As A Perfectionist, This Is One Of My Biggest Struggles

by Isla Harrington
Originally Published: 
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I have never failed well. Never in my entire life. As long as I can remember, I have fought unrelenting perfectionism—from having the perfect figure to the perfect grades to the perfect house, I constantly measured myself against the highest of standards and only the top tier was acceptable.

Being a perfectionist sucks, TBH.

And perhaps the worst part of this obsessive tendency is having to face failure. Because no one—not even MaryAnn down the street with her award winning pies and out-of-a-magazine pilates butt and Pottery Barn kitchen—not even she can escape the occasional mistake.

So, yeah, even as a perfectionist, I’ve had a few missteps along my path to adulthood. I came home after curfew once or twice. Dated the wrong boy on occasion. Maybe bombed a math test. But they were rare. They stung. And each time, I vowed (to myself) to never mess up again. I didn’t forgive myself, and I didn’t grow from these experiences.

Then I became a mom.

And suddenly my failures were intensified ten-fold because now they revolved around this tiny human I’d created. And they were more common. Daily, even. Why wouldn’t she breastfeed? Why wouldn’t she poop? Oh shit, I forgot to restock the diaper bag. Why can’t I swaddle properly? Why is this so hard?

You’d think we’d get used to it—the failures of parenting. But we don’t. We blame ourselves, punish ourselves, and endlessly compare ourselves to all the put-together moms whose babies apparently eat, and poop, and stay in their swaddled blankets while sleeping all night long.


But I guess there were enough successes with that first baby, so I had a bit of security to go on and bring another into the world.

And I messed up with her too. Big time.

This is perhaps my greatest #momfail, and one for which I struggled to find true self-forgiveness. Because it wasn’t an Oops! I forgot to send in the permission slip! or Oops! I burned little Kendall’s Valentines Day party cookies! No. This was a big fat ugly fuck up that potentially impacted my relationship with my daughter forever.

So, backstory/newsflash: potty training sucks. Like day-drink inducing, cry in your pillow, curse all the moms who do it in 3 days sucks.

My first child was no picnic and although she mastered poop pretty quickly, she regularly peed her pants for over a year. We did the timer. We did reward stickers. We did the little pink princess potty with a pile of princess books next to it for her to peruse while “trying” 892 times a day. We eventually moved on to presents and candy out of sheer desperation and exhaustion.

She was stubborn. Refused to leave a TV show, or really any activity, and held it and held it and held it and held it until it was too late.

And the battle raged on.

Finally, by the time she finally got there and we could comfortably say “we’re done!” it was nearly time for her sister to jump on the P-T train. How were we here already?! But yep, it was time to slap on our water-proof pants and rain galoshes AGAIN.

Cue the princess potty and books and toys and treats and stickers and timers and extra clothes…

It was seriously the worst case of déjà vu ever. Same story. Same child never getting there in time. Same endless stream of pee.

After months and months, which turned into years, I about lost my shit. No way was I letting her run the show with her stubborn little self like her sister did. She knew the sensation. She knew how to get there in time. She was choosing to be difficult. And I wasn’t having it.

(I was wrong.)

This time around, the switch between rewards and consequences was more abrupt. I was all done being nice and supportive, and was, frankly, pissed. You want to sit there in pee-soaked clothes so you don’t miss a fucking episode of Peppa Pig? Well, guess what? Bye-bye Peppa.

The whole process became negative and ugly. I knew that what I was doing was completely ineffective, but I kept doing it out of frustration—how were were failing at this AGAIN?

It was a long year of taking away privileges and favorite toys (once, after finding her playing in wet clothes, I even ripped all of her dresses out of her closet, which were her most prized possession, and forced her to wear shorts and jeans).

Until one day I sat at the pediatrician’s office in tears, and I learned the truth.

She wasn’t being a stubborn little stinker like her sister had been. My daughter was diagnosed with a medical condition (that she’s since grown out of, thankfully) that meant she wasn’t always in control of her bladder.

It wasn’t her fault.

I felt my heart shatter, and I almost crumpled to the floor. I’d been disciplining my child for something she couldn’t help. There was a reason she was hiding wet underwear under her bed and sitting in wet clothes in her room. She was scared of telling Mommy and making Mommy mad again.

Let me tell you, there is no feeling like this kind of failure. Knowing you’ve let your child down. Knowing she was probably scared and confused and she couldn’t come to you. How do you recover? How do you make this right? How do you regain your child’s trust and rebuild the bond you’ve broken?

Here’s where I started. I came home and sat with my daughter in her room, on her floor, and held her in my arms. I cried. I apologized. I told her the truth—that I messed up. That I had been exhausted and frustrated, but that none of it was her fault. That I loved her and that she and I were going to be okay.

But then I had to forgive myself, which is no easy feat for a perfectionist mother. Because guess what? Despite my best efforts, I am not perfect. And this lesson, which was quite the ass-kicker, taught me that harsh truth. I had to face my mistake. I had to make it right. I had to learn from it.

I’m probably going to screw up again as a parent. And so will my kids. Because that’s part of life. Today, my daughter and I are closer than ever, and I wonder sometimes, if even though I did some damage to our relationship back then, that also having her see me broken right alongside her, saying I’m sorry, and admitting my failure, ended up making our bond stronger than ever.

Maybe someday when she’s a mom, she’ll come to me and admit she messed up. And I’ll be able to tell her that it’s okay, she can make it right, and her child will forgive her as she forgives herself.

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