Lauren shares her realization that perfectionism isn’t part of the equation when it comes to parenting. Lauren’s words certainly hit home for myself and I’m sure they will for you as well. Her example and humility speak volumes to those of us who need to understand that sometimes a good effort is all you should expect from yourself.
I have a history of recurrent dreams. The first one I remember is from my childhood, maybe at age seven or eight. I am a circus master in charge of a three-ring circus. I stand on top of a big, round stand in the middle of the center ring. Everyone is looking at me. I am peacefully directing the elephants. They all link trunks to tails, circling gracefully around the ring. Everyone beams and smiles. I am in charge of this! As planned, I cue the elephants to stop and switch directions. I confidently gesture to them… and then all hell breaks loose. They have no idea what I’m asking and they run wildly throughout the big tent, knocking things over and running into people. Everyone screams. And they look at me with blame in their eyes. The spotlight is fixed to me. I run away, but I can’t get away from it.
I haven’t had that dream since I was 10 or so, but the metaphor is clear to me. Parenting is like this. I have high hopes of running a smooth show. After all, I’m prepared, I’m blessed with a few resources, I’m generally even-tempered, and I wish the best for my kids. But the show is much more complex than I imagine, and there are so many factors at work. Despite my best intentions to plan the day so that my two boys will have enough energy, enough patience, enough interest, things are often challenging. I confess readily that this has not been an easy lesson for me to learn!
My oldest is almost four-and-a-half and our youngest son, weighing in at 36 pounds and facing the world like one of those determined elephants from my childhood circus, will be two this summer. These two wonderful beings have been the greatest teachers for me, teachers I didn’t know I needed and didn’t expect.
There are no awards in motherhood, no frequent affirmations. As an excellent student and someone well-versed in meeting others’ expectations, I thrived in my first two-and-a-half decades on recognition from others of my efforts in the classroom and athletic settings. Not always the most gifted, I did frequently earn the Most Dedicated Award. Nobody’s standing around handing those out now, either.
My most recent recurring dream — one I’ve been having since I became a mother — centers around being a student again. I am taking a full slate of classes and can’t keep track of all of my homework and assignments. I can’t even find where one of my classes is located. It’s some complex class on history, and I am well aware that I haven’t attended regularly and that I have a bunch of assignments missing. (In particular, I’m supposed to read this 500 page book and I’m stuck in chapter one.) I live in fear of failing. I keep asking to be withdrawn from the class, but they won’t let me. I wake with this unease in my belly. So much undone. So much I don’t even know I have to do!
Just a couple of weeks ago, this same dream went differently. I went to the front desk to seek approval from the school to drop the class. Usually, no one’s there and I spend a huge portion of the dream searching. This time, a nice lady sat behind the desk. She told me I couldn’t drop the class (oh no!), that the semester had concluded already. But she did have my report card.
Oh God, I thought. I’ve failed. I haven’t done it all, and there’s been all this chaos, and nothing’s gone as planned, and I’ve failed. She handed me a piece of official-looking paper. I scanned it. Two A’s, two B’s… and a C in the class I had such trouble finding.
I was elated! And this was news to me. As a teacher for over a decade, I’ve always told my perfectionist students I wish I had earned more B’s in school, that I’d looked around and given myself a break now and again. But I don’t think I truly believe myself when I say that. B’s broke my heart. They were less than perfect. I could have done better. So I get it when my students look at me like, “Yeah, right. Be okay with a B?”
But this dream has left me with a revelation: I got a C in the class I was so anxious about. I was obsessed over it each time I had this dream. And when I got the report card this time, I was so relieved! I passed! It’s over! It’s no longer hanging over me! Yes!
I aim to see this dream as my own inner teacher. I make mistakes parenting my sons every day, I’m an imperfect spouse, and my house isn’t even always tidy. But I am doing pretty well!
It is easy to say, we all know: It’s my own approval that matters. I don’t need a repeat of the Einstein Award (seriously, they handed those out in eighth grade) or another medal or ribbon to tell me I’m worthy of my own respect. I am imperfect. I cannot run the three-ring circus alone. I cannot do it all today. But nobody can.