“The grass is always greener on the other side.”
I remember first hearing this phrase while watching a Saturday morning cartoon. I don’t remember which one, but I remember the character stepping onto their neighbor’s perfectly green grass and sinking up to his knees in water. I laughed so hard at the image and I didn’t even understand the punchline. Now I understand, and it is not that funny, just sadly familiar.
Pinterest is my best friend and worst enemy. Admittedly, I collect far more pins then I will ever actually use, waste far more time then I should spend in front of a screen in a week and I have no plans or aspirations of giving it up. You see, I am a recovering perfectionist but I still crave inspiration and my biggest problem is comparing what I see to what I have. I have had to tell myself repeatedly, that the pins I post to my various boards are not pictures of what my life should look like but rather a myriad of ideas from which I can pick and choose inspiration, like those choose your own adventure books I used to read.
Being a perfectionist and comparing myself to others is not something I see as a positive trait. It took me years to realize that this had become a problem. Over time it has lead to issues with procrastination, anxiety and stress because I get these ideas of what things should look like in my head and I get annoyed with myself if I cannot properly create my ideal or I shut down in anticipation of failure.
Because of this I have struggled with my choice to be a SAHM instead of returning to the workforce. I have agonized over being unable to both homeschool and chase academic pipe dreams, because living on a single military income with a family of six is hard enough without adding in the expenses that accompany the pursuit of knowledge. I have budgeted and re-budgeted, cutting corners everywhere possible, just so that we can afford to fund the interests of our precocious children (like Piano lessons, Robotics class and Hands on Science courses) while crying over being unable to fund others (like ballet, guitar lessons and gymnastics). I have stressed and pestered my husband late into the night with what if scenarios regarding the choice to unschool instead of buying a curriculum. I have a house full of half started projects and DIY’s that I am too afraid to finish because I am afraid of messing it up. I have piles of fabric that were gifted to me that lay uncut because the fear and anxiety of failure cripples me. I know what pitfalls perfectionism and comparison carries and I want so much more for my children. Doesn’t every parent?
That is why I started trying to become an anti-perfectionist. I fight my perfectionist instincts by choosing and purposefully creating things that are less than perfect. I am trying to be more understanding of others in order to stop comparing myself to them. I am choosing to model imperfect success to my children. Like the delicious birthday cake that I made and decorated in a simple pink frosting with fresh fruit that would never be Pinterest worthy. It doesn’t look like a professional cake, it didn’t take hours of molding fondant but it was delicious and everyone wanted seconds. Yet, regardless of my efforts there are some areas that still bother me greatly, like a messy home and homeschooling.
The house is never quite clean enough and I try to talk myself into a good enough standard but it still gets under my skin. Sometimes I get this cockamamy idea that it also effects our productiveness. After all, a messy house needs to be cleaned and the time used for cleaning is time not being used for exploration of interests and ideas. In theory, the cleaning is learning. At first it was. At first, sorting through the toys and hanging the clothes were considered math. Making the beds and checking off chores were routines and part of our health discussion but when we are spending several hours a week on sorting and their regular math includes multiplication tables then the worrying begins…the never ending “is it enough” questioning worms its way into my vocabulary. That virus of a thought that buries its way through my consciousness destroying my anti-perfectionist revolution.
My rebellious attitude is crushed singularly. I no longer see the learning that occurs while the toys are being put away. I no longer have the patience to work with the Imaginational over excitabilities that seemingly disrupt the most simple tasks and my temper explodes unwittingly, damaging my carefully constructed perfect mom form. Am I doing enough, causes a lack of awareness within me that blinds me to the weekly field trips we make to the Wildlife refuge, Farm or DC museum. I instantly forget the monthly plays and concerts we attend. I forget the wealth of information that gets passed through the doors of our minivan as we drive, everything from the trajectories of airplanes landing at BWI to owls as birds of prey who devour small mammals.
I think to myself that if only I worked too, then perhaps we could afford to sign the children up for falconry lessons (as asked for by the 7 year old) or archery (as asked for by the 6 year old) or violin lessons (my 4 year old is obsessed with string ensembles and loves the sound of the violin). I wonder if living in this apartment (although it is temporary and nothing more than a transition for us) is stunting their growth because we can’t just go outside whenever we want and running or jumping inside is just too rude to the people below us. I obsess over whether or not my own depression and fibromyalgia keeps me from doing enough hands on learning. We read about 15 books a week at minimum and during a good week we read close to 40 and yet I question whether or not I read to them enough.
I see these moms online who do lapbooks, who have sensory bins and quiet books and I think they have it all together. Or at least I think that their children must have an amazing learning environment, completely ignoring the environment I create at home in the process! I know women like this personally too. Women that do amazing things and I think that maybe I should be more like that, do more like them.
I mentioned my jealousy once, about two years ago, to a Facebook friend who had read her fourth full book in a week while I was still struggling with the first chapter of the book I picked up 6 months ago, her response changed my outlook forever.
