Imperfect MotherhoodPosted: November 8, 2011
November is the month when I became a mother. Twice. Both girls have their birthdays this month. It makes for a fair amount of craziness, with parties, presents, and the December holidays right around the corner.
My friend Amie always sends a greeting to her mom friends for the occasion: “Happy birth day to you!” It’s so true — the occasion of your child turning a year older is a milestone for you, as well. You think about the events surrounding their entry into the world: how you felt, how it went, how long it took, the funny moments, the scary moments. Every year I remind each of them of the time of day they were born, and when we get to that hour and minute of the day, we acknowledge it. I do that on my own birthday, as well.
I think about how I handled motherhood then, and how I manage it now. How far I’ve come.
My girls are 8 and (almost) 6, and being a mother feels much, much better now than it did, say, six years ago. With a newborn and a 2-year-old, I was the very picture of a complete wreck. I was wracked with guilt over not being able to be 100 percent there for each daughter 100 percent of the time. That’s impossible, of course. Nevertheless, I flogged myself emotionally because I could not attain that level of perfection. I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. Sometimes I’d go under, anger and despair flooding my lungs. When I emerged again, I’d be exhausted. I’d sleep (for as long as I could in those days with very young kids) and just desperately hope for the best the next day.
I crashed and burned, hit my own personal rock bottom. And then I started the careful climb back up. Yoga has been a huge part of that for me. It helped me find my center again — or maybe truly find it for the very first time. It helped me to learn balance, and acceptance, and to practice being in the present moment. It helped me to create a container for my emotions, a way to process them from a safe and strong place. It helped me to feel more certain when things are uncertain.
Today in class, my teacher Lisa’s words really resonated with my thoughts about motherhood. There is no perfection in the universe, she said; if everything was perfectly balanced, all we’d have would be stasis. And that’s impossible, because there’s always movement, always a pulsation, or spanda, starting with our own breath.
In nature, in the world, there’s never absolute perfection. Everything is always slightly off, slightly crooked or uneven. That doesn’t mean there can’t be balance; it means that in any given situation, the balancing point is different. We’re always trying to achieve that balance. But if we start from the assumption of perfection, we’ll never get there. Perfection is rigid, and rigidity doesn’t offer stability. We need a bit of leeway in order to find the balancing point. We need to be self-aware enough to know how much energy to apply to bring something into balance. Sometimes it’ll be more, and sometimes less. There’s no one thing we can do to nail it every single time. That concept doesn’t even truly exist.
As mothers we are constantly fighting against our need to be perfect, our need to compare ourselves to other women and the job they’re doing, and to beat ourselves up whenever we make a mistake or a misstep. We don’t always trust our instincts, even though with time and experience every mother realizes that her instinct about her own children is the truest and wisest voice she can listen to. What’s more important than striving for perfection is striving to know ourselves well enough that we can decide in each situation, in each moment, how much energy and exertion to apply in order to bring something that’s a little off into balance.
We’ve got everything we need. The one thing we really don’t need, that we should let go of with joy and relief, is the need to be perfect.