The Art of Imperfection
It's not news that growing up in this country as a girl we get millions of subliminal (and blatant) messages that we should be quiet, pretty and nice (among many other things). For me at a young age well-meaning adults would say things like ‘aren’t you just perfect.’
When I was in early elementary school my mom was very sick. Things were scary not knowing if she’d live, my dad worked crazy hours to pay for the hospital bills and surgeries, and we had a rotating schedule of grandparents and babysitters taking care of us. I decided (with my little girl logic) that I needed to be the grown-up and take care of my two younger sisters. In order to do that I needed to not do anything to cause any additional stress on our already taxed family. So, I needed to be “perfect.” I started not raising my hand in class because I could be wrong, even though I usually knew the answer. I sat up straight and folded my hands under my chin. I made sure I was seen but not heard. Pretty and smart. Not making any waves or calling undue attention to myself. Quickly this became a mask that informed my identity.
I have truly struggled for years to figure out who I really am, and how much of my personality has been morphed by these experiences, societal pressures, and early life decisions. Am I really such a quiet person? Or is it remnants from ‘be seen not heard.’ Being loud and seen is still uncomfortable and often terrifying for me. I have done so much work, counseling, and processing on letting go of feeling the need to be perfect, but as I’m sure many, many, many people can attest to, it holds on tight.
Not being seen as perfect, or putting yourself out there to be seen at all puts you in a vulnerable state, open to criticism and judgement. Our culture views vulnerability as a weakness and hardly places any value on integrity. It’s about your personal ‘brand’ and ‘creating’ the image of who you are for whoever your audience is (friends, family, colleagues, Facebook ‘friends’).
Motherhood is the most vulnerable time ever. You have been given charge of another helpless, tiny, and weak human being. Their whole life is your responsibility. You are doing this on little to no sleep, with little to no experience, and hormones ramped to the max. But you should be perfect. Or at least that’s the story you are encouraged to tell. Show only photos of adorable smiling babies. Share how joy filled you are and blessed at all times.
Once I had my son I just couldn’t hold on to it anymore. I could no longer be perfect. I started to realize that by not admitting my struggles I wasn’t letting anyone get to know the real me. I also wasn't being authentic or open to encourage or allow other moms to share their vulnerability. They were just seeing my mask. My mask had become so comfortable it was hard to know who was under there anyway!
What makes vulnerability difficult when you are in a challenging situation is people see it as complaining or not being grateful for what you have. I think my son is the most amazing beautiful intelligent funny perfect creation I could possibly imagine. Having him has been literally the best thing I’ve done in my life AND the hardest. It’s misunderstood that you can concurrently be so frustrated at their not sleeping and whining AND be so happy and in love with them and your decision to bring them into your life.
If you ask how someone’s job is and they tell you how hard it is, how tired they are from working late, and how their boss can drive them crazy - you can safely assume they are unhappy with their job. But life with a baby is not that way. It’s the cliché of the “best and hardest thing you ever do.”
I’ve thought a lot about what perfection really is. I think of it as your interpretation of what a segment of society that you relate to decides you are supposed to look like, act like or be like. Some say Beyonce is perfect, some think more like Taylor Swift, Kate Middleton, or insert name here.
In the mom world some think that to be a perfect mom you need to like the celebrity mom lifestyle bloggers. Or stay at home, keep your home and body pristine, make delicious snacks and dinners, and create Pinterest worthy crafts and parties with your children. Others think perfection is having your dream high-powered job, a caring nanny and support team, and showing your kids what it means to be a driven, powerful woman!
There are many interpretations and opinions on who or what perfection is - but the one thing they all have in common - they aren’t YOU. Imperfection really is an art as it’s developing and accepting an authentic way of being. Your authentic way of being. It could be being frumpy and sexy at the same time. Ecstatic and joy filled yet irritated to the end of your rope. It’s messy and beautiful. It isn’t prescribed or dictated by magazines or social media. It’s REAL.
We are all perfectly imperfect if we’re confident enough to be vulnerable and show it. I’m still making peace with uncovering who I am beneath my mask. With being ok being vulnerable. With valuing my integrity of showing up as my authentic self regardless of how that appears to others at any given moment. Being ok if not everyone likes me, respects me or gets me. Trusting that those that are my real friends and family already love me for me, and I need to do the same.
How does perfectionism show up for you? Do you struggle with how you are perceived and feel like you need to create a public brand for your family? I’d love to hear how this feels for you!