Confessions of a less-than-perfect mommy

Cross-posted at BlogHer

You have a million and one things on your plate, are feeling overwhelmed and are reaching your breaking point. Yet when someone asks you to do one more thing, take on one more responsibility, juggle one more ball, you can’t turn them down. I mean, if you say no, they might figure out you are not *gasp* perfect. But wait a second, you aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. None of us are perfect. So why is it that so many women, moms in particular and yours truly included, feel compelled to convince the world we can do it all, seamlessly, perfectly, without missing a beat?

The problem, as I see it, in trying to be the perfect woman, perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect friend, perfect daughter, etc., is that a) it’s incredibly draining and b) it perpetuates the myth that we should be able to do it all. When we don’t admit that we falter or that we have help, we are creating this dangerously high standard that other women, other moms may try to live up to. And when they fail, as they eventually will, they may be crushed and blame themselves and wonder, “Why can’t I do it all, when Suzy Homemaker does with ease?” But does Suzy Homemaker do it with ease? Do we really know what’s going on behind closed doors?

I have a little confession to make. In the past, I attempted to be Suzy Homemaker. I tried to do it all – take care of my home, my children, and my husband, as well as write for multiple blogs including my own, and keep all of the balls up in the air. And ya know what? Little by little, things began to suffer and the balls began to fall. I wasn’t doing any of the things really well; I was just going through the motions. I could tell by Ava’s behavior that she wasn’t getting the attention she needed and deserved. I know my relationship with my husband was suffering too. And then I started having anxiety attacks. I hadn’t had these kind of attacks since my husband and I were trying, without success, for just over a year to conceive Ava. But the fact that the attacks had returned lead me to believe that something had to give. If I wasn’t going to cut back on some area of my life and reduce my stress, my health could continue to suffer.

So I quit writing for a couple of the blogs, turned down an offer to write for yet another, and the anxiety attacks went away for a while. Life was good.

Then another writing gig came up, and another and they were both so good and so worthy (as they all are), and only required one post a month, that I couldn’t turn them down. And then I decided to organize and put on a garage sale with only a week to prepare. And before that I threw a big eco-friendly birthday party for my daughter. And this and that and this and that. And guess what? I’m finding myself right back where I was before. I’m having anxiety attacks more and more frequently, yet I don’t want to give up writing. To me, writing is therapy. It’s my creative outlet and at this point in my life, I feel like I really need it to add balance to my life. Yet if my health is suffering, is it really doing me any good?

I feel like I’ve dropped the pretenses and admitted I’m not perfect. I do the best that I can, but I still beat myself up because I don’t feel like certain aspects of my life are getting the attention they deserve. I want to be a better parent. I want to be a better wife. Yet I also want to be able to write because it’s important to me.

My family and I have a two-week vacation coming up in 11 days (but who’s counting?) and I’m looking forward to it tremendously. I have plans to take a break from blogging (I’ll have guest bloggers on my personal blog every day), ignore email as much as possible (I’d stay away from my laptop completely but I don’t want to come home to thousands of unread emails in my in box – talk about anxiety!), as well as plans to laugh and love and play, play, play with my kids. I also hope to find some quiet time to reflect and meditate so that I can take a serious look at my life and decide if the direction it’s headed is where I truly want to be. And if is, what changes do I need to make so that my mind and my body can be happy without the anxiety?

So now you know my secret. I’m not perfect. What’s yours?

Related blog posts:

Perfectionist Parent
Your Mother, the Over-Achiever
Up and Down
I’ll Tell You How I Do It
Why Entrepreneurial Burnout is like that Messy Breakup with Your Ex
Is My Baby High Needs?
Working Mothers, A Delicate Balance and Working Moms: How Do You Manage Housework?

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43 thoughts on “Confessions of a less-than-perfect mommy

  1. Wonderful, wonderful post! My guest blogger wrote about this yesterday (Wednesday) on my blog. I’m on vacation right now, too, and it’s been wonderful. A forced point-blank look in the eye over where stressors stem from.

    Have a great time relaxing with your family. Enjoy!

    (And I’d recommend checking your email once every few days!)

