12 June 2015

The Upside of Imperfection

The Upside of Imperfection

I don't know where we ever got the idea that perfection was a possibility, but every second mother I talk to beats herself up on a regular basis for not being perfect.
We agonise over whether our lack of consistency is going to result in life-destroying character flaws; we lie awake at night worrying if our growling and nagging and shouting is wreaking havoc on our children's fragile psyches; we compare ourselves to every other mum out there who we imagine has it all together... When the reality is that we don't. Not a one. None of us do.
We are flawed and imperfect, every one.
Because we are Human. That's just how we are: none of us perfect.

I myself am far from perfect, and to try and pretend otherwise would just be silly.
Maintaining a pretense of perfection fools nobody.
There's something very freeing about admitting you fail, acknowledging your weaknesses and mess-ups and letting others see you are human.

Imperfect Parenting is inevitable

For a very long time I worried that my struggles with depression and anxiety would hurt my kids. I worried that they would be damaged by the ways I was often debilitated by lethargy, tiredness, headaches, and a need for quiet. When they saw me freak out at times, what would that do to them? When they saw me retreating to my room, crying and overwhelmed, would it make them feel unsafe, insecure?
When they saw me struggling to get moving in the morning, when they saw me forgetting things and panicking... how would that impact them?

I had a great big extra helping of the usual mum-guilt added to my plate, because on top of being your usual human parent, I was also one who went through the blues. And that's not even factoring in the extra fun that comes with dyslexia... (e.g. getting so absorbed in a book or a project I'd forget to make lunch...? Oh dear. Lucky I've taught them to butter their own bread...)

Yep, if anyone had reason to feel guilty about her lack of mum-perfection it was me.

Brother and sister

Then I had a conversation with my amazing daughter. This is how it went.

[SCENE: Driving in the car on our way home from somewhere]

ME (apologising profusely for the latest thing I'd promised to do, then forgotten about): I can't believe I forgot that! I'm so sorry! Awwww, maaaannn. I wish I was a better mother to you! Seriously I wish I was the kind of mother who was better at this kind of stuff...

MISS FAB (adamant): NO, mum! Don't ever say that! You are an amazing mum... no really! I like the way you mess up and forget stuff and then apologise. It's actually pretty good, because it lets us know it's OK to not be perfect!

ME: REALLY?? You really think that?

MISS FAB: Yes! You know how "some things stick" and others don't? (she's talking about my dodgy memory, which she inherited)

ME: Um, yeah....?

MISS FAB: Well, it makes me feel better to know that you're not perfect either, and that you forget stuff like I do. It makes me feel OK when I mess up, cos I know you get it!

Sibling hug

Wow. That's me told.
My daughter likes that I'm not perfect because it gives her permission to not be perfect too.

The trick though? Admitting it. Being OK with it.
Ackowledging it to myself and my kids that I'm not perfect. Asking forgiveness when I mess up (as I often do). Letting them know that I know I've messed up, and that I'm sorry.
Being able to laugh at myself for my dodgy memory and roll my eyes at my daughter and we chant together, "SOME THINGS STI-I-ICK!"

And my freak-outs, my low moments? They come in handy for empathising with my adolescent son who sometimes has moments which look all too familiar. I can read them like a book. I know what to do. I have insight.

I remember a child psychologist once saying to me that I was the right parent for my son, because my randomness and lack of organisation had helped him learn to be more flexible. She said he'd have been inclined to be rather inflexible if I'd been able to supply a more structured home environment. My lack of consistency had helped him become more adaptable, (Which is a good way to be in this world where you can't control anything, really.)

Strangely, my imperfections can actually help me be a better parent.
Because I am raising humans who also are imperfect.

If I am hard on myself and beat myself up for my shortcomings, and refuse to acknowledge when I hurt others, I am only modelling that to my kids.
Is that how I want them to be when they mess up?

If I forgive myself when I fail, and let my kids see it, then they will know how to forgive themselves when they mess up.
If I ask forgiveness of them when I let them down (instead of being self-righteous and justifying my actions) then they are more likely to act the same way to others.

If I acknowledge the things I struggle with and yet accept myself the way I am while persevering anyway; if I can laugh at myself when I fail instead of beating myself up - I give my children permission to do the same.

My kids on Mt Eden overlooking Auckland City

I'm getting better at this.
It's not the way things were when I was growing up. Parents back in those days were ALWAYS RIGHT (even when they weren't). Remember those days?
These are not those days.

So if you're like the rest of us (imperfect) but are beating yourself up for it and feeling guilty for all the ways you think you don't measure up as a parent, I hope you take encouragement from this imperfect mum: There really is an upside to imperfection, I reckon.

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