The Spectrum of Perfection
I recently read this on a Facebook parenting group: “I've been really feeling like the bar is just too damn high. Not that I'm even shooting for the bar, but it feels so far from reality that it's overwhelming.” Not too long before I read that post I spoke with a parent who I think is amazing. She has a hard time thinking of herself that way. The day we met she shared a funny thing that her son, who is on the Autism spectrum, said to her. In sharing this story she made a sarcastic, self-deprecating comment to me about her lack of perfection. I looked back at her and said “there’s a spectrum of perfection!” She laughed knowing how varied the spectrum of symptoms, behaviors, needs and frustrations children with Autism present, and realized perhaps she should offer herself the same kindness and empathy she gives to her son.
Between this amazing woman, this recent post, and so many similar posts and discussions I’ve had with parents, I started thinking about today’s drive towards perfection. I began focusing on this and the guilt and sense of failure parents feel when they don’t live up to an unattainable goal. The anxiety and self-doubt it sews. Growing up today is tough, way tougher than when I was growing up. And as a result, parenting today is tough, way tougher than when my parents were doing it. The expectations placed on parents – by themselves, by Facebook posts of “perfection” and by a large part of society – are just unrealistic.
To be a parent is a blessing, but it is also a challenge. No one will push your buttons like your own child. No one will make you question your decisions, your statements, and your actions like your own child. No one will make you at times feel completely inept and like a total failure the way your own child can – with a pout, with a tantrum, and sometimes with a sarcastic, snide remark while walking out the door. Yes, parenting has always been hard; but there seems to be something happening in our society today that is making parents feel like some days it’s just damn impossible. I say this because I want parents out there to know they are not alone. It’s okay to have a day when all you’d really like to do is curl up in a ball and hide for a while. It’s okay to not want to show up for the umpteenth little league game. It’s okay to be short tempered every now and then when your toddler is having a tantrum in the hot sun on a busy city sidewalk. It’s okay not to validate your child’s feelings when they are screaming “I hate you” because you won’t let them watch another 45 minutes of TV or go to a friend’s house.
It. Is. Okay. You are not alone. If may feel that way, but you are not alone.
Given today’s parenting pressures I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “spectrum of perfection.” In truth the spectrum is simply allowing yourself the kindness and forgiveness of not being perfect; of seeing your own high, and yes, low moments of parenting. I often tell people to be kind to themselves. It is when we are kind to ourselves and mindful of simply being human that we can perhaps find a way to see our moments of perfection, because in truth that is all there are – moments. There are no perfect DAYS in parenting (and when they come it’s like seeing Bigfoot – you question “did that really just happen?!”), but there are many perfect moments. There is the moment when you manage to be the calm and understanding force that can help your child verbalize frustrations rather than continue to tantrum or withdraw. There is the moment when you are so involved in the joy of playing with your child that you don’t notice all the other kids have left the park. There is the moment when you are the person your child seeks out in a crowd as they are handed a degree after years of struggle, because you both know you’ve been in it together with all your high and low moments on the spectrum of perfection. Here’s the thing, as so many have said before me, without the lows, without the imperfections, there would be no highs, no moments of perfection. It is our imperfect moments, the low end of the spectrum, that make life real and that lead to the true and deep and meaningful perfect moments. Without the flaws and the challenges and the “not meeting the bars” you’d never get to the perfect moments. And within those perfect moments there is a spectrum.
Parenting is messy. There are highs and lows and lots of times in between. It is so important to offer yourself the reality of being flawed. Kids are not perfect and we accept them and support them, and sure, some days they drive us up a wall, but we love them with everything we are; and what’s more, we see the perfection within them. We see their spectrum of perfection. Yet, so many parents today don’t allow themselves the same kindness, the same spectrum. If you do one thing tonight do this: stop and think, be mindful about your spectrum of perfection. Was it all “perfect” today? Probably not. Does your child know that they are loved and valued? Do they know that you support them and believe in them? Do they know that you will show up whenever, however and wherever they need you? Probably, and if that’s the case then you fall well within the spectrum of perfection and you are in fact a “perfect” parent. And if you’re not sure how to answer those questions, offer yourself the kindness of forgiveness; accept your imperfections and start again tomorrow. Perfection is static. It is an ideal. It is inflexible. By not being perfect, by allowing yourself a spectrum, you gift yourself with the ability to change what you do and who you are. You gift yourself with the ability to find your spectrum of perfection.
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