  2. Hi Amy,
    SO MANY moms are in exactly the same position you’re in…there are just SO MANY GOOD THINGS to say yes to!

    As a therapist (lay down on my couch, won’t you? lol) I suggest clients with anxiety read two books: 1) The Anxiety Cure by Archibald Hart an easy read discussing the physiological ramifications of stress on the body. Most folks (mostly women) find out they’ve dealt with anxiety since they were wee little…and usually came from a parent who was a “worrier” or anxiety riddled themselves. And 2) Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This book, more than any other book I have “prescribed” in my bibliotherapeutic practice has changed the lives of more clients than any other. The basic gist of the book is, “Learn to say no to the GOOD so you can say YES to the BEST.” I know that’s REAL easy to say and REAL hard to do. The book is well worth the read. It’s a classic and can be found at any barnes and noble or borders store.

    As for MY imperfections? I tend to isolate myself. My vocation is very people heavy, and so I LOVE solitude and silence. Which is good. But too much of a good thing can cease to be healthy at some point. So I force myself to socialize. Blogging is a big part of that. It allows me to put myself “out there” but without having to do the somewhat exhausting work of “active listening.” I can “listen” at MY convenience. (I still tend to read in the “active listening” mode, tho. That’s why I’m leaving this long winded comment on your blog. :-))

    Anyhoo, I hope you have a wonderful vacation…and that you find answers to your many questions through quiet meditation and rest.

  3. Amy,
    I can so relate to this situation. I do not have anxiety attacks though. It was much easier for me to juggle all the balls when I was younger but I am finding it much harder to do as I get older.

    Also I never take time for myself. I think we are not alone in this situation.

    I hope you have a good vacation and some relaxing time and figure out how to “just say no” ha ha, that is the hardest thing, it sounds easy but it’s so hard not to want to help everyone.

    Recognizing that you need to slow down is the firs step to making changes, consciousness of the situation is a good start, I think.

  4. I totally agree that too many balls in the air = major anxiety (in me, it manifests as insomnia, which only makes everything worse), but I’ve fallen to the other extreme of sloth and complacency, too. Somehow, that’s worse for me: skating by, trying to do the bare minimum. This is exacerbated by the weather where I live (rainy Oregon), so I’d almost rather function tuned a little high, running a little crazy–imperfectly fumbling my way through this parenting, writing, bike-riding, potluck-hosting, farmers-market attending, barely sleeping life.

    That said, we’re heading on vacation ourselves for a week, and I couldn’t remember how to put an auto-reply on my work email–that’s how long it’s been since I’ve taken time off. Looking forward to it (understatement of the year).

    Have a great vacation!

  5. I guess many of us go through the same feelings, “I want to be a better parent. I want to be a better wife.”

    Great post. And thanks for the links!

  6. Amen sister! So much of this “I am not perfect and never will be” comes with living long enough to realize it. As a younger mom with 6 at home, member of this group and that committee, I run myself ragged and pulled off the “perfect everything” for many a moon. But then I woke up one day and felt tired and older and wiser and said to myself: “Who am I trying to impress?” No one knows your imperfections like your kids and your spouse. And frankly, no one else really matters. At 49 I am much more relaxed and find it so much easier to say no and not have to have some elaborate reason to justify my no. Just plain old no. My 40′s have been very freeing to me and I plan on busting in on 50 with great expectations…not of myself but of life.

  7. Is it just me or is perfectionism a women-wide phenomenon? I’d certainly say that trying to be perfect in so many areas of my life has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety. I’m trying to learn to take time for me, to not overextend myself and to listen to my body. Unfortunately, these are not things we learn overnight. And the excitement of a new project or the promise of time with friends, family and my significant other tend to trump everything else…including my exhausted, anxiety-ridden body.

  8. Such a sensible thing to do and fantastic that you shared it with your readers. I hope that your vacation re-energises and calms you, so you can make the decisions that you need to make.

  9. Amy,

    I do hope you can relax and enjoy your vacation, you truly deserve it. I am in a similar situation and am leaving in 8 days (I’ve been counting down for months!!!). I can’t wait to just get away from it all and get a “break”. Like you, and so many others, I often try to do too much and fit it all in to my busy, hectic life. I have gotten better at cutting things out and only attempting to keep up with the things that matter to ME, and to my FAMILY. The rest is not as important, at least not now while my children are so small (4, 2 1/2 and 6 months).

    So I guess one of my confessions would be that when I get really stressed and put too much on my own plate, I tend to edgy and cranky with my kids . . . I really hate it when I get like that and I can’t stand when I am impatient or yell at them. That is always a sign that it is time for me to back off and slow things down a bit.

