I’ll never forget the time I called Tovah Klein, a leading developmental psychologist, desperate and at my wits end with my outrageously non-compliant child. Among my son’s transgressions was his refusal to participate in the “Mommy and Me” music class I had signed us up for. All of the other kids were participating happily–dancing with the scarves, shaking the maracas, and beating the drums–while he sat firmly in my lap, refusing to budge. No amount of prompting or cajoling could get him to do what was expected of him.
“Is there something wrong with my child?” I asked Tovah. But what I really wanted to ask her—If I’m being completely honest—was, “Is there something wrong with me as a mother?”
Did his unwillingness to play nicely with the other children reflect a deeper failure of my motherhood? Was his defiance a sign of a much bigger problem looming ahead of us?
Tovah’s response—bless her heart—has stayed with me all these years: “Oh, he sounds wonderful! He really knows what he wants and needs.”
What he wanted was to be with me, she explained. He didn’t have any interest in the other kids if he could be close to me. He knew exactly where he wanted to be, and no amount of scarves or bells or maracas was going to trump the connection he felt by just simply sitting in my lap.
She followed this observation up with, “No, you don’t have to worry about that one. It’s the perfect ones we worry about.”
Perfect is precisely how I identify when I think of my childhood. Perfect is how my mother, to this day, describes me as a child. My entire childhood was spent studiously avoiding failure and solving for compliance. I strove relentlessly to perfectly meet expectations both for achievement and behavior, so when my child simply wouldn’t do what was expected of him, I felt like I was losing my mind.
But all of a sudden, everything had been turned on its head. Why would a child striving for perfection be alarming to a renowned psychologist like Tovah? What did this mean for the inner perfectionist that I still carried inside?
Perfectionism had carried me well through childhood; it offered plenty of positive reinforcement in the form of praise and acceptance. The utter chaos of motherhood, however, blasted apart any notion of perfectionism being an ideal, let alone feasible way to operate.
How could we even contemplate the idea of perfection in motherhood when mornings were often wiping one child’s butt on the toilet while simultaneously breastfeeding a second and trying to get a third naked child from reaching in to touch the toilet water (true story)?
The moment I had multiple toddlers, chaos reigned, and perfection was off the table. And yet, my perfectionist training, not to mention my overwhelming mom guilt, kept rearing its head amidst the chaos.
What is mom guilt you might ask? Here’s how the Cleveland Clinic defines it:
“Mom guilt is a name given to the feelings of guilt and shame some people feel when they don’t live up to their own or others’ expectations in their role as a parent. It’s like an internal dialogue that tells you you’re failing as a caregiver.”
Perfectionism is one of the topics I cover in my new course, Releasing Mom Guilt. I teach how to shift away from perfectionism, overachievement, and shame. If this is something you’re interested in, you can check it out here.
By signing up for the waitlist, you’ll be the first to know when enrollment opens and also receive this bonus: 5 Ways To Get Your Kid To Talk To You.
In the meantime, go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can for your kids. Now it’s time to also do the best for yourself!