fashioned school teacher and a strict perfectionist. She often obsessed about small things while missing the point on what really mattered. I caught myself repeating this behavior when I was a young mother. My loving husband knew me and understood me. He still helps me to focus on the things that matter the most in life.
I had three children all under five years old with a baby who was chronically sick from asthma and pneumonia. My husband and I didn’t have a support system from extended family. He was working long hours building his career while I stayed home and cared for our children full-time.
I recall one very difficult morning. I had given the baby his “breathing medicine” through the nebulizer. He squirmed, screamed, and fought having the mask over his face throughout the entire 12 minute process. Out the window I could see the five-year-old climbing the neighbor’s beech tree and by now he was about 30 feet off the ground. Meanwhile, my daughter had taken off her diaper along with the rest of her clothing and was trying her best to get outside and play with her brother and the other neighborhood boys.
The kitchen had dirty breakfast dishes with cereal spilt on the floor. The living room had not been vacuumed in a month or more. Tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos and a plethora of puzzle pieces sprinkled across the floor had prevented that vacuuming process from happening.When my husband would come home for dinner during those days, he would comment on my eating habits. I would hunch over my food at dinner, ignoring everyone, and eat as quickly as possible as if the sky was falling and I really needed to consume this last meal immediately.
In my mind, the perfectionistic voices of my own super-ego haunted me. I was never a good-enough mother. The baby was crying and I heard “bad mom, bad mom, bad mom” repeatedly in my mind. The house was a mess and I heard “bad wife, bad wife, bad wife.” The meals were never healthy enough. The bathroom was never clean enough. The clothes, although clean, were not folded. I could never get anything “right!”
That day I knew I was close to “loosing it” because I caught myself obsessively cleaning the flies out of a light fixture in the hallway. At least that chore would last awhile! I could control the bugs in the lights! Tomorrow the light fixture would still be clean! I realized then that I had become my mother. I called my husband at work and asked him, “What I should do? What should I do, dear, because I am obsessively cleaning the light fixtures since that’s all I can do well.” How do you think my husband answered me?
“Have the kids had breakfast yet?” he asked.
“Well, yes” I replied.
“It’s a nice day, maybe you could take them to the park.”
“Ok, that sounds good” I said.
“How about you take some hamburger out of the freezer to thaw and we’ll have tacos for supper when I get home. I’ll cook tonight.”
“Ok, I’d like that.”
Every person who struggles with those inner voices of perfectionism can be helped by another person who loves them enough to help them realize that they are “good enough” as they are. Our worthiness does not rest on our ability to control or fix the messes around us. Our worthiness is not in our performance. Our worthiness is in our capacity to both give and receive love.