Hi, my name is Kimberly, and I am a perfectionist.
I like to be in control. I like predictability. I like to be on time and to be prepared for whatever I’m going to. I like to be clean. I like things to be organized and to have a plan and stick to it. I expect the best from myself in everything I do.
Wait, so why am I a parent?
When Micah was born, a lot of things felt so natural. That nurturing instinct kicked in, and I was all over this mom thing. I loved it, and honestly, I was pretty darn proud of myself. After all, I had sustained a living person for nine months, then delivered him, and I didn’t even feel afraid to take him home from the hospital and out from the watchful eyes of post partum nurses. But then the exhaustion started to set in. And then he got colic. And, of course, there was the competition with Davy over who got less sleep. After about four weeks, I tried to leave the house for something with a definite timeline. I don’t remember where I was going, but I was an hour late, and I might have been crying when I got there.
It was then that I had a horrible realization. It hit me hard, and I am still trying to get back up from it: Life is messy, but life with kids is messier. From mom-day-one I have been shedding perfectionism in clumps. But like my dog, who sheds the most unbelievable amount of hair everyday and still manages to have a full and luscious coat of fur, leaving perfectionism behind is one of my daily struggles. I can self reflect and bite my tongue, take deep breaths and count to 500, and pray over and over and over, but this heavy coat still hangs on.
I started this post with a picture in mind. When I was two years old, I would line my stuffed animals along the edges of my bed. I took this picture of Micah’s trucks in May. He’s two.
This is typical of him – he always lines up his cars, trucks, or anything really, in straight lines. When he was about 13 months old, I walked into the kitchen and found eight cars abandoned in straight lines, according to type (wood or metal, train or car) and color. This is my son. It’s funny to laugh about and actually kind of endearing, but its also kind of scary. This, my big struggle, is what I’ve passed down to my son. And this, my big struggle, is where I as his mother have the responsibly to train him to overcome it. And this is where I give myself permission to have an internal freak out.
How on earth do I teach him to overcome something that I struggle with over and over, day after day? How do I give him the tools when I fumble around with them and use them as though I have two left hands? (And by the way, how ironic is it that I freak out about perfectly teaching my son to overcome perfectionism, and hold myself to an unrealistically high standard in portraying life as a non-perfectionist?)
I am a sinful person. As much as I wish I could admit that I’ve arrived at some kind of spiritual maturity that raises me above my most basic sins, having kids reminds me every single day that I would revel in the muck of my sin if it weren’t for the grace of Jesus in my life. And I mean that – I would revel in it. I would hone my perfectionism until it controlled our lives. I would nurture my pride instead of my family and Davy and I would have some serious issues. I would hold a count of all my sacrifices until bitterness took a root in my heart and the fruit I handed my family to eat would be like ashes in their mouths. If it weren’t for the cleansing of Jesus in my heart day after day, I would naturally rub that muck on myself and barrel forward, splattering my kids, my husband, and everyone I meet. And I would teach my son what to do with those tools for overcoming sin – let them rust in the filth.
My life is not about me anymore. It isn’t even about me finding freedom from my own sin just so that I can be free, although that’s definitely part of God’s plan. It’s about learning to follow Jesus determinedly, reaching my hands behind me to my kids and showing them the way. Not showing them because I’ve figured it out, but showing them because I haven’t. Showing them that overcoming sin is a lifelong process, an openness to God to be changed and cleansed, not once or twice or three times, but over and over and over.
Yes, we can get freedom from a specific sin, but I’m talking about learning a lifestyle of repentance and renewing. I will always struggle with perfectionism because it is part of my sin nature that won’t be shed until I reach heaven. I freely admit that I struggle and most definitely do not always make the right choice to run to Jesus. If only that could be my default response! But if my kids can see me fail, and then watch me pick up, turn toward my loving God for forgiveness, and keep trekking with Him, then maybe they’ll learn to do the same. Maybe their struggles with sin will be seen in the perspective of repentance and renewal, not reveling in the muck. Maybe if Micah sees me have grace with myself for a failure, he won’t set unreasonable standards for himself like I have. Maybe if he can watch me take a deep breath and step back from the temptation to control, he will learn flexibility. I want him to be able to watch me and learn to change. But, while I don’t line up my stuffed animals on the edge of my bed anymore, I can’t guarantee he will ever give up the love of lining up his trucks.