Speaking to mothers, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Remember that your job is the most important of all.” Motherhood is one of the most fulfilling, joyful, sanctifying, challenging roles out there. To be a mother is to know both love and suffering.

Being perfect is a perfect temptation

Perfectionism in motherhood can quickly become a poison that robs us of peace, joy, and compassion. Being “perfect” is a tempting lie that we can be all too quick to chase after. This lie tells us that if we’re perfect, then we don’t have to worry about criticism, blame, or shame.1 This lie tells us that if we raise perfect, mild, God-fearing kids and if we have a perfect, clean, tidy, stylish home, then no one will judge us and we will all be happy. However, perfection is a destination that simply does not exist. If we spend our lives trying to be perfect, we will end up with nothing but dissatisfaction. Trying to be perfect really isn’t helpful; striving for perfection does not help us to live the lives we truly desire. We are not called to be perfect; we are called to be present.

The true meaning of perfect is…

Many Christians get hung up on Matthew 5:48 which says, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Surely that verse means being perfect is Biblical, right? Actually, the literal translation of “perfect” means to be complete. God’s version of perfect is not our version of perfect. He is calling us to become all that we are meant to be. All that we are meant to be does not equal having a clean house and a detailed life plan and kids who are never disruptive and hosting Pinterest-perfect birthday parties every year.

Even if all mothers are working towards the same goal of perfection—becoming all they are meant to be—it’s going to look different for everyone. God created each one of us uniquely and, like the flowers of the field, we will each bloom with our own colorful radiance! And this begs the question—Why do mothers struggle so much with comparing themselves to other mothers? There’s really no purpose in comparing our life to another’s. Perfect in God’s eyes is resting in His love, knowing who we are to Him, and striving for holiness. Perfect is living to know, love, and serve God and help make him known.

Perfectionism is contagious. For those who have been in a lifelong struggle with perfectionism, its roots can likely be traced back to at least one parent or another family member. Perfectionism is a learned behavior, and it’s something we can pass on to our kids if we’re not careful. That’s why letting go of the need to be perfect is so important. If we want to raise kids who aren’t afraid to fail, who make time for what’s important, and who know their worth is rooted in Christ, we need to be those kinds of people ourselves.

Weapons to fight perfectionism

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown outlines guideposts for fighting perfectionism based on her research on shame and vulnerability. Below is a summary of some of her findings.

Play

We live in a world that values productivity and achievement, which explains why perfectionism is so rampant in our society. We are used to being rewarded for our striving with good grades and bonuses. We can fight against this unhealthy striving with a concept called play. Stuart Brown describes play as time spent accomplishing nothing, a time you don’t want to end, and something you lose yourself in completely.2 Read more about play here. Taking intentional time to play cultivates a life of being present and a life full of joy. Play is different for every person and every family. Finding the sweet spot where your family unites in play is the key. For some families, play is being outside and going hiking. For others, it’s board games or trivia. Prioritizing this time that is not meant to achieve anything but is meant to just be enjoyable shows ourselves and our kids that we value leisure and being present; it shows that we don’t have to spend every moment being productive. Play isn’t just a nice option for when we have time; play is actually a key component to strong mental health. The opposite of play is not work; it is depression. Have you made time for play lately?

Creativity is something we cannot do perfectly. It fights perfectionism just by the nature of what it is. Encouraging creativity in your home, whether that be baking, cooking, art, animating, or music, is a powerful force against the powers of perfectionism. There are not creative people and uncreative people; there are people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Creating encourages us to enjoy the process without focusing on the end result. When’s the last time you created something just for the sole purpose of creating?

Vulnerability

Being vulnerable with our kids shows them that it is okay to not be perfect. Many of us were raised by parents who tried to never show sadness or fear in front of us. This sends the message that it’s not okay to be sad or afraid. We are the ones who teach our kids about emotion. They need to know that they are allowed to be sad or mad or hurt or frustrated or scared without being punished and without being told to get over it. When we’re sad, we don’t need to look on the bright side. We just need to be sad. We can teach that to our kids by sharing our real emotions with them in a healthy way. How can you show more vulnerability to your children?

Belonging

As parents, our goal is to communicate a sense of belonging in our home. We want our kids to know they belong here. We can do this through our words. It can be helpful to eliminate ‘not enough’ language: words like loser, lame, uncool, stupid. Labels can be so damaging to kids, even if meant as a joke. Belonging says that you belong here no matter what, no matter what you do, and you will not be judged or put down for being who you are.

We also want to be intentional about shame versus guilt messages. Guilt is healthy; it tells us we’ve done something wrong and need to take action to make amends for what we’ve done. When a child breaks a rule, guilt—grounded in their conscience—tells them that they need to apologize and take the consequence for their action. But shame is different. Shame says that you’ve done a bad thing, so that means you are a bad person. This is inaccurate and is extremely harmful to the self-image of a child. This message of shame is communicated by phrases like “You don’t deserve that,” “You’re not being good today,” or “You need to be better.” It’s more helpful to send the message of “You made a poor choice, and there are consequences for poor choices, but you are still good and I love you no matter what.” James 2:13 states, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” We get the opportunity to show God’s mercy to our children when we affirm their worth in the midst of their mistakes. What words do you use to communicate a sense of belonging to your children?

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is a great tool to fight perfectionism and can also be helpful to combat anxiety. In moments when the to do list didn’t get all the way done, the house didn’t get completely cleaned, and the kids didn’t behave according to plan, practice saying in those moments, “I am grateful for this because______.” Perfectionism tries to tell us that anything short of perfect is a failure. We can fight this with celebrating the victories that did get accomplished and finding joy in the present moment that didn’t turn out quite like we planned. What’s something that didn’t go according to plan lately that you are grateful for?

Good, Not Perfect

Strive to be good, not perfect. Maybe choosing good over perfect for you means having extra quality time in the morning with your kids instead of tackling the dishes. Or maybe it means saying “no” to an additional volunteer role or extracurricular activity so that there’s more time to be at home. Ask yourself, how can I choose good over perfect today?

Remember, God is with you in the midst of your emotions. If you’re anxious, if you’re frustrated, if you’re spent, God’s not there saying, “Well, you should have trusted me and done what I asked, and then you wouldn’t be in this mess.” Our God is not a God of condemnation. He has compassion for you, even if the mess you’re in is the consequence of your own actions. He is there with you in the frustration and the anxiety, feeling it all with you, having compassion on you, and never leaving your side. He is continually calling you to be His daughter, His child, and to rest in his embrace. And just remember, God chose you to be a mother and He thinks you’re doing great at it!

1The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
2Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul by Stuart Brown

Books worth reading:
The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting by Brené Brown
The Heart of Perfection by Colleen Carrol Campbell
Good is Good Enough: Confessions of an imperfect Catholic mom by Colleen Duggan