Why and How I Let Go of Perfection in Motherhood
On a grocery run this week, as I was browsing through the pretty mother’s day cards, a quote by author Jill Churchill caught my attention: “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” I really wish I’d come across and understood these words back in Jan 2003, the year I became a new mom. Life would have been a lot less stressful, to say the least. And which mom doesn’t need less stress? Especially when simultaneously dealing with a chronic illness like Hashimoto’s. Why did I make life tougher by trying to be a perfect mother?
A huge part of my healing process this year has been to let go of perfection and control. Thankfully, this has seamlessly translated even into my role as a mom.
I’ll be honest. I used to be a controlling mom. I didn’t mean to be. It was just a side effect of wanting everything to be perfect for my little girl. I was quite obsessed about what N ate, the clothes she picked out, her homework/grades, her after-school activities, gosh, even her skin and hair quality (is this an Indian mom thing?). Too much of my physical and mental energy was spent making sure everything was the best it could be for her - and of course, only I knew what was best 😬. I always meant well, but somewhere along the way, my good intentions would turn into an obsession that wasn’t healthy. When things didn’t go the way I thought they needed to or she didn’t do as I wanted, I often got anxious or irritable and eventually lost my temper.
I rarely get that way now.
Lately, my focus has been on loving N and her company - even when she doesn’t see things my way or does the complete opposite of what I ask 😒. Of course, I still grocery shop and cook for her, help her pick out new clothes, provide guidance with homework and other activities, and continue to give her hair, skin and nutrition tips. I just can’t seem to bite my tongue quick enough when it comes to nutrition/health as yet (sigh). What’s changed now - and this is key - is that my words and actions come more and more from a place of love, and less and less from a place of fear.
I’ve come to realize the immense power that fear had over me. I was a victim of fear for years and didn’t even know it. Fear disguised as perfection. Always anxious of N’s grades, afraid of what people thought of how she dressed or spoke, afraid of her not making it to a good college if she didn’t have a varsity sport or other passion, afraid that she would never find her passion, anxious of her getting cystic acne and losing half her hair (like me), anxious that she might develop leaky gut or an autoimmune disorder if she didn’t eat right (she already has eczema after all). It was this anxiety and fear that drove my mommyhood for years - cleverly disguised as perfection.
Realization and awareness of my behavior was the first step towards changing it. Now when I catch myself being controlling or wanting something a certain way for N, I stop and ask myself - “What is it that I’m afraid might happen in the future?”. I follow that with a gentle reminder to live instead in the present. The present moment which can either be filled with love, patience and peace (even when things aren’t going my way) or filled with anxiety, anger, frustration and guilt. Guilt for losing my cool, which would likely be followed by a soothing dark chocolate, coconut ice-cream or biryani binge 😩 - which my fragile gut definitely doesn’t need. Yes, even professional nutrition coaches can have a weak moment. We are human too.
Letting go of this fear also meant embracing trust. Trust that everything would be alright, if or when we do hit a bump in the road. Trust in our capacity to be able to handle a disaster, should it arise.
The insights and the related behavior change required to let go of perfection are most definitely a consequence of adopting functional nutrition and lifestyle techniques as well. As I got healthier, I also consequently became: 1) More aware of my behavior and 2) More able to change and control my behavior. I'm rarely at the mercy of PMS or mood swings now. I have more energy than I did in the past, and so I'm significantly less irritable. Clearing brain fog has meant being less in my head, and instead, being more aware of and in the present moment. Also, I'm not fighting physiological depression and anxiety any longer. As a result, life is simply less stressful and increasingly more beautiful.
Stress is associated with autoimmune illness. To truly heal from Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, I knew I had to let go of the root cause of my stress - perfectionism, which was especially apparent in my role as a mother.
I only try to be a good one now, and if there are a million ways to be a good mother, as Jill Churchill says there are, then I’m sure they all begin and end with love and kindness.
Happy Mother’s Day. 💝