Post-Partum and Embracing Imperfection

Today at our parish we had a guest speaker, Georgie, from the  Pacific Postpartum Society. She came to spread awareness about postpartum depression and to give some insights on helping families cope with it. During the presentation, we did an exercise where we compared what “the perfect mother” would do, as opposed to what the real mother would do. “Always be patient and smiling” vs “losing her temper sometimes,” “always making gourmet meals” vs. “ordering pizza or making Kraft dinner sometimes,”keeping the house gorgeous all the time” vs “coping with mess.” You get the idea.

We did this exercise to emphasize the pressures we put on ourselves to be “perfect”– to be “leave it to Beaver moms” who always have a clean apron, a bright smile and freshly baked cookies in our hands. Georgie talked about how our happiness is greatly effected by our expectations, and how far we fall short of them. This is compounded by all the images of seeming perfection we see online, where we only glimpse into people’s lives after they have been edited and airbrushed. Someone joked we need more realistic magazines, like “Mediocre Homes and Gardens.” Recently I saw a funny meme that had a cartoon woman and read “World’s Okayest Mom.”

Why do we keep going after perfection like rats after poison, when we know how miserable it makes us to compare ourselves to others? There are many sayings to help us: “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” “best is good, better is best,” etc. Being gentle with ourselves and humbly accepting where we are at is much more likely to bring peace to our families than striving for unattainable perfection and then beating ourselves up for falling short. As the cleaning guru the Flylady says, “You’re not behind, you’re where you are: now jump in!”

My buddy Monique and I have a “one awesome thing” check-in. We call each other and share the one awesome thing we did that day. It could be anything…that we sent an important email, that we cleaned out the fridge, that we did a cool art or baking project with the kids, that we had tea with a friend who really needed a heart to heart chat, whatever. The point is to focus on the little successes, rather than the long list of “not yet done’s.” As a bonus, the joy of celebrating those little accomplishments is energizing and helps us feel brave enough to try a little more.

Embracing our imperfection allows us to appreciate real life and to accept it, mess and all. And it gives other moms permission to do the same. Rather than wasting time wishing we were like someone else, we can pour our energy into becoming more ourselves, and fulfilling the unique missions we all have. Now that’s beautiful. So next time you wish you were a perfect robot, like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” remember that for all his intellect and calm demeanor, what made him really special was when he developed the ability to feel emotions. We feel pain, we are weak, we struggle, we laugh, we love–because we are real. And teaching our kids to deal with their real life emotions and direct them towards love is likely the most important thing we will do as parents.

Taking care of ourselves and learning to love ourselves as we are, while always trying to grow better, bit by bit, will be the first step on this journey. Fellow moms, let’s walk it together!

 

 

 

 

Deep Roots

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Here we are together
many sisters not of flesh but of heart
praying, laughing, resting and learning
gathering strength in a place apart

Be like giant trees
we are told
stretching to the sky
but humbly, firmly rooted in love

This is your strength
to rely on something greater than yourselves
to plant yourselves deeply in something bigger

Those who base everything on themselves
are like rootless trees
towering egos
unstable ‘I’s ready to topple
in the first wind

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Let the love of God be your strength
your firm root
your soul’s nourishment

For in this way
your branches will grow
stretching out to embrace the world
touching those around you
with the gentle caress of love

And in your shade
they will find shelter
and the safety to grow themselves

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Creative vs. Organized? Striving for a Balanced Character

As human beings we like things to be simple, so we like to give things labels, put them in tidy boxes, and decide what’s best…which camp we belong in, what type we are, and why it’s better that way.

We often use this tendency to justify our lopsided characters. For example:
“I’m creative, so I can’t be organized.”
“I’m a people person, so I can’t ever be alone.”
“I like to be spontaneous and think outside the box, so I can’t plan ahead or follow directions.”

The question is, while we all have certain strengths and weaknesses, do we really have to think about character traits in terms of incompatible opposites? Or can we attain some kind of balance? A harmony between different abilities that reflects the unique person we are…

It is this balance that I want to strive for in myself. I have tended to favour creativity over organization and the intellectual over the practical. In highschool my Mum used to call me the absent-minded professor. I could get lots of A’s but couldn’t keep my room clean and could write poetry but was awful at paperwork.