  10. I’ve always wanted to smack the feminist who said we could do it all. She obviously wasn’t married or had kids.

    It’s been so ingrained in me and I didn’t even know it. I must do it all, work a full time job, get married, maintain a home, have kids, raise kids, maintain a home and TRY to have family week end time and no housework. OH and I’m supposed to make dinner and bake.

    Where or where is that woman??? If you find her smack her for me… really hard.

  11. My confession: I have 3 kids. I LOVE having three kids. But I fear criticism for having too many kids – or not being able to give all 3 kids what they need. I don’t want anyone to know that I’m not perfect in case they blame me for having too many kids. I want everyone to think that my life is seamless and breezy and the third kid just eased in there with no repercussions.

    As you’ve read in my blog, I’m trying HARD to be a good mom and treat my kids well and give them all what they need. And honestly, I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job.

    The trade-off? My house. Every time I take some time off my house gets worse and now it’s so bad I really truly fear that I’ll never get caught back up. I haven’t dusted in….god, I don’t know when I last dusted. Christmas? There is crap everywhere. We have too much stuff and it’s always exploded everywhere. I *mean* to vacuum and mop weekly but I don’t always remember to. It’s embarrassing. Some days I make good headway. Some days the kids erase all that headway and then some. This is a ton of work!

    I’m glad you wrote this post. I feel so imperfect – my house is a mess, I’m so dreadfully behind in just about EVERYTHING, I’m overweight and seem to keep *gaining* rather than losing weight. Honestly I look at myself and then I look at you – I envision that your house is calm, peaceful and CLEAN all the time; you’re skinny; you’re creative; you cook great meals and on and on – and I feel so inadequate. I bet we ALL look at someone else and feel the same.

  12. I am so so so with you! My problem is that a lot of my friends thing I am so together while I feel like things are constantly falling apart, but I end up trying to make it look like I am all cool with everything, because I don’t want people to think I can’t do it all! Whew. That’s a mouth full.

  13. Thank you for being brave enough to write this post. We all need a reality check sometimes, and it’s nice to see some one step up and say “I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect you to be either”.

  14. I don’t have a secret. I am NOT perfect…never have been, never will be.

    Good for you on taking care of things that need caring for. :-)

  15. I feel you on this one. This is my ultimate confession! I actually blogged about one small aspect of this ‘perfect mom syndrome’ over on my blog this morning. If you’d like to, come by and check it out.

  16. But on second thought, if it helps: I don’t bake, I am only about 20% eco-friendly and prefer to hire help in keeping the house in order.

    Now, those aren’t really secrets that I try to hide…but it sure means I ain’t a perfect mommy!

  17. This is such a hard one to admit. I’m feeling the same way. I didn’t take orders in my design business for 6 of the past 7 months, but after attending a recent conference and getting a lot of exposure, I decided I would be crazy to turn down the prospective new business.

    It’s all coming back to me now (the reason I quit taking new orders in the first place). Every new order is someone else who is waiting on me to do something. And of course I don’t want my personal blog to die, which is what I’ve let happen before when I get immersed in the design work.

    I need to let the pressure go, because I really do love the work. It’s a great outlet if I can keep my perspective. I guess that’s the trick: perspective + knowing when to stop and handle the “real life” issues.

  18. Yes I understand that. I had anxiety attacks once in my life when I was trying to hold down a part time job while having some major health issues.

    When it comes to guest blogging, blogging at other sites, etc… I’ve turned down some really lucrative opportunities because I knew it would be too stressful for me to write on someone else’s schedule.

    I do like to write for other blogs but only those that don’t require a commitment of a minimum amount of posts.
    :)

  19. That does it. I’m scheduling my vacation for two weeks in August. :) Excellent post – and I’m in the same boat you’re in. I so wish I could learn to say “no”, but I have this drive inside that is not only propelling me towards perfection (which doesn’t exist), but also towards promotion. When is enough really enough? Is it ever?

  20. You know I know that feeling so well. I too have anxiety issues and they came from too much going on too soon. That is why I started my blog, Mom Unplugged. It is time for moms to live authentic lives and release the superwoman image.

    Being authentic means dealing with the fact that you are not perfect but at the same time being satisfied with you are and living your life to the fullest.

    So I am learning more and more to just say no because I see that it is better for my life all around.

  21. Amy,

    It is refreshing as another mother to hear that your not perfect because no one is. I know I’m certainly not. We all try to do the very best we can.

