Standing amidst the rows of home decor, I’m faced with daunting questions: Should I buy the galvanized tray and candles for the entryway or fill a basket with some silk flowers? Will that charming mason jar wall sconce work in the family room, even though the wood finish doesn’t match the clock I just hung?
(I really kinda hate that I notice these things.)
I often describe myself as a recovering perfectionist: This glimpse at my home decorating shenanigans is but one example of these tendencies. I gaze around my sweetly decorated home and tell myself I do this because I’m creative and I feel inspired by good design and pretty things. Those things are true, but they are only half the story.
The other truth is that decorating is something I can control. Crafting a family room, complete with coordinating pillow covers, gives me a way to achieve a bit of the perfection that I’m utterly unable to attain in the messiness of my ordinary, everyday life.
So I fold the blanket and arrange it over the arm of the chair and arrange the throw pillows on the couch at the end of busy days—because for the briefest moment, I can taste a bit of that order my soul constantly craves.
If only throw pillows were the only thing I try to control.
Thankfully, after a month or two of obsessing after our recent move, my quest for home perfection has faded. God’s given me this wonderfully snarky conscience that tells me: “You spent the whole decorating budget already. Now go home and be happy with your farmhouse pitcher and potted herbs.”
But there are so many areas where this desire for order, control, and perfection still pulls at my heart. And nowhere is the tug more fierce than my desire to be a perfect mom:
- I strive for the perfect family schedule, complete with always finished homework and permission slips handed in on time.
- I strive for the perfect family “heart,”a family that’s grateful and serves together instead of getting caught up in our own stuff.
- I strive for the perfect extracurricular activities for my kids, the ones that will help them develop the perfect gifts and talents that will help them achieve success.
- I strive toward perfect character development, for the perfect spiritual influence on my kids.
- I strive to handle every parenting scenario with perfect wisdom, perfect poise.
I fail at all of this, of course. I never pull off perfect, and if I’m being honest, there are many days I don’t even pull off “good enough.” But I want to. Oh how I want to be this wonderful, godly mom. Because really? I’m so desperately afraid I won’t be enough. That my failures will lead to my kids’ lack. Lack of character, lack of opportunity, lack of friendship or skill or happiness.
When my kids were toddlers, it often felt like I could provide what they needed—a bowl of Goldfish crackers, a silly face, or a nap could take care of most problems. As they’ve grown older, I find myself bumping up against the walls of my own limitations. I can’t control my kids’ behavior, no matter how many lectures or punishments or rewards I dole out. I can’t control their every circumstance and challenge.
Most infuriating of all? I can’t control their hearts! I can’t make them thoughtful, or kind, or or courageous. I can’t force them to love the things I do, or to make the choices I want.
But I sure do try. Because that quest for a “perfect family” isn’t really about perfection, is it? What I’m really after is control. And while control issues can crop up in many areas of life: This is where I fight my fiercest battle: It’s incredibly hard to surrender control of my family, the dearest people in my world.
Like most moms, I pour out my energy and sacrifice my time, over and over and over—hoping it will somehow make a difference for my kids. Sometimes, this is noble and right and pure. Sometimes, this is noble and right and pure.
But other times? All that striving and pushing and trying so hard to keep things under control? Sometimes it’s just disobedience to the One who really holds our families’ together.
The Price Our Kids Pay
God knows, the harder we aim for perfect, the more we’ll get tripped up by the illusion that we have control. I’m haunted by a phrase used by Anne Morrow Lindburgh, written decades ago in her book, Gift From the Sea: She described modern woman as living in state of “torn-to-piece-hood.”
When we live under the false notion that we control family life, we just have to keep trying harder, moving faster, and juggling more precariously to hold on. Our hearts get torn to pieces, indeed.
And while we’re trying to hold it all together, our kids will feel it, on a deep level—that pressure to perform, to keep us happy. That quiet fear that mom is a heartbeat away from becoming undone. We place a burden of unrealistic expectations and anxiety on little shoulders that were never meant to carry them.
As I’m maturing into this “middle season” of parenting, I’m being challenged, more and more to let go. To say “no” to my inner desire for control. To give time and space for God to work before jumping in with my own agenda.
I’m going to make mistakes as a mom. And my kids are going to have failures too. That’s life. There is no perfect. There is no mom who achieves the perfect kids, because there are no perfect kids. There are just people—full of both awe-inspiring abilities and heartbreaking shortcomings.
And a God who has the ability to do something beautiful with all of it, if I will just get out of the way.
Friends, let’s give up this mirage of a perfect family. Because it’s a myth that will suck us all dry. Our kids don’t need a mom who’s perfect. Or a mom who tries to keep up with the things every other mom seems to be doing. They need a mom who’s at peace.
“Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.” (Isa. 40:38-31)
There’s only one perfect Parent. And He is still at work in our families even when we are imperfect. Even when we stumble and grow weak. So let’s trust him already! And quit trying so hard to make everything perfect and easy for our families.
Yes, I will probably keep straightening those throw pillows and aligning the picture frames just so—old habits die hard. But when it comes to my family, I’m trying to let go of perfect. To be okay with things that are out of my control.
I’m learning to rest in the One who loves my family even more than I.