Do Not Be A Perfect Mom

I brought a book into the shower with me a few days ago, and I think it may have changed my life.

I’ve had a copy of Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith for nearly four years, and for a long time, this is basically what it looked like:

Not very “wrecked” — I know.

I bought it for Christmas in 2008 with gift card money, and the whole premise of the book is that it is this sort of … workbook of destruction, I guess… aimed at curing, or at least challenging, perfectionists everywhere.  When I saw it in the store, I was simultaneously excited and scared by it. I had a little flutter in my tummy when I read the warning inside the front cover:

“WARNING: During the process of this book you will get dirty. You may find yourself covered in paint, or any other number of foreign substances. You will get wet. You may be asked to do things you question. You may grieve for the perfect state that you found the book in. You may begin to see creative destruction everywhere. You may begin to live more recklessly.”

Since I am an avid rule-follower (and am frequently annoyed by that fact), I thought it would be fun to experiment with this book and see what happens. The fact that the recklessness in the book is all fairly safe — like, “Tear out and crumple this page,” “Burn this page,” and, “Take this into the shower with you,” — made it all the more enticing. Safe and reckless. How fabulous! I decided it would be fun to buy this book and write about what happened as I attempted to wreck it.

I actually kept the book on the table and counter for several weeks, unable to bring myself to ruin anything about the book. Finally, I decided since one of the instructions is to carry the book with you at all times, I would at least put it in my purse.

So I did. And there it stayed for about five months until I noticed it again and decided on the way home from church one day to go ahead and experience a little bit of destruction.

The instructions on the page I started with were as follows:

“Tear out. Crumple.”

So I did. Immediately, I wanted to straighten out the tear marks on the binding side of the page. But I resisted. Once it was torn out, I didn’t know what to do with the crumpled paper so I tossed it over to my husband’s side of the car. When we got home, I asked him to give it back to me, and I uncrumpled it.  I stared at it.  I smoothed it out as much as I could and laid it next to the book back inside my purse. A couple of weeks later, I still had the torn out, wrinkled page in my purse, and finally decided to throw it away. … *twinge*…

I tried to continue wrecking it. I really did.  A few days later, I got blackberry juice on the cover but instead of just leaving it there, I couldn’t help but clean it off. I didn’t want it to be sticky and/or rub off and stain something.

This was about 3 ½ years ago, mind you.  Since then, most of the wrecking that was done to the journal was done by a librarian, of all people, not by me. I went to visit one of my best friends at her library one day to show her how my “wrecking” was going (she had bought the same book and was doing a much better job of wrecking hers). We laughed (quietly) about how ridiculous I was being in “wrecking” my book.

She grabbed the book from my pathetically careful hands and scribbled on the cover with green marker. She looked up at me and paused. She cracked the spine. I sat there with my mouth open. Then she impishly made two quarter-inch tears in the cover with her destructive but brave librarian fingers and watched to see what my reaction would be. I was paralyzed, but all I could do was watch as she continued to help me get a good start on wrecking the journal by playfully poking holes in the pages with various office supplies. I wished I could be so bold, but all I could do was whisper, “No! What are you doing?” as if she were vandalizing the Book of Kells or something.

Fast forward to 2012.

Until a few days ago, the book had been gathering dust in a little-used corner of my bedroom.  But earlier this week, when my six-year-old daughter came to me, fretting over one of her many concerns, I told her I understood how she felt because I feel the same way a lot. I was reminded of my not-yet-wrecked copy of Wreck This Journal, so I dug it out of the bookshelf and brought it in to show it to her. I explained to her that the concept of the book is to ruin it, and that this is what you’re SUPPOSED to do with it, and that if we wrecked it together, it might a) be a fun thing to do together, and b) help us not be so worried about making mistakes.

I tried to make it sound as fun as possible, and she did consider it — I’ll give her that.  But in the end, she would not have it. “I… I…” she stammered, looking down and shaking her head.  “…I can’t. I just can’t wreck it.” And she walked out of the room.

Now, I’ve known for years that I struggle with perfectionism, and I have made a conscious effort to try to teach my kids that it’s okay to make mistakes. But the sad fact of the matter is that no matter how much I tell her that it’s okay to make mistakes and that she’s doing a great job, my actions, especially as her parent, speak much louder than my words. Until I can show her that I’m okay with making mistakes too, she will continue to be learning perfectionism (and the anxiety that comes along with it) — apparently by osmosis — regardless of what my husband and I say to her to the contrary.