    My daughter is going through some health issues right now and is on an elimination diet (has been for three months). Since I’m still nursing her at 20 months, that means I too am on the diet. Food that most people eat common grains, dairy, eggs, garlic, onion, she cannot. I’ve been told everything she eats needs to be soaked and made fresh. Many a night I have been in tears wondering how I can keep up with it all.

    I’ve had to reprioritize things in my life to handle the stress. Sounds corny but everyday I just tell myself that I can only do the best I can on that day. Some things in life you can’t say no to. Your kids and husband are the foundation of the family though and those relationships need the most nuturing.

    Thanks for the post, it helps to know I’m not alone :)

  22. Amy,

    I understand. I think most moms do. I keep taking on more and more and then wonder why. It’s more work that I take on and the reason is I love it.

    I think it’s intresting you write this though. Does your husband feel guilty for doing more work? It seems okay for my hubby to leave from 6a-6p and do “work” which it loves. He doesn’t feel guilty. So why should I?

    Except I feel guilty because I’m holding it all on my shoulders and he isn’t. He gets to leave and then come home. I never leave unless I have the children.

    The idea that you have to do it all and feel guilty or that I do, makes me angry at the opposite sex and they’re role. Of course, it isn’t like this for every marriage or situation (I know).

    Writing, being online, researching and reading…it’s my therapy but also what I want to do and be good at. Why should I have to or any woman have to give that up?

  23. Thank you for the wonderfully honest post. I feel exactly the same way, only without the great offers for writing. I just started blogging a few months ago as an outlet since I haven’t done anything for myself really since my first was born. I love it, but always feel guilty as hubbie complains about wanting attention and I end up staying up way too late and being tired all the time trying to fit it all in. Other stress comes from never having enough money and trying to find some way to earn some money from home to help out. So far it hasn’t happened, but blogging does seem to be opening some doors for me and I know I’m on the right path if I just stick with it. Still, the research, reading, writing and all the time spent takes away from other responsibilities and leads to feelings of inadaquecy and guilt.

  24. Oops, sorry, I must have hit enter before ending my comment…rookie :P
    I wanted to confess that I often feel like a total failure. I homeschool my kids, but some days feel they’d be so much better off at school. I am usually short on sleep and patience and though I secretly long for a 4th child (am I crazy?! YES) I often feel I don’t handle the three I have all that well. But I’m supposed to be this well-read supermommy child psychologist/educator with all the answers. Geez, I’m starting to sound pathetic. Sorry, I ramble.
    I think you need to commit to what keeps you sane. If writing does that find some way to get help with the other stuff, housework, errands, cooking, child care, whatever. If we always sacrifice our needs for others what will we have left when the others aren’t around?
    Hugs to you and many thanks for the refreshingly honest post!

  25. You know what is funny. I find that I freak out whenever there is something major to accomplish, but the freaking out actually just slows me down. It is the calm after the storm that allows me to get it done. Now, I just have to figure out how to get to that calm first rather than after the freak out sessions!

    Good luck to you, Amy.

    Megan

  26. As another mama out there trying to “do it all” (who isn’t?), I really appreciate this post.

    I want so badly to be able to be a “Renaissance Woman” and do it all, but I think on a daily basis, I come a lot closer to “Jack of all trades and master of none.”

    Why is it that we as women and mothers have such a hard time saying “No!!!” when we’ve had enough? Why is it that, when I finally sit on the couch in the evening and try to relax and reconnect with my husband, one (or more) track of my mind is always on what I should be doing instead?

    I’ve been trying to let some things slide and spend more time with my husband and children this summer. I have to admit, it’s been good for the soul and I hope I can keep it up. But there’s always something else I could do–another hobby, another thing I could make from scratch, another thing I could do for the environment or for my blog or for my children. It never ends…

    Great post. Have a great vacation and try to relax and enjoy it!!

  27. beautifully said, amy. i think this is the hardest part of it all for all of us – admitting that we can’t do it all…sometimes i think blogging makes it better because we can share it but sometimes it makes it worse – not only is it one more thing to do but it’s one more world in which we try for “perfection”…i definitely recommend brene brown’s site and parenting lecture “the gifts of imperfect parenting”…i find that it really has helped me a lot….

    enjoy your vacation – well-deserved and it sounds like you need it!!!

