Today’s guest post on motherhood comes from Jennifer Tucker. Jenn is literally an answer to prayer in my life. When my daughter started middle school, I worried and prayed for her to find at least one good, Christ-like friend that would help her navigate the rocky road of adolescence. Enter Jenn’s oldest daughter. I think Jenn and I both breathed a collective sigh of relief the first time our girls got together and our families met face to face. Both Jenn and her daughter are a light of grace and a ray of hope to me.
But that’s not all. It turns out Jenn is also crazy talented! Jenn is the artist that gifted me with the wonderful Mosaic of Motherhood graphic below that I love and adore. She makes all kinds of beautiful and uplifting graphics for other much more talented writers than myself. She has even included a printable at the end of this post! And she writes. You can find Jenn’s own blog here. But today, you get to read her words right here on Centering Down. Words so good and true I want to climb up on my roof and shout them from my rooftop. But instead, I’ll just encourage you to read on, dear friends, read on.
Hey there! I’m Jenn.
And I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Perfectionism. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” They could have totally put a photo of me there on that page.
I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. There were days when I even prided myself in my perfectionism, especially as I worked my way through high school and college. I thought it was a good thing, these super high expectations, this intense desire to be the best and do the best and accept nothing less than perfection in all that I did.
I put extreme pressure on myself to be what I perceived as “perfect,” and to never let people see me at anything less than my very best (which in reality just meant that I didn’t let people really see me, at all, ever).
But the thing about being a perfectionist, is that a perfectionist knows she is not perfect. For all the attempts to produce perfection, the perfectionist is acutely aware of just how imperfect she really is. As much as I wanted everything I did to be perfect, it never really was…so I was never truly content with anything I did because it never lived up to the perfect picture, that flawless expectation that I had in my head. So for years I lived feeling like a constant failure, never able to measure up to the insane expectations that I set for myself. And let me tell you, that can enslave a soul as fast and as deep as any sin. It destroys from the inside out.
And nothing made me more aware of this than when I became a mother.
When I entered into motherhood, I set some pretty impossibly high expectations for my family and for myself as a mom. Maybe I’m the only one who did this…but maybe I’m not? Maybe there are a bunch of us moms who begin motherhood with this picture of what a family should be like…this ideal, picture-perfect family. And we set this standard for our family and for our home, and we keep trying to achieve it…we set this (impossible) goal of creating a Pinterest-worthy, picture-perfect family.
But then there’s reality.
We may have this picture in our head of what a family should be, but when we look at the reality of our family, we see anything but perfection. We see a series of bumps and bruises, mistakes and hurts, unexpected turns and mess-ups, a whole lot of crazy and nothing really perfect at all. So we get frustrated or discouraged or even angry when our story doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, or when the kids don’t behave the way we want them to, or when the activity we had planned or the evening we had hoped for just didn’t happen the way we thought it should. We look around at other families, and they sure seem to have it all together, to be figuring it out, but we’re sitting here in the middle of a mess and feeling like complete failures because our family picture, our story, just doesn’t seem to measure up. Like when I stumbled and fumbled and ended up failing at breastfeeding, or when the baby didn’t sleep through the night in her own bed consistently until she was 7 (yes, that’s seven YEARS old)…or when that teaching career that I had dreamed of since 5th grade didn’t last, or when my daughter was diagnosed with a sensory disorder and I felt so very inadequate to help her, or when I couldn’t balance working outside the home and had to quit my full-time ministry job, or when the tiny little “starter” home turned into our probably forever home…or the hundreds of other times the plan I had in my head just didn’t work out the way I thought it would.
There are a million ways that my perfectionism has left me feeling like a failure as a mom. And it took me a long time and a lot of tears – and a lot of wrestling with God – for me to recognize that my perfectionism was really pride in a lousy disguise.
Sinful, life-sucking, joy-stealing pride.
And that overwhelming desire to get things “just right” was actually the very thing keeping me from seeing all the good and all the joy that was right in front of me.
I realized I was living in waiting…waiting for things to be perfect, or at least a little closer to perfect, before I could really enjoy my reality. But I needed to stop waiting and just start embracing…embracing the mom that I am…embracing the moments right here and now, right where we are, right as we are…embracing all that is imperfect and messy and crazy.
I needed to embrace our story.
Every family has a story. But no one else has our family story. And my job is not to copy or try to be like other stories, or to produce a perfect story, but to simply live fully right where I am right here in my own story.
I spent way too long waiting for my family or my home or our circumstances to be “perfect” before I allowed myself to be content…when it really works the other way around.
When I finally started being content with my family and my home and my circumstances just the way they are…when I finally stopped trying to be perfect and just started being present…that’s when I started to see that I actually had that “perfect family” all along.
I’ve learned (very slowly, and still learning daily) that motherhood is not about creating a better picture…it’s about telling a bigger story. God is writing a story through our family…a story of His grace and forgiveness and acceptance and redemption. We may mess up and fall down and let each other down…but He redeems us. He loves us and forgives us. He is bigger than any of our imperfections. And I get to share that with my girls as I live, not out of my own perfectionist standards, but out of God’s big unconditional love for me every day.
And where my perfectionism was binding me to this imaginary list of all the ways I was failing at being a perfect mom…God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me, just as I am, has freed me to experience the joy and the beauty of our perfectly imperfect family story.
I’m not a perfect mom, and ours is not a perfect story…but as The Nester (Myquillyn Smith) says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”
Maybe you’re like me and could use a little daily reminder to not get caught up in those impossible expectations and just embrace your story? Well, I’ve made a little printable, if you’d like one…to hang up in your home, by your desk, on your bathroom mirror…anywhere you’d like to be reminded to embrace your story. Just click the link here to download the PDF file: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/110730588/EmbraceYourStory_5x7.pdf
Jennifer Tucker blogs at The Little House on the Circle and is a beautifully imperfect wife and mom of two girls. She is a gift to all who know her. (byline by DDH)