I had lunch with an old friend recently. She’s a New York-based Broadway actress. My friend is a pixie — waifishly pretty, sweet and thoughtful. You’ve seen her in a few commercials playing a ditzy young housewife and a cute first date trying to figure out how to use her new phone.She is now in her early 40s, and has never had children. In many ways she is still a child herself.
Five months ago, she discovered she was pregnant. An accident. She never thought she would become a mother. But in love, and happy about the pregnancy, she and her boyfriend got hitched. Now, she is newly married and six months pregnant, her life turning upside down.
Motherhood is hitting her fast and hard. Over our chopped salads, she burst into tears.
“Fall is coming,” she explained, sobbing.
“And?” I looked at her quizzically.
“I suck at Halloween!” she said, as if this explained the tears.
“And?” I asked again.
“I am going to be a terrible mother!” she yelled, as if I were a moron.
I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. My kids are now 16, 14 and 11. Sucking at Halloween barely makes the top 25 things I stink at as their mother. And I still consider myself a good mother.
My friend’s tears (and fears) took me back to my earliest days as a mom.
Like her, I wanted desperately to be THE BEST MOTHER EVER.
My kids deserved it. I wanted it. I needed to be superior to other mothers, a better mother than my mother had been. To be as perfect a mother as I could possibly be felt like the most essential goal in my life to date.
What I’ve learned over a decade and a half of motherhood is that perfect is impossible.
I’ve also come to believe that perfect is a psychological trap, especially when it comes to motherhood.
When children see a mom trying so hard to be perfect – to fit into your pre-wedding jeans, to host a lavish birthday party complete with Moonbounce, ponies, an ice cream truck and 500 pink and purple Mylar balloons, to handcraft the most fantastic Halloween costume — they naturally absorb the message of your example, that being perfect is important. That life’s gifts come only to the most beautiful, the kids with the highest GPA or the most exclusive new basketball sneakers, the star of the softball team who also snagged the lead in the school musical. They become poisoned by the idea that they will be loved only when every detail of their life is perfect.
Enter eating disorders, obsession with grades, soccer goals and multiple college acceptances, overall obsessive-compulsive perfectionism, narcissim, paranoia, self-destruction.
Not what I want for my children, or for anyone else’s. I’ve come to realize that ‘imperfectionism’ is a key ingredient of successful motherhood.
“Tell your kid you stink at Halloween,” I told my friend. “Take real problems seriously, but flaunt your minor flaws — and expect your kid to love you for them. Laugh at your shortcomings, while simultaneously expecting that they still adore you. You will be passing on the greatest gift a mother can give: an understanding that being loved and being perfect are completely unrelated occurrences.”
I also told her that she can buy really cute Halloween costumes at CVS.