  28. My confession…
    At least one night a week we have in the Blicky homestead what is known as Crack-Mommy-Dinner. My kids call it Crack-Mommy-Dinner too. It was cute when my oldest was a toddler, but now we’ve had to have a talk about what real crack mommies are and why she can’t use the term with her babysitters or teachers. Sometimes it’s shortened to just “crack.” As in “Mumma can we do crack tonight?.” Of course they mean eating cold cereal, or some other hastily prepared meal in front of the television, but nonetheless I’m afraid any sudden interloper would be appalled.

  29. I love your I’m not perfect post…I know I’m not that I fall short but I think we tend to believe other mom’s are perfect and we are the ones failing at times. As a WAHM,and homeschool mom, I have to trust that I am called to be a wife, mommy, business owner and I feel called to homeschool….so my short falls, feeling like I have to be perfect in these areas. We will never be perfect and by showing my faults to my children they can learn that they don’t have to be perfect..and learn from our shortcomings. The anxiety lifts knowing that I am really not in control but called to this specific life journey. I pray for wisdom and balance in all that I’m called too.( this is a daily balance, nothing I’ve mastered!)
    ps I love the book boundaries mentioned above. I say NO to a lot in order to give my best to my top three…wife, mom and business owner. I know that after saying yes, I can call and cancel! That is powerful….Thanks for causing me to reflect! You’re not alone!
    xo Donna

  30. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I have had a mommyblog for about 2 years and at different times along the way, I have written for other sites too while holding a day job and parenting my two kids. It became way too stressful so I pulled back from my blogging and commenting several months ago, quit writing for other sites etc. But THEN I had the idea to start GMF and that took on a whole life of its own and I was back to being as busy as ever. Gah!

    Anyway, all this to say that I know a little of how you feel and I empathize. I am always re-evaluating how much time I spend online and trying to find the balance. Lately, I’ve been back to thinking I need to cut back. I love online writing but I don’t want to sacrifice too much family time for it.

    Have I rambled enough yet?

    Good luck finding the balance that is right for you! It’s not easy. *hugs*

  31. Hi Amy,
    Thanks for this post (and the links to others around the blogosphere)!

    I don’t want to be perfect… but I do want to feel peaceful. :)

    I suppose my terrible secret is that I yell at my kids while I’m trying to write.

    Which is a clear sign that I’m not handling doing both things, yet I still try to do it…

    I think my biggest challenge isn’t necessarily doing it all (or falling short of doing it all), but doing things in a positive rather than negative state of mind.

    I wrote a little post of my own today, riffing on what you’ve got here, so I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!

    Blessings,
    Stacy

  32. I think I started to realize that I could not be perfect about 5 months ago and it was hard. I struggled for the first year of Max’s life feeling like I just was not good enough and then I started to feel good enough. It is so much easier.

    I also struggled my whole life feeling that way but I was able to make it work when it was just me and then kind of with the hubby but there is no perfect day in the world. I am learning that we just show up and do our best.

    Enjoy your vacation and that post was so well written. Thanks so much!

  33. Thank you for being so honest! I’m so far from being perfect, and I’m even worse at pretending that I can do it all. I end up doing everything halfway, and neglecting my kids in the process. We forget, they don’t want some perfect ideal mom, they are thrilled to just be with us.

    Oh, and I totally relate to the comment about the housework suffering. Dusting, cleaning, who has time for that??

    Enjoy your vacation!

  34. My blogging has totally taken a backseat to parenting lately. I am so so not the perfect parent. Balance is just that balance, sometimes to sways more one way than the other.

    I hope you have a fabulous vacation.

  35. the truth is you are so perfect in your imperfectness. you are human – raw and beautiful and full of wonder, questionining, and learning.
    i am glad you are listening to your heart and letting go of some of the things that have kept you from being completely free.
    these things will come again, they are never lost.
    for now, you take a scenic detour in your path.
    xoxo

  36. You just wrote most of MY story. Last Sunday, I had an anxiety attack because I too do so much for everyone else. I ended up finding a therapist by Tuesday and have been 2x to help get things back in perspective.

    Wish I were at the conference!

  37. You just wrote most of MY story. Last Sunday, I had an anxiety attack because I too do so much for everyone else. I ended up finding a therapist by Tuesday and have been 2x to help get things back in perspective.

    Wish I were at the conference!

  38. I was just talking about this with a friend the other day…very insightful post. I feel the same way so much of the time. Too many balls to juggle, yet we feel it is our job to do it anyway.

    Gotta love motherhood…I do!

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