Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist

by Stephanie Ortiz
Originally Published: 

Confession: I’m a reformed perfectionist.

It’s not that I think I am perfect. It’s the compulsion to do things well, in all areas. I’m a people-pleaser. I care about what others think of me—maybe too much. I want to do my job really, really well—any job that I have.

It was easy, way back when. Top grades. Good college. Met a man that swept me off my feet, loved me, & married me. Landed my first excellent teaching job using my degree. Made lots of money. Kept our first adorable, starter apartment immaculately clean, and cooked only the freshest, most intricate meals for my cute new husband. We enjoyed our dual gym memberships, indulged in late-night dinners out…


Then we had kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not their fault. Having each of my babies has truly been, hands down, the most spectacular moments of my life.

Here’s the conundrum: it’s impossible to try and be perfect when you’re sharing your life with small people.

Oh, I tried. I tried to make time for my friends. I tried to be the perfect wife. I tried to do it all: to keep every stitch of laundry clean and folded. I tried to keep my floors immaculate, the sink empty, the school notes promptly signed, the windows smudge-free, the library books returned on time, etc. And the more perfect I strove to be, the more I resented the work required as the result of people that kept “messing up the plan.” You know. The other people that lived with me. The people that left crumbs everywhere and spilled drinks ALL THE TIME.

The people that threw clean laundry back in the basket instead of putting it away. The ones that left toys lying exactly where they’d last been played with, only to dash off in search of new toys. The ones who left dirty dishes on the table. On the counters. In the sink. NEAR the dishwasher, but never in it. The husband who left his laundry on TOP of the hamper instead of IN it.

The people that whined instead of asking cheerfully. The people that used rude words instead of being kind to a sibling. The people that seemed to require more of me than was left inside. Or the people who didn’t seem to notice how hard I worked for them, how much it took from me, day after day. I was tired. I was grumpy ALL THE TIME.

It’s not just the house. It’s the internal expectations I had of my kids’ performances in school as well. Parent-teacher conferences that involved less than stellar reports crushed me. Some of my kids take their schoolwork very seriously; others could care less.

And it wasn’t about competing with other moms. Nope, just my own internal competition, within myself. Am I good enough? Am I doing this right? Am I being the best mom that my kids deserve? Is my husband proud of me? Is my house clean enough? Are my kids clean enough? Are my kids happy/well-adjusted/well-balanced/clean/in enough activities/in the RIGHT activities/learning the right character qualities?? Do people look at me, with six kids, and think, “She’s in over her head”??

But thankfully, I began to see MY problem before screwing up my kids (well, in this respect, anyway. I’m sure there are countless other ways my husband and I are inflicting psychological damage on them. The serious stuff. Like not buying them iPhones. Or making them share a room with a sibling. The horror!)

I’ve always measured my worth and value by how I’m performing. Am I a good daughter? A caring and considerate wife? A kind sister? Decent friend?

And as a teacher? It was so easy to receive validation, literally, in the form of evaluations. Concrete proof that you’re doing it right.

But as a MOM, there’s no grading system. There’s no report card to indicate how well you’re doing. Or, more importantly, no clear-cut system to affirm that yes, you’re doing a good job. Especially on those days when it crashes and burns. You know: the days when they’re late to school because you can’t find a shoe, or the lunch money, or whatever it is.

The days when the cat food bowl is dumped on the floor, and you crunch through the grit because the broom is missing.

The days that you find toddler graffiti, in marker, on a freshly cleaned wall.

The days when dinner is late, or when dinner is hot dogs, AGAIN, because you just don’t have it in you.

The days when you scream in total overreaction not because the child deserved it, but because you’re just so tired.

The days when you weep because the house is a total mess, and you’re convinced any mom would do it better than YOU.

So not perfect. But so what? Life is messy. And it’s even messier with kids. It took me a long time—too long, probably—to realize that there’s no such thing as perfection. And attempting to reach it, particularly with kids, is, in the words of the great Phyllis Diller, “like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing.” In other words, pointless.

I’m slow to catch on, but I’m getting it. I sweep less, and I hug more. I scrub less and I laugh more. I’ve also gotten the kids into the work, which is a HUGE help. I worry more about what my kids think than what other moms think. I guide, and encourage, but I let each of my kids grow to be who he or she is meant to be, not who I think he or she is supposed to be. My kids won’t remember how clean the floor was, but they will remember how I loved them and made them feel.

Lesson learned.

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