I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Friday, 29 July 2011

Giving up on Perfection - Big Mother in the sky

I have always been a perfectionist. When we first moved to Canada, I refused to speak a word in English (or French) until I had the pronunciation just right. When I knit, or make a piece of jewellery, I'd rather undo and re-do as many times as I need to than finish something not quite right. That's just the way I've always been.

So big surprise, right, when I became a mom, that I strove to be the elusive perfect mom, knowing full well that I could not be, because no such thing exists. I read the deeply psychological parenting books that espouse constructivist child development theories. I read almost everything Dr. Montessori wrote, and much of what people since her have written about anything related to her theories. I read about attachment theories of psychology, positive psychology, gestalt psychology. I took what I learned in my Montessori training, and applied it at home. I talked to my son's teachers, and asked a ton of questions, and sought wisdom from my mother (the local guru in such matters - seriously, everywhere I go that is Montessori related in Ontario - "I love your Mom, please tell her I said hi"). I talked to people who grew up in split households, and I talked to their parents. I talked to shrinks, and I learned from everyone and everything all I could about child development, and parenting.

And here's the thing. Nobody worth their salt will ever give you a formula for parenting. They will tell you to engage with your child, to get to know your child, to understand your child. Then they'll tell you to do the same with yourself. Understand where your parenting reactions come from. Are they the automatic knee-jerk do what was done to me? Are they age-appropriate? Are they child-appropriate? Do they come from a lack of understanding of child or situation? Are your expectations realistic? Parenting is a very complicated thing. And I wanted to be as perfect at that as I was at speaking English.

When I wrote my Master's paper on integrative learning in early adolescence, I wrote loads about the value of mistakes. Without mistakes, we cannot learn. The thing that really marks creative types is their willingness to make mistakes. What marks innovators is their tenacity, and their ability to learn from their mistakes and adapt to that learning. When I look back at my own life, I am, as I explained to my therapist yesterday, actually, as strange as it may sound, grateful for the mistakes I've made, and the suffering I've endured. Yes, that's right. Grateful.

It is my mistakes, along with my sheer stubbornness and my resilience and adaptability that have spurred my growth. It is thanks to all the times I've messed up that I can do what I do today. If I hadn't been through hell and back before I got sick, I don't think I would be as peaceful about the whole situation.

You see, I am quite happy to face my mistakes, in most areas of my life, professionally and personally. I've become the type of person who is quick to apologize sincerely, and to make amends.

But when it comes to my son, I have a very hard time facing, and owning, and moving on from my mistakes. I find it hard to forgive myself for being sick when it comes to him (I know, nothing to forgive, it's not my fault - noone said emotions were logical). I beat up on myself when I'm overly emotional (read: lose my temper) with him. I am quick to acknowledge all that I've done right, don't get me wrong - I'm not a bad mother by any stretch of the imagination - but I just can't seem to get past what I judge as being less than perfect parenting.

This week was a horrific wake-up call, on many levels. It was his first week off camp. It was the first time since I've been so sick that we spent a couple of days totally together. And my energy was already low because of the sleepless nights I wrote about earlier this week. And it was hard. Really hard. I hated having to tell him that I can't be doing all the little things for him. "Can I have a glass of water?" "Can I have a snack" "Can you help me build this?" "Can you read me a story" "Can you stay with me while I go to the bathroom?" "Where's my spoon?" "I can't find my shoes" and so on and so on. I was so out of my daily routine, I had no idea what was going on. It got harder and harder to keep my cool when the questions and requests just kept coming and coming.

It's also important to understand as you read this, that my house is set up Montessori-style, so that he can have access to anything and everything he could possibly require. He can reach the glasses, and the sink perfectly well. The cutlery is easily available. He is perfectly capable of getting his own snacks, and often does. I keep things in the fridge and cupboard that are easy for him to handle (no knives needed). So it's not like he actually needs me to do these things for him. It's just that he's 8, and trying to figure things out, like how much he can get away with not doing.

But, with limited energy for physical, emotional and cognitive tasks, it got harder and harder to maintain perspective and keep my cool. All I could think at one point was "Not again! When is he going to understand that I can't?!?! How can he not know yet how sick I am?!?!?" And that is what is meant by unrealistic expectations - an 8 year old can have no concept of what it means to have a chronic illness, and certainly is not able to sense the severity of an invisible illness. He is never going to understand. Period. But it's hard to see that when my attention is demanded, and my body is exhausted, and my nervous system is in overdrive.

Now, I know, in the long run, it'll be good for both of us, that there is much for us both to learn from all this, and blah blah blah. Right now, though, I feel like a horrible mother for being irritable, for having to put my foot down (even though in my heart, I know that modelling assertive, and self-empowered behaviour is the best possible thing I can do for him), and for not having the energy to play with him more. I have a huge long list of things I think I've done wrong lately, as a mother. Things that don't meet my standard. Things that I feel are to his detriment. And no matter how hard I try, no matter how I change my self-talk and change positions, and breathe, and all that, I can't quite get rid of the little pang of anger at myself for "letting him down."

And here's the real kicker. The key to effective parenting, in my mind, is to be the person you want your children to grow up to be, because no matter what you do, or what they do, who you are is what makes the biggest impact (and it's the only thing you can actually control, to any extent). I don't want my son to be an angry perfectionist. So I have to work on not being an angry perfectionist. I have to find a way to accept my own imperfections as a parent - to really really be ok with them. To trust that he will be ok, and so will I, no matter what mistakes I make. No - to trust that the mistakes I make as a parent will lead us both to better places and bigger learning.

So my current quest is to let go of that idea of the perfect mother, which I always knew to be impossible. One of my mom's friends is fond of telling helicopter moms to relax; "Big mother in the sky isn't watching you, you know." I think that will become my new mantra, as I focus on letting go of my parenting ills, and woes, and on how amazing this child is, and what a great person he is becoming.


  1. Children are unlikely to follow exactly in their parents' footsteps, but children will travel more easily over bridges which the parents regularly use.
    ~~~Goodwin Watson~~~

  2. You are AMAZING and truly a wonderful mom....if you weren't, you wouldn't feel this way. I struggle also quite a bit with the sick mommy guilt, b/c when I can't breathe, I can't even read a book or play on the floor...but remember, we are teaching our children about the human condition and that you can live a beautiful life while not perfect. There are so many moms out there who are "perfectly" healthy but do NOT care as much as you....my advice is to encourage his independence and NOT wait on him and do not feel guilty about that but tell him how wonderful and strong and brilliant you think he is. It's what I keep trying to do with my daughters...Love to you!!! -Michelle (princessesmama)

  3. Cuq - that's it exactly! That sums up exactly what I'm trying to say! I love how you can do that.

    Michelle - Thanks for the encouragement! I love to hear I'm not the only one, even though I know it. Spoonie moms rock!

  4. "The key to effective parenting, in my mind, is to be the person you want your children to grow up to be, because no matter what you do, or what they do, who you are is what makes the biggest impact"
    I agree 200%, and reckon that the coping strategies are the most insidious. But if this blog is representative of who you are, then primarily you are someone whose approach to life is never to stop learning, and if your kids learn that by following your example then Big Mother will cut you lots of slack on everything else.

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