Tales of a Recovering Perfectionist: Just show up

6:00:00 AM

I was once a perfectionist. I wanted to be perfect. I was hard on myself when I didn't keep the perfect house, meet my goals at my work, have the perfect relationship with my husband.

Then I had a child. I still tried to be perfect and was disappointed in myself that I was not successful. Then I had a high-risk pregnancy with twins and perfectionism simply wasn't even on the radar. Once the twins were born, it became laughable to even try. There were things that were way more important, such as remaining sane...hugging little girls...making it to work...getting food on the table.

But the desire to be perfect is still there, so I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.

The desire for perfectionism still rears its ugly head in my parenting in particular. I want to be the perfect mom with the perfect kids...which is when I lose my temper and my kids throw the most violent temper tantrum known to mankind.  That's when God reminds me that my being perfect isn't the point. He's perfect so I don't have to be. Does that mean that we can be lazy? No! We aren't called to be perfect...we are called to show up. We're called to have faith, to act: to love and to work hard, and believe in Christ.


I'm sure that some of you are rolling your eyes, wondering what that means in real life. I recently experienced how perfectionism isn't the point through my daughter. During second semester, the lower elementary literacy coordinator at Lil Bit's elementary school challenged the students to read 100 hours starting in early February. This was an optional challenge. I knew that my daughter is grade level reader....she does well with fluency, but she's not a prodigy. She's not to the point that she reads for fun; she's learning to read. For homework, she needed to read at least 20 minutes 5 nights a week. In order to meet the reading challenge, she would need to read around an hour each night, 7 days a week. I knew that the chances of her reaching this goal were very slim, and although I want her to achieve, I knew that forcing her to read an hour a day would backfire. I want to raise my children to love to read, not dread it.

So I told her what the challenge was, that it would be tough, and that I would write down how much she read each day to see how much she read before the end of the year. I encouraged her to do better each day. She challenged herself, worked hard, and really progressed in her reading. She learned a lot. She started to find books that she enjoyed reading (my love of fantasy fiction is rubbing off on her).

And when it was time to turn in her reading record, about a week and a half before the end of school, I added up the hours.

She had read about 60 hours.

As a parent, what would you do? She hadn't achieved the goal. I'm not a huge fan of the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality that our society creates around our children – it's not true to life. But Lil Bit had done her best, worked hard, and I felt that her teacher should know that Lil Bit had done more than the required reading. So we turned in the reading form. It was this mama's way of letting go of perfection in myself...and in my child. Honestly, after we turned the form in, I forgot about the challenge.

A week later, Lil Bit rode home with her daddy from after school. When we all got home, he said, "Did you know that Lil Bit got a reading award? She got 3rd place. She's getting a prize pack in a couple of days."

It turns out she read the third most of all the first graders in her school (around 150 children). Because it was optional (and hard), I suspect many families didn't bother to turn in the forms. She just showed up when others didn't. But you know what? That "victory" has encouraged her to start the summer reading up a storm. She didn't get first place. She didn't meet her goal. We were far from perfect. And we were blessed anyway.

Life's not being perfect. It's about showing up. I'm not saying that showing up deserves a prize. I'm saying that by showing up, you have achieved more than those who didn't try at all, and by doing what you can, what you know you should, you may find that God helps you to do more than you know you can do on your own.

I'm reminded of 2 Corinthians 12:9, where Paul writes: "But he [God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." Paul was struggling with a weakness, a perceived imperfection. And God revealed how that imperfection was exactly according to God's plan.

I hope this has encouraged you to let go of perfection and to just show up...to life. Who knows what the result may be?

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