When Perfectionism Rears Its Head
I looked at the screenshots on my phone. A year ago? How has a year gone by?
This time last year was when I first took out a potty training book from the library. At the time my twins were 21 months, a ripe time to start according to the author. It seemed like a good book to begin.
I was nervous to start but after reading Brandi Brucks’ Potty Training in 3 Days , I was excited. Empowered even. “I can do this!,” I thought, with all the zeal the author wants you to have. I was ready. Almost. We just have to wait for the right timing…
Yeah, you know this one.
We didn’t want to start right away because 1. We didn’t even have the supplies and 2. With our kids with their nanny all morning at the park it didn’t seem…easy? Yeah, that’s the word I was looking for.
So, it felt too hard and we waited.
OK! Summer. Now we’ll do it. But, wait…we’re moving soon. That’s still the plan, right? Yeah, right now is certainly not the best time. It all feels like too much of a disruption. And I read disruptions aren’t good for potty training, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Oh, bye summer. Bye, move that didn’t happen when we thought it would.
Alright! What month is it now? NOVEMBER??!
You know, that’s OK. We’ll do it soon, no worries, we just need to get settled into our new apartment. Hell if we’re going to add that after this disastrous transition. One child won’t even stay in her crib because she’s too scared of the new place–how would we ever get them to stay on the toilet?!
Yeah, not happening.
Not happening now either.
FEBRUARY?!? Fuuuuck. Welp, we just signed them up for preschool in the fall and they must be potty-trained soooo, YES, now’s our time!
Oh, hi pandemic.
I started checking my old screenshots of the book pages I took last spring. It didn’t even feel exciting anymore. It felt like one more thing to do on top of everything else. I remembered the overall gist of the original book, but the specific details were scant. Where there was empowerment before was now a lack of confidence. It didn’t help we let in our friends’ worries about their experiences cloud our judgement. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy after all. But with the looming preschool date we knew we wanted to get started, just in case this time didn’t take. We ordered the supplies online but had to wait longer than expected for them to arrive.
. . .
Turns out now wasn’t good either. I didn’t realize that until we started. It did not help we did this on a morning I had little sleep and unchecked needs. Having only one child interested while the other was near tears threw me. This is not how this is supposed to go.
I broke down after the first accident.
Rationally I told myself not to expect perfection. Rationally, I knew this and I was aware that despite my best intentions there was still a part of me that was holding out for perfection. There was still that part of me that wanted to go there. To just have it be perfect. No accidents. No tears. Aced. That’s how strong old mind patterns can be.
But it was more than that. I was now aboard the SHOULDA, COULDA, WOULDA train to hell.
We should’ve just done this last April.
I shouldn’t have listened to others’ worries.
I would’ve been more prepared then.
I’m not even prepared! What was I thinking? I know better.
I could have done better.
I’m so disappointed in myself.
The information to do it perfectly is out there and I’m not following it…
I’m gonna ruin this because I knew better at one point, but now I don’t and I should’ve just done this last April.
See the loop?
And then I remembered:
Don’t stress the could haves. If it should have, it would have.Author Unknown
It wreaks fucking havoc.
It doesn’t matter how far I come in my emotional and spiritual growth I still fall prey to these cognitive distortions. I still get sucked in to hating myself; to hating making mistakes.
The good news is I don’t linger there as long now.
I had a good cry, some silence (uncomfortable at first because my husband was asking me stuff but I wasn’t in a state to be able to respond). And then I decided to write in my Self-Compassion and Grace journal.
That mindful practice and attention to what was happening was, and always will be, a life saver. I was able to stop and intercept the negative thoughts from cementing as truth. I could be kind to myself. I could air my worries and give myself a voice of reassurance.
I also gave myself the space to remember how much I’ve changed since last year. With this lens, I could value my own perspective.
Yes, this ‘book’ may work for many but I am not who I was when I first read it and therefore maybe it does not have to work for me anymore. The author undoubtedly has much experience and this is no judgement on her or her work; it is simply a remembering that I, too, have learned a lot and I can follow my intuition.
Since this time last year:
I’m more in tune with myself.
I’m more in tune with my kids.
I’m more willing to believe things don’t have to be a certain way.
I’m more likely to choose my kids’ comfort over convenience (well, mostly).
Sometimes even that ticks at me, too. I judge myself for changing when I know my former instinct would be “get it done.” I would have gotten it done, too–neatly, quietly, swiftly because I would have controlled it all.
