I remember looking at my red faced newborn little boy and being so overwhelmed with love and joy and knowing what our little life would be like. How perfect it would be. What a great mother I would be. I envisioned going to all his little sports games, volunteering in all of his classes, and before that strolling down the sidewalk with a cute stroller, baby, and fashionable diaper bag. Ready to meet my mob of mom friends and their sweet babies.
As a self proclaimed extroverted perfectionist I felt ready to tackle this new role and life as a stay at home mom like never has been done before!
But, seriously, there is a major problem with being a perfectionist and a mother at the same time. The two cannot co exist in any healthy sort of way. Or any sort of way that won't send my kids running out the door to the nearest
drug dealer friend, lover, friend, or therapist.... And then put that perfectionism with a desperate desire to belong and be part of a community and I needed to seriously do some soul searching.
I felt like I had the image going. I did all the right things, dressed my baby the right way, and joined different mom groups. I went to the park. I ran with the right stroller. But because I was so busy trying to be perfect to be worthy of others, I felt so lonely. I didn't have any real connection at all. And I felt full of hot shame because I knew it was all fake. I was fake. I
had have no idea what I am doing and I felt exhausted from all of the energy it took to make it seem as if I did. There had to be other moms out there who found all this as hard as me.
Then the day came. I had put my 18 month old son in the nursery while I attended a women's bible study group. The woman came to the door and called my name. She held a single goldenrod sheet of paper in her manicured hand and briskly walked down the breeze way after I stood up to follow her. I waddled along, pregnant with an unplanned baby, (not perfect) and wondered what happened. As I sat on the edge of the planter box in the spring sunshine, I heard her telling me about an incident report I needed to sign and about how my son bit a little girl. My son bit someone else's child at church. The place where I put the most energy and effort into being perfect.
My shameful secret was out. My son the biter. The hair puller. We often have to leave playgrounds immediately when a little girl with long ponytails arrives because I can see him already heading in her direction. I have felt awful as the mom of the bully. The big toddler who bites other kids arms (and mine) hard. He leaves marks. He pulls hair. He makes kids cry. And I get super hot, sweaty, full of shame and carry my child back to my car and away from the park. Away from the group of mom friends I had imagined I would chat with while our children played nicely.
After breaking down crying and apologizing and hormones raging as well as all the exhaustion of trying to be perfect finally giving way; I left the church, son in tow, a blubbering mess and vowing never to show my face there again.
Because, just like Berne Brown says in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, "shame is the birthplace of perfectionism..the problem is that we don't claim shame, it claims us. And one of the ways it sneaks into our lives is through perfectionism." She goes on to say how perfectionists are trying to earn approval and acceptance. And as an extrovert and a perfectionist, belonging is what I crave at the core. How could I risk by sharing my true struggles as a mother when what others think of me determines my self worth?
This needed to change. My son is now four years old and no longer bites or pulls hair (well sometimes his sister's). However, we are nowhere close to perfect. But I discovered when I talk about things I feel ashamed about - like this biting story- the shame goes away. And suddenly other moms say "me too." And that "me too" causes a deep connection. The belonging I was always searching for, but thought my true self unworthy of. The irony is, we belong to each other through the "me toos", through our vulnerability, because of someone's courage to be the first to say "this is hard for me."