“Yeah, I read lots of books but I also have two kids and you have four, mine are several years apart where yours are close together and I ignore my kids. Well not really ignore them but they don’t need me to do lots of stuff with them anymore, they are more independent and you are always going places with yours.”
I was comparing my toddler/preschool/homeschooling stage in life to her SAHM of elementary and almost kindergarten aged stage of life. I was not being fair to anyone with that comparision and I didn’t even think about how different both situations were!
All of those moms I read about online, yeah, not one of those moms are perfect either. Not one of those moms are in the exact same place that I am. Not one of them have it all together. In fact I would bet money that every single one is also plagued with the question of “is it enough.” I cannot compare my imperfection with my perception of perfection in others. Everyone is less than perfect. I had to realize that real moms and dads are not only less than perfect but that they also value vastly different things and as a result our priorities look different. So what may look like perfection is not really perfection at all, it is, however, a different set of values. To illustrate this I will use three of my best friends, each family in a vastly different scenario and each one inspiring in their own right. (DISCLAIMER: These are quick snippets into their very complex lives, looking at only one priority each and by no means a comprehensive analysis)
This friend who loves to cook, has a home cooked, from scratch meal made every single night by the time her husband comes home, even though she has three very small children. Not because that’s something every mom needs to have done but because for her that is important. It is part of how she shows her love to her family. She doesn’t let her young children watch more than an hour of TV in a day and her living room is filled with age appropriate toys which place her children in view of her kitchen at almost all times. She needs this because sometimes she starts working on various aspects of dinner during the morning when her children are engaged in another activity, like making meatballs for spaghetti at 10 am while her children munch on a morning snack. She has prioritized her fringe time and organized her menu in such a way that works for her and her schedule.
This friend of mine always has an immaculate house and is always advocating for the special needs of her three school aged children ranging from pre-k to high school. She is the epitome of a momma bear, constantly volunteering in her community and school while also happily working her behind off all day long to have a clean house at the end of the day because it is the most important thing for her. To an outsider it may look like she is always on the go but she has purpose in every action and prioritizes her day in such a way that allows for the cultivation of relationships and organizing her cleaning around her schedule.
This friend works full time and runs a non profit organization on the side benefiting families of children with serious medical problems. She is one of the most amazing women I know and her children are some of the most loved I have ever met. Her house is beautiful, her meals thought out but it also takes her an hour to get to and from work every day. She spends her weekends working at her non-profit with her children alongside her, building the most wonderful memories in the process. I am regularly in awe at how close knit they are as a family and hope that one day my teens and tweens will be as considerate as her’s are.
None of these women do this because of some misogynistic idea ingrained into their psyche by old fashioned upbringings or as an attempt to prove anything. They each do this everyday because it makes them feel accomplished at the end of the day which in turn makes them feel great. Each woman working towards her own goals and following her own ideals. I love going to visit all of them, every time I step into their homes I can feel the warmth of their love radiating throughout the environment and all of them amaze me regularly.
At the end of the day, each of us places a value on certain things and there are different proportions of value for each person and family based on their unique situations and temperaments. What these women have is not perfection, it’s an organization of time based on the priorities they deam important. They manage their homes, work and lives in a manner that fits them…we all do even if we do it subconsciously.
My house is not always cleaned, I do not always get around to dinner and I don’t work outside my home but I do place a huge amount of effort into nurturing the relationships within our home while also creating an environment filled with room for exploration and creativity. For me that is the most important thing. I would rather read a book out loud over tea for two hours than spend that time working on a nice dinner. I would also rather make sandwiches to eat as we rush off to Robotics than setting up a sit down meal at home, because for me that experience is important. I would easily drive 45 mins in rush hour traffic to get to a museum in DC to see dinosaurs, sometimes by myself with four small kids, before it opens rather than use that time to prepare all the materials necessary to create an amazing lap book filled with printouts and graphs. That lap book looks amazing, I think it would be so cool to do but when it comes down to the price of time and having to choose, I prefer to see in person while we live close enough to even be able to. One choice is not better than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive, one day I may choose to go ahead and do that lap book. These are my preferences and they will probably change several times over the years as our values gradually adapt to new stages in our life.
The other key to escaping the grip of perceived perfectionism is the idea of a fluid life. The concept that like water, we flow through various places over a lifetime, never made up of exactly the same particles. Even when we think we are standing still, we are still constantly changing. My circumstances may on the surface be the same as yours but in the end we are different people with different lives. The stage at which I am currently living is vastly different than the one I struggled with last year. I am growing and changing as a person, as a mother and as an educator. The philosophies I once believed to be absolute truth regarding education may no longer apply although they might hold a comeback tour several years from now. So, if I can’t even compare my now-self with my then-self how on earth can I compare to a completely separate person living a vastly different life?
Honestly though, do I still compare? Absolutely! Do I still create a mental image of what should be? Well, unfortunately, yes. Do I still ask myself if I am doing enough? All the time. The biggest difference for me is that the anti-perfection revolution has already begun internally and the rebellion is growing so much that the question for me has changed from “is the grass greener on the other side?” to “do I even really like mowing the lawn?”
How about you?