This article in Psychology Today (which is well worth the read if you are or have perfectionist parents) along with other recent experiences I’ve had, has made it painfully obvious to me that if I don’t do something significant to overcome my own perfectionist tendencies, the results will be far-reaching and far more damaging than I ever would have imagined.

So even though the thought of ruining a $13 book scares me more than a $13 book ever should, I have decided to just face it. Attack it. Ruin the heck out of it. (That thought gives me butterflies, and not in a good way.)

With this new-found incentive to attack my perfectionism full-throttle, I decided to throw caution to the wind, and finally take the book into the shower with me.

I boldly grabbed the book, opened the shower door, and stepped in. I held the book away from the water for a moment, and then I placed it neatly in the shower caddy directly behind the shower head for safe keeping. As I proceeded with my shower, I started to feel guilty for trying to buck the system and technically follow the directions by taking it into the shower with me, but not really getting it wet.  By the end of my shower, I decided that it was time to just go for it. I grabbed it with my super wet (but not soapy) hands and randomly flipped it open. Tiny water drops splashed onto the page as I read the words printed there:

“What is your inner critic saying?”

The answer that came to my mind as the droplets began to band together and soak through to subsequent pages wasn’t surprising: “You’re ruining everything.”

I snickered at the enormity of this insight. Not only have I been so afraid of ruining everything that I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make things perfect, but I’m actually ruining everything by trying to do it perfectly. I have been afraid of ruining my kids if I’m not the absolute perfect mom. I’ve been afraid of ruining a party or a holiday or a date or a nice evening by not saying or doing something I know I should have said or done (and sacrificing my integrity in the process).  I’ve been hesitant to publish this post for fear of what certain readers will think.

The list goes on, but I cannot continue to give in to my fears of not being or appearing perfect.  I absolutely must stop this insanity, if for no other reason than to hope that my children will know that they are wonderfully human, destined to make mistakes, and that’s okay because life is more about how we handle making mistakes (and whether or not we pick ourselves up and try again) than about doing everything just right.

The fact is, the more perfect I try to be, the worse off my kids (and I, and probably everyone around me) will be. With that in mind, I will continue to wreck my journal, and I will be writing about my experience in hopes that a) I will be accountable to you to continue wrecking it and b) maybe some of my insights will be helpful to some of you. Actually, I really hope that all of you will just be entertained by my neuroses and not identify with them. But if you do identify with them, here’s a big hug and a little encouragement to just do something messy and imperfect today and be okay with it.

With love,

The Conscious Mom

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11 Responses to Do Not Be A Perfect Mom

  1. Jessica Payne says:

    What is so great about this post is not that it is perfect, but perfect for me! I don’t actually consider myself a perfectionist – more of a type B personality for most things, except for one. I have several journals around the house that I refuse to write in because they’re so pretty and I don’t want to write something in them that’s going to “wreck” them. So they sit there, collecting dust, going unused which I think is way worse than writing something “dumb”in them.

    I like watching my daughter write in her new notebooks. She gets the prettiest one she can find, sometimes with kittens on them, or flowers, or polkadots. Whatever floats a five-year-old’s boat. Then she proceeds to furiously scribble on every page, sometimes going back with a crayon to add some color or just to admire her work. The pictures are far from perfect and I often cringe and fight the urge to say “Don’t you want to save that one and write/draw something special in it?” In fact, she doesn’t even have a plan when she starts, just gets lost in the moment of enjoying her new notebook. Like there is nothing better than a blank page, while I am utterly daunted by a blank page. There it sits all pristine and full of potential. But if I never put anything on it, that’s all it will ever be – the potential of what could have been. So, I guess you’ve inspired me. I’m going to round up all my journals and scribble in them!!! Furiously and happily. Because while pristine is pretty for snowy landscapes, on paper its just sort of lame and boring. Thanks for the post! 🙂 I needed that. Now someone hand me a crayon!

  2. kathleenmurf says:

    But I know you Conscious Mom, and you are perfect!! 🙂

  3. Sarah Johnson says:

    Oh yes, I have been fighting perfectionism for years. I decided it does not lead to happiness. I come from a long line of perfectionists! We could be the same person! One of the problems is that us humans have a warped sense of what is perfect. This is a good post for a lot of people.

  4. Eileen says:

    You are an inspiration. I did something non-perfect. I put a picture and an item that didn’t match on the same table. How brave is that!

  5. Pingback: 30 Posts in 30 Days | The Conscious Mom's Journey

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  7. Wow! that was quite a journey. A journey that brought you even closer to perfectionism! What difficult obstacles you managed to overcome. Only someone who is involved in self-improvement can appreciate the magnitude of overcoming such obstacles.

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