That’s how I was as a teacher.
That’s how I was as a person.
I don’t want to.
Yet, it still toys with my ego. Does this mean I abandon all control?! Where’s the line?!
In The Whole Brain Child , authors Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. talk about the “river of well-being” and the banks of chaos and control. They go on to say that when you feel your best and are most connected to the world around you are typically coasting calmly in the middle, you don’t get too close to chaos or rigidity. Chaos is the uncertain wildcard whereas the bank of rigidity is about mass-control. It is such a simple and profound metaphor and one that is easily adapted for a child’s understanding. When I experienced this latest current it made me think back to their words. When I ruminate, I am constantly tossed between these banks. I ricochet between rigidity and chaos, between control and free-for-all. It becomes difficult to find a healthy order. I can barely stay afloat in the midst of questioning my decisions. I have lost control of my canoe.
Siegel and Bryson further note that while a ping-pong off the banks is unhealthy so is staying too close to one side for periods of time. This past year of parenting has shown me how often I graced the side of control while thinking this was responsible.
One thing I have learned for myself is that the tight grip of control doesn’t serve me well anymore because I realize it let me no room for errors. (Even typing that, my distorted brain goes, “What errors?!” *eye roll*)
But the point is when I controlled every detail it was always my fault if something went wrong.
I could have done better.
I should have done better.
I would have done better if only…
That’s what I say to that micromanaging mindset.
It doesn’t serve me anymore because I realize it doesn’t serve my kids. That’s not who I need to be–for me or for them.
Because for them to live fully, to see fully, for me to be present to them…
I have to step back.
I have to let go of my preconceived ideas.
I have to just watch.
I, too, have to get out of my own way.
Parenting gives you lots of opportunities to practice this. Just the other day we were on a walk and I wanted to well, walk. I wanted to go. And go fast! I needed movement. I wanted to see the flowers but I didn’t want to smell the damn things. But my two cuties couldn’t resist filling their buckets with beautiful blossoms.
I was irritated. I kept saying, “We have to go,” as if we had somewhere to be. But in my mind I felt like we did. I wanted to be at the other end of the alley by now. I wanted to be moving. Not standing still. My anxious brain was already thinking about how this stop was going to interfere with nap time. “Ugh, the longer they do this, the longer it takes to get back home, and then they’re going to be so tired and probably put up a fight just to get in the door. Oh, and then handwashing…“.
I was physically still but my mind was racing. It was totaling up all the things that were bound to go wrong because we were here in this spot and not on the move like I had planned.
Just like my brain thought of all the things that would go wrong if we failed at this first attempt at potty training.
As I watched my darlings pick daisies I noticed how my giant shadow loomed over them.
I physically cast a shadow over their bodies and so too was my inner shadow emerging.
I had to breathe and remind myself to slow down. To say, “It’s OK you’re irritated because you’re not meeting your need for movement right now, but think what will happen if you keep this beast alive?”
I played the tape. I saw myself as Scrooge for the remainder of our outside time. I heard myself voice impatience and annoyance. I saw myself continue to rush them along. I felt the desire to escape, to want to look at my phone and be somewhere I was not.
I breathed. I watched. I said it’ll be OK.
And it was. In fact, better than I could have imagined. They spontaneously held hands down the alley and then both grabbed for mine. We walked a few blocks in each other’s embrace as the sun warmed our cheeks and the gentle breeze glided past us. We took a new path and I settled into the glory of life.
So yesterday when the potty training panic set in, I said with intention and work:
It’s OK this isn’t going how you want.
It’s going to be OK.
I know you’re mad you’re not following the book, but by doing it this way you’re following your kids, and that’s the most important piece. Moreover, you’re following your intuition.
You get to do this.
You get to be present to this experience.
You get to do whatever you want.
Ok, so I just added that last one because I needed it. It’s true.
Maybe this is all just to remind myself:
There’s no such thing as perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes. This is how you learn. If your other way was so perfect you wouldn’t be feeling this way. It’s OK to listen to how you feel now. You are only human and I love you. This will pass and all will be well. It’s OK to release the heavy. You were born for this moment. You can do whatever the fuck you want. You don’t have to adhere to anyone, not your tragic brain nor your former self conditioning.
You are new. You are beautiful. You are here.
So, breathe and breathe and breathe.
This is not an emergency.
You will make it through.