Why Your Kids Need You to Let Go of Perfect: And the Price They Pay When You Don’t
It’s a little ridiculous how much time I can spend deliberating choices at Hobby Lobby. Frankly, I try to avoid the store when possible, because I recognize it for the time-sucking vortex it is.
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.
Amy this is so beautiful! I think this is something every single mom understands and struggles with. I want so desperately to control my children’s lives because I don’t want them to be a mess like I was (am?). But I can’t. And it’s a reminder that I can only do so much and then I’m required to give the rest to God. That’s hard.
It’s hard to find the balance isn’t it? We can’t just say “oh well, I’m not perfect” and use it as an excuse for lazy parenting… yet we’ll never get to perfect either. One of those tensions we have to hold as Christian parents. And clearly, I don’t like tension! 🙂
I so needed to read this today after an evening of not so perfect parenting. You hit the nail in the head–Perfect is a pretty name for control. The Lord has put me in a lot of positions this past year where I had to give control up. And I am a much better mom because if it. I find when I try to take up too much control that I actually defeat my ultimate goal of being a godly mom, wife, and woman. Thank you fto sharing!
Amen sister! I feel like that theme of “letting go” has been popping up all over the place for me lately. Probably because God knows how very hard it is for me! Praying you have a fresh start today and God blesses your with some parenting “wins”! 🙂
Oh Amy, you resonate with my heart. My momma is in the process of dying and what I have learned through this process is that all the things she did that bugged the living daylights out of me doesn’t bother me anymore. I wanted her to be the perfect momma, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t her place to be perfect for me. It is like you said there is only One perfect parent. Perfection is a hard life to live and makes you weary. Jesus wants us to perfect our love for Him and all those He places in our lives. I will never be perfect, but I know that God will perfectly love us! Oh and I am a pillow queen too….Do you think 17 pillows on a bed is too much? LOL
I’m sorry to hear about your mom, Sheila. Sounds like you’ve been blessed with a lot of wisdom and insight through this season with her. And as far as 17 throw pillows on a bed–I’m sure it’s beautiful! (And hey, better to let our control issues fester with pillows than with people, right?!)
Beautiful. I love the self-awareness with which you write. Really genuine and wise post.
I understand this struggle! Trying to keep everything under control was, I think, what led me to an anxiety problem.
I can’t control everything, a lot of life living in Christ is learning to surrender and trust. It’s a learning process.
I’m finding that the more I admit to the struggle, the more I find people on the other side saying “yup, me too.” I think it will always be a struggle–but it’s so much better to struggle in community!
I’ve given up trying to be perfect. It’s an illusion for sure. The best thing we can do is use our failures to point to Jesus.
This is great and something I think many of us mothers struggle with. I esp struggle with control when it comes to my adopted son. I so bad want to work hard and fix things but I’ve learned to give it to God to heal him from his trauma.
Praying for wisdom as you walk alongside your son in his healing, Heather. And the faith to keep hoping in God’s timing and plan. 🙂