Long before a become a mom, I was a nanny, and let me tell you, no one knew how to raise other people’s children quite as well as I did.
I had an opinion on when (and where) kids should nap, how to get them to eat healthy foods, and what bedtime routines should look like. Surprisingly, I was able to stick to my ideals when it came to child rearing, due in no small part to the fact that I was only with the kids for a few hours every day.
I thought—no, I knew—that I had it all figured out. I was a great nanny, so naturally I would be a great mom. When I was pregnant with my first child I knew exactly what her infancy would look like: She would be exclusively breastfed, she would sleep in her own room, she would have a strict schedule, and, of course, she’d be potty trained by age 2 at the latest.
Here is where all the experienced moms are probably laughing (and for good reason). It turns out that children like to disrupt our well-laid plans. As a nanny it was easy to stay on track; I had the energy to constantly correct the kids and push back when they were breaking the rules since I got to go home at the end of the day, eat an uninterrupted dinner, and sleep for eight glorious hours. As an exhausted new mom, on the other hand, I realized that as long as I was keeping the baby alive, that was good enough. I was too tired to be that perfect parent I had always envisioned myself being.
Still, I felt the pressure to be the mom I always planned to be (and the mom that Facebook mommy groups told me I should be). I worried that my daughter was watching too much television, spending too much time at her grandmother’s, or playing too often on her own.
“Look at how happy she is,” my husband would say when I expressed concern. Still, I couldn’t let go. I often found myself feeling jealous about his laid back approach to “good enough” parenting, while I scrambled for perfection.
It all came to a head the summer that my daughter was 3. I had a miscarriage, a family dog died, and my aunt passed away—all within five weeks. Work was madness, and my marriage was stressful. I was in survival mode like never before.
All of a sudden self-care via embracing imperfection didn’t feel indulgent, it felt absolutely necessary. Sending my daughter for a night away wasn’t a luxury, it was my only chance for critical time to relax and catch up on sleep. My child ate more takeout and watched more television than I would have liked. And through it all she thrived. She grew even more confident in her relationships with other caregivers, engaged with new concepts (thanks, TV), and developed skills and interests that allow her to entertain herself.
Finally, I felt like I was able to see what my husband had known since day one: that taking time to rejuvenate and recharge as a parent is essential to raising well-adjusted kids. Allowing some things to be imperfect didn’t make me any less of a good mom.
I want my daughter to know that she doesn’t have to be perfect, and one way to show her that is to embrace imperfection in myself. Now I take guilt-free time to myself, let my parenting ideals slide a bit, and refuse to get caught up on how I “should” be parenting.
And you know what? Since I’ve embraced imperfection, I’m a better mom—which was the whole point in the first place.