It was pretty easy to justify these things…as in the examples above: “I’m too creative to be organized.” But the thing is, what if I had tried harder to gain those skills I found so difficult or repugnant? What if I had forced myself to plan ahead a little more, set goals, follow though, etc? Gaining greater self-control though more organization would actually have enabled me to achieve a lot more creatively.

For example, you have to mail your great work of literature to a potential publisher for it to reach the world, so not only creativity and passion are needed but also envelope and stamp. Or at least the discipline and guts to hit send on your query email. So while we often like to think of artists as crazy, passionate, or extreme, I think it actually takes some balance of character traits to achieve greatness. Not being able to find your keys on a regular basis doesn’t help you be more creative or successful, unless you are trying to make rather ugly modern art by throwing all your stuff around your house as you dig for them.

During university my husband, then fiancé, and I were briefly hooked on a video game, The Sims, in which you create characters and build their houses, careers, friendships, etc. Kind of a really fancy way to play house…and escape the pressure of studying! 😉

I always made my people very nice, but left too few character blocks to fill with other virtues like cleanliness. So I ended up with friendly characters with ok jobs who left empty cans of beans on the floor and attracted flies!

My husband made characters with ambition and order, who had gorgeous houses and careers, but would sometimes drive guests away through social faux-pas.

I guess our characters needed the traits of the other to balance each other out. Maybe they should have married each other, as we did in real life!

It seems we need what we tend to see as opposing character traits: to be both responsible and outgoing, focused and friendly, but we are all are weaker in some things than others. It takes a lot of effort to overcome these weaknesses, but “upgrading” our characters has the wonderful payoff of making us both happier and more successful.

What character trait would you like to improve on? How could you be a better, more balanced you? With a little step at a time, and a lot of good humour and hope, we can all grow, so never give up reaching for the person you want to be, while still loving the one you are.

The Perfect Parent Lives in Timbuktu (and is likely a Sasquatch!)

I haven’t met the perfect parent. It’s not me. It’s likely not you either.
But that’s ok. Children are born of love, not perfection.

Still, sometimes we wonder if there is a scientific formula for being the perfect parent, a special combination of elements that will help us get it just right.

Our society encourages this; we are told we must have the right economic, educational, medical, emotional, and intellectual circumstances to responsibly have a child. It seems a very dangerous and risky business, and one must be perfectly prepared.

Sometimes people wait their whole lives to be perfectly ready. Baby room painted just so. Millions in the bank. 800 parenting books read. Relationship so stable it makes mountains look wispy and wobbly. Health just so, taking the right 60 vitamins, and doing yoga 10 hours a day.

What happened to something that used to be so natural? A creative overflow of love? Isn’t the sincere love between parents already giving your child a lot, especially in today’s world?

But our fear of being imperfect parents in an imperfect world really paralyzes us so much as a society. We fear traumatizing our kids and are haunted of visions of their future therapist’s couch before they even leave their cradle.

We are told we better consult the experts constantly, because we as “mere parents” (just rabbits really) know nothing. I don’t think all this fear is actually making us better parents, just less confident and optimistic ones.

If we risk having one, we think we shouldn’t have another, because we’re not perfect yet. The funny thing is though, that having another child helps us to grow better, more mature, relaxed and confident, and therefore helps our first child, too. Experience is a good teacher.

So please don’t let fear of your imperfection stop you from loving; that would be a terrible tragedy. None of us had perfect parents, but we’re still glad to be here, in this messy, imperfect, absurdly beautiful world.

While I haven’t met perfect parents, I have met perfect babies.
Actually many of them.
More specifically, ALL of them.
Each baby is perfect.
A perfect gift, a perfect miracle, a perfect parcel of love.
Each one makes the world more beautiful. That means you, too.

Siblings help each other to grow as well, precisely through their imperfection, their foibles and stubborn streaks; experiencing all this children learn, in a context of love, how to get along with, embrace and accept others.

If we are teaching our kids to love, to care for others and help them when they are down, we are doing a lot toward making the world a better place.

My kids can squabble as much as the next ones, but I was happy to see my older girls stepping up and caring for the younger ones this week when they weren’t feeling well. Here’s a picture of my 5 year old reading bedtime stories to her little sister. Without being asked. That made me really happy.

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So stop worrying about being perfect, unless you want to go live with the Sasquatch, who can maybe give you some pointers.

Personally, I think what you need as a parent is love, commitment, and a willingness to adapt and grow, because as much as parenting will make your children grow, it’ll make you grow more.

Happy trails! And may you be abundantly blessed in love.

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