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I’m a Parenting Perfectionist & It’s Going to Be the Death of Me

“I’ve got this!” I, the parenting perfectionist of my own nightmares, yell to no one.  

In my rush to prepare dinner, while also putting away groceries and making tomorrow’s lunch, I’ve spilled spaghetti sauce all over the kitchen floor. The dogs are the only ones rushing to help. My 5-year-old is off doing whatever a 5-year-old does, and my husband is off…doing whatever a 5-year-old does. I think about asking my family for a hand, but I don’t. I’m the mom. I’ve totally got this.  

While scouring the floor, I briefly consider taking a nap while I’m down there. I may be overtasking and exhaustedly spilling condiments, but I persist. As good as my dogs were in their clean-up efforts, they aren’t as efficient as I am; neither is my family. This is why I decide against calling in the rest of my crew to help with the mess, or to help with the groceries, or to help with the lunch, or to help with the anything. My perfectionist temperament will get it done — like it has from the very beginning.    

The first moment I held my son, I knew he deserved my unmitigated best. My plan had been to share the care of my infant as a fair and equal exchange with my husband — like we shared everything else in our marriage. Then, an overpowering feeling (I mean, other than hunger) rose up from my belly, and I knew I needed to be the perfect mother to my perfect baby boy. I quickly learned I was better at mothering than my husband, so I pushed him aside and took care of it all.  

It did take some time to find my stride. For awhile, my bed remained unmade (in the hopes that I might, someday, sneak in some ZZZs) until well after my son’s newborn phase. However, it was during that time that I continually felt a strong inner push to give motherhood my all. Steadily, I became my son’s everything: his laundress, chef, housekeeper, personal shopper, fashion consultant, nurse, life coach, and constant cheese cracker supplier. My mom brain was built for multitasking, and my perfectionist soul was built for getting it done perfectly.

Perfectionism leaves little room for error, and I’ve noticed it also leaves even less room for sleep. I meet goals and push through mishaps without fail. I’m the only one in the house who can make my son’s lunch the way he likes it and fold his clothes correctly. There’s no doubt in my entire being that if I were to entrust a task to another human, it would look as if our dogs had taken over the world. That’s because, on the rare occasions I have entrusted a task to another human, it has looked as if our dogs have taken over the world.

I understand that I can be highly critical when it comes to key life topics such as kid’s underwear folding and throw-blanket placement. After years of momming, I’ve found the most efficient system for our family, and it feels safe to have the gears of our household running smoothly. On the other hand, my sizzling feet do wonder what it would be like if I ever sat down. I know my husband would help if I asked. But I would have to ask. Then, I recall the handful of times I broke my “I’ve got this” motto — only to witness the well-oiled gears of my life and household come to a screeching halt. The last time I asked my husband to cook dinner? It took so long, it became breakfast.  

Five years into this whole mom role, that inner perfectionist push is pushing me towards…maximum exhaustion. Add one more chore to my list, and I’m instantly stressed and overwhelmed. Leave a spoon on the counter, and I feel I have to move a freight train into our dishwasher. Instead of taking moments alone to rest, I’ll choose to organize so I can feel accomplished about something.

I may have perfected taking care of my family, but I’m falling flat at taking care of myself.  

But if give up on being there for my family and instead work on there being there for myself, I’ll be abandoning the motherly post I promised to keep. The dust bunnies won’t hop into the garage by themselves, and I doubt I can teach my dogs how to make our bed. Still, I’m feeling more and more like that temperamental pilot light on my stove. Before my own light goes out, I need to find a way to let go — and ask for help.

Every time the actual pilot light goes out, my husband comes in to light it. I need to ask my family to light mine. 

Being a perfectionist can have its positive points, but on the negative side, it keeps me isolated. I miss out on fun time with my family and restful time with myself. My inner push for perfection stops a great deal of joy from peeking through the tight gears of my world. It can also stop my family from being a family.  

Helping each other out is what being a family is all about. Their help may not look perfect, but I can see the love behind the effort — and I certainly don’t want to deprive them from finding joy in sock-folding and kitchen cleanup duty. The fact is, I’ve learned that letting my family pitch in is a healthier way for me to be there for them. Because I’ve been doing everything for them, I’ve been taking that important lesson away from my 5-year-old. It’s a lesson I need to teach him, and one I’d love to teach. In fact, I think I’d be perfect at it. 

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