When Perfectionism Meets Sentiment

If you haven't already noticed, I'm a perfectionist. My original blog (www.mutteringsfromaperfectionist.blogspot.com) was completely dedicated to this fact. I am also really sentimental. I have been ever since I was a little kid. I grieved the end of the school year. I grieved the end of the summer. Transition was not impossible, but definitely something I was aware of, even as a young child. 

Fast forward to mothering. I've found that when my perfectionism collides with sentiment around transition, I can get into a kind of beast mode, in the craziness, possibly unhealthy way that you can imagine. This has not been more clear to me than this week. This is Macy's last full week of summer. She starts 3rd grade on Wednesday next week. And Penny starts preschool the following week, so the start of school looms large. So naturally, I'm trying to cram in all the fun things we haven't gotten to do this summer in our final week. That seems almost reasonable. But then you throw in that I'm currently coaching 3 people to do a business alongside me. And I have an event in my home this weekend. And my best friend is coming to town. And another friend had a baby, which involves hospital visits, meals to coordinate and food to cook. And Tim got strep over the weekend so as far as co-parenting goes, has been completely useless (reasonably so). He's absolutely miserable and still working because he has an awesome important job. Oh, and I'M DOING A CLEANSE. Which means for the 5 days of this week, I have completely altered my diet. See the crazy? Yes, I see the crazy. 

I'm hoping as I sift through my perfectionism and learn to give myself grace that just the awareness of crazy counts for something. I can see it. I can feel it rising up. Now, the skill I learned in therapy was to give myself permission to stop and/or lighten the load I place on myself so heavily. And all week I've seen that option waiting in the wings. So far, I've opted not to take it. I don't want to take it. And that is my natural response to the ever-present option to pull back. I don't want to. Here's the thing: I don't want to pull back because I actually want to do what I'm doing. Maybe not all the crazy at the same time (some of the timing was beyond my control) but all the things? Yes. I know it's just this week and I'm not willing to give anything up. And so, I take naps and read my book and put wonderful nutrition in my body and laugh at myself. Perhaps the difference between crazy by choice is that this week, I made a deliberate choice rather than that feeling I used to get, like I was on a merry-go-round I could never stop. I know I can stop the crazy. I'm just happy to be crazy. And I know I'm not better or more loved for being this way. That has been the critical piece and actually what helps me enjoy the process, which I could never do before. Valuing process over product is completely the opposite of how a perfectionist mind evaluates activity. And while I'm still product-focused by nature, I know that I don't have to slug through a process I hate to achieve a perfect product or to be loved and accepted by my community. I get to tackle my life Tazmanian Devil style because that's my preference. So I'm here to tell myself this week: crazy on, solider, crazy on.

Deciding Who Will Be Your Inner Voice

As many of you know, I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I'm the youngest of 7 in a blended family and the only biological child that my parents share (picture the Brady Bunch but then they accidentally procreated - hollah!) My dad had a 20 year military career that ended in retirement before I was born (he went to the Naval Academy and everything), which I think greatly suited his perfectionist, procedural, cerebral mind. So you can imagine, the type of parenting I was exposed to being the youngest of a military, perfectionist, conservative, religious man. He was also 46 when I was born, so by the time I came around, he was also kind of "too old" to be raising another child, especially one so spirited. 

Sometimes I try to remember what kind of child I was. Chatty to the level of irritating, no doubt. Obedient most of the time, yes. Spirited, yes. But I also think I was pretty easily pleased with things (I didn't even know we didn't have money when I was little. I was very content and my parents were smart enough to not air their dirty laundry financially with their young children - well done). I knew when things weren't right and as I got older, learned to fight those things on my terms. When you're raised by a perfectionist, who loves you dearly, but is not expressive so it's hard to read, you reach a crossroads at some point. Am I going to make decisions based on trying to meet this person's (impossible) expectations or am I going to make decisions based on my own? I met this moment in 8th grade. I don't believe there was a specific impetus for my paradigm shift. It could have been another report card moment gone wrong (why isn't this A- an A type bullshit) but I'm not really sure. It just suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to be able to meet his expectations, not really. 

So the practical side of me clicked on and said, fuck that, what do I feel about say, my report card? I believed an A- was good enough for me. Time to move on. And I did. Yes, self-affirmation skills were a focus even in my adult therapy experiences in recent years. There isn't one moment where all the baggage disappears. But, in that light-dawning moment in 8th grade, my allegiances shifted from my father to myself. (Come to find out years later that he actually thinks I'm awesome...who knew?) The point is, when I realized that I got to decide if I was pleased with myself, satisfied with my performance, or looking to make changes based on what I thought, I became a full, real, separate person from my parents. The people pleasing thing knocks on my door periodically, no doubt. Many of the things I've written in my original blog posts (see www.mutteringsfromaperfectionist.blogspot.com) reflect that. But living by your own standards is such a critical piece of human development. 

This post was prompted by reading an article recently about raising "strong-willed children" and how that's actually kind of a great type of human to raise and maybe we shouldn't be trying to get them to obey so much. I view my childhood self as pretty obedient. But scrolling through my memories, as I grew up into junior high and high school, I started questioning my dad. Respectfully, but basically saying, this decision you made isn't right. It's irrational that you make a point of never changing your mind, that you're incapable of apology. It's fun to trace those lines back. I think that's where my clumsy advocacy stems from. It was always deeply emotional for me to go up against my dad. (I got to experience that again recently when I needed to tell him "I'm a grown-ass woman" when he called to outline the merits of a potential Trump presidency to me knowing that I'm a political progressive). I've learned to hold my own, to stand my ground, to draw my line in the sand. You have to ask for my consent to have these conversations. You get to listen to my ideas if you want me to listen to yours. And you know what? He respects me for it. We had a pretty sweet, albeit impromptu, meeting of the minds I ended up enjoying. But most importantly, regardless of his response, what really matters to me is that I respect myself for it too. I guess it pays to grow up.