Hi, my name’s Amelia, and I’m an addict. I’ve been addicted to perfection for about five and a half years now. It all began when I found myself spending hours reciting the alphabet with exaggerated facial expressions to an infant. Now, two more kids have joined the first, and I find myself worrying about their academic, social, and physical successes daily. I am addicted to perfection in myself, my children, and my home.
Any addict will tell you that the first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem. As mothers, it is hard not to take the little setbacks of our children (and the cleanliness of our home) personally because the stakes seem so high. We are bombarded with studies and advertisements claiming that with just a little extra effort, and five payments of $19.95, our children can be geniuses as well as socially and financially successful.
At the same time, research warns us that a child’s first years are formative and one little mess up can doom them to a life of despair, obesity, and failure. While some of this information helps us to reach our potential as mothers and enrich our children’s lives, it also puts more pressure on women who are already so eager to do all they can for their children.
All too often, this adds up to women so focused on the needs of their children, family, spouses, and work that they forget they too have personal needs: women addicted to perfection.
Now, I use the term “perfection” loosely here. I don’t think many women honestly claim their children, home, or husband are perfect. However, almost all women have a picture in their minds of what perfect children, home, and husband look like and will aspire to achieve this image in some small way. Like the bait at the dog track, that image looms over us, ever pushing us to do better.
Women are so effective that they can keep going for quite some time before the side effects start kicking in, but eventually burnouts, illness, insomnia, depression, and shortness of temper will rear their ugly heads. When they do, it is time to recognize that things have to change.
After recognizing you have a problem, the second step is fitting healthy self-care into your daily schedule. As I made my son’s lunch this morning, doing the potty dance so vigorously even my husband noticed it because I’d been too busy taking care of the kids to go to the bathroom, I realized that I was putting my children’s needs before my own inappropriately. Just like you need to put on your own oxygen mask in the plane before you can help someone else, as women, sometimes we need to take care of our personal needs before we can effectively take care of our family’s.
Personal needs are just that: personal. Everyone has different things that validate them as a person and help them cope with the stress of life better. For some, it is yoga, others, a quiet cup of tea. Figure out something or somethings that work for you and work them into your schedule. It may seem a little selfish to insist on having “me-time,” but you need to remember that a little “me-time” recharges you for the “us-time.”
To clarify, I am not talking three hours at the spa every day. I am talking about something meaningful to you to maintain your sense of personal identity and accomplishment. When you take time to remember who you are as an individual away from the family, there will be more of you to give to the family. Figure out your personal needs and fit them into your daily routine.
Here’s the challenge I’m accepting to overcome my addiction: think up a personal-care bag of tricks for those days when you notice you’ve forgotten to put on your own oxygen mask. Have some short 5 to 15 minute activities and a few longer ones. Choose one to give yourself a little break whenever you need it. Then, you can go back to reciting the alphabet with exaggerated facial expressions, and they’ll be happy ones.
QUESTION: What is one thing you can do in five minutes that rejuvenates you for “us-time?”
CHALLENGE: Create a personal “bag of tricks” (figurative or literal) that includes 5 to 15 minute activities for yourself that give you a break or recharge you. Sprinkle these throughout your day or week. You may be delightfully surprised to find yourself fresher, more patient, and more focused than before.