perfection vs. “good enough!”

A wise friend once stated, “Let go of being perfect.  Perfection is an illusion.” She said this as she was standing in front of a room of Montessori teachers, who had just spent the previous three days getting their classrooms ready—spending hours making sure everything was *just-so* for the arrival of the children.  Surely these teachers were allowed a pass, after all, they had worked hard to make their classrooms “perfect” for the start of the school year.  The Montessori Method emphasizes the role of the classroom as a prepared environment—isn’t it supposed to be perfect?  And aren’t teachers supposed to be perfect, as well?

Several years later, I find myself failing at what I think is the perfect way to keep my home (read: completely organized and everything clean at all times).  It’s a mess and I never thought I would have such a messy home.  Always piles of laundry—dirty laundry to wash, clean laundry to fold and put away.  Always stacks of dishes to wash.  Always something that could be scrubbed, swept, wiped, folded, picked up.  And so by noon every day, I’m looking around, asking myself, “What have I gotten done today?”  The stack of dishes is still there.  Laundry unfolded.  Floors that could be mopped but aren’t.  And what I’m really doing is judging myself and saying, “Nope. Not perfect. Not even close.”

Today I became mindful of that daily judgement, and when I usually pause and look around to assess my morning, I stopped myself from the usual negativity, and I said to myself, “I have been patient and present with three young children today.  I have used a lot of emotional energy to be steady for them while they feel their big feelings.  Also, I have prepared good food for them to eat” (hence the stacks of dishes taking over my kitchen). In that moment, I stopped holding myself to some ideal of perfection; and instead of feeling discouraged and frustrated, I actually felt satisfied with what I had been doing for the previous four hours.

I later related this moment to my friend, and she said something that echoed what she had told that room full of teachers all those years ago.  She said, “Say aloud ‘good enough!’”  Say this to yourself.  Say this to the children in your care.  Don’t get stuck trying to be perfect.  Or worrying about being perfect.

How much time and effort do we spend trying to be perfect?  To look perfect.  To have the perfect _______.  To be the perfect parent.  The perfect teacher.  The perfect partner/spouse.  The perfect friend. Getting the children in our care to be perfect.  And act perfect (read: not throw tantrums or be whiny at the grocery store.)  Are we hoping for a Pinterest perfect house?  Maybe a carefully-curated Instagram perfect lifestyle?  Or even just wishing to be like a friend who always looks so put together and has time to get everything done?  We all have different ideas and standards for perfection, so the specifics will be different for each of us, but the unrealistic goal of perfection is still the same.

In this season of life as a parent/caregiver/ally of young children, we have the power to let go.  Let go of perfection.  The precious time we have with these young children in our care is short.  And the goal of perfection is a hindrance to wholly loving and accepting ourselves and our children and enjoying our time together.  So instead of perfection, say “good enough!” and move on.

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