2020 was a big year for personal growth for me, primarily because COVID forced it. It was a year in which boundaries became necessary — for both comfort levels and safety precautions. It was a time in which the world around us slowed down, and we stayed home and had time to reflect.
I am a typical middle-child people-pleaser, and this unexpected time at home helped me to realize all the things I didn’t have to say yes to, ultimately leading me to admit that… I am a perfectionist. I realized my search for perfectionism was hindering my relationships and could be impacting my children. Here’s how I healed.
“No problem!” and “Yes!” had been two of my main responses before the pandemic. “Yes, I’ll watch your kids!” “I can bring a salad, no problem!” “I’ll drive to you!” Yes, yes, always YES! I never wanted to disappoint others, much less myself, and I could be found bending over backward regularly to meet others’ needs while simultaneously avoiding my own.
When speaking to a therapist years ago, she asked, “Would you consider yourself a perfectionist?” “No,” I responded, a bit embarrassed. “I’m not perfect.” It took me another two years from that conversation, as well as being home 24/7 due to a global pandemic, to truly give that conversation deeper thought. Would people still like me even if I couldn’t do everything they asked, I wondered? Perhaps there are things about myself I need to heal in order to be a better mother.
What really got me thinking about perfectionism during this year at home was how I want to be as a mother. I want to guide my children successfully — to teach them to think for themselves creatively and have healthy relationships. But I began to worry that my own fears of imperfection would impart into my children. For as my mother often says, “Children learn what they live.” I was so afraid of passing my imperfect anxieties onto my children.
I realized it was time to confront and heal them.
I never wanted my fear of failure to impact my children or have them feel that I was in any way disappointed with them. When someone complimented me about my son, I wondered, “Did they really mean it?” and realized I was listing off in my mind the ways he wasn’t “perfect.” It was horrifying to realize that the ways I thought of myself were trickling down into how I perceived people to think of my children. I had to discover ways to set boundaries so that I could focus on enjoying raising my children and watching them become exactly who they wanted to be.
So I dove headfirst into research. I read multiple books by Brené Brown (namely “The Gifts Of Imperfection“) and watched her special on Netflix, which encourages people to live authentically and with courage and vulnerability. I also began following a great therapist on Instagram, Nedra Tawwab, whose explanations really helped me to further understand my own thought process and how to begin to change. I also began following five great parenting accounts on Instagram who have given insight, advice, and relatability to daily parenting life.
Of course, none of these books or online resources could actually change me unless I acknowledged that something had to give. I had to start changing my own behaviors.
I started small, by simply saying I was unable to do something for my parents. I waited for reproach and was astonished (and relieved!) when nothing negative happened. I also found a friend to confide in who I felt comfortable practicing on, and I vocalized that need to her. She was accommodating and encouraging in my quest toward self-awareness and preservation. From there I began vocalizing some of the issues that bothered me and the ways I felt taken advantage of, or I simply set boundaries with friends and family by not agreeing to every ask. And all was well.
Turns out the people who truly care about me love me for simply being me — not for always saying yes or doing them favors.
I have also discovered that I can, in fact, not answer every call or text right away. I had toyed with this concept earlier in the year when my phone broke and I learned healthier phone habits from not having a phone for a week. If I am feeling overwhelmed with daily parenting life or am in the middle of something, I simply don’t answer right away. This has helped me to prioritize myself and my children, as well as give me time to consider what’s being asked and whether I can do it. I’m more selective about what I agree to help others with, and I feel happier doing these favors when I’m not feeling as if it is an obligation.
My goal of perfectionism and striving for success was repelling my own daily enjoyment of my time as a young mother. As described in Pyschology Today in an article describing the effects of perfectionism on motherhood, “Authenticity is a requirement for the pleasure of love, joy, fun, and overall happiness.”
I’m still learning as I go, as changing my people-pleasing ways of the past 30-odd years isn’t going to happen overnight. It hasn’t been easy, and I struggled many days trying to create new boundaries — in some ways it felt as if I was creating a new identity for myself.