Perfection is for Suckers!

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading and talking about Lori Gotlieb’s article in the Atlantic Monthly encouraging women who want to get married to settle for Mr. Good Enough rather than Mr. Right. Given that I just celebrated my 14th Valentine’s Day with my high school sweetheart, not a lot of the debate applies to me directly. But underneath her argument is a thread more relevant in my own life.

To what degree should we expect perfection, whether in our partners, our kids, or ourselves?

In contrast to most of my friends and family members, I refuse to strive for perfection. It takes too long (let’s face it, some days I don’t even have time to brush my teeth) and the marginal benefits decrease rather dramatically after the job is “good enough.” This is probably why my cookies are always a little too dark, my laundry is always in one machine or another, and my garden is a bit of a jungle (once those tomatoes are producing fruit, they can fend for themselves among the weeds, right?)

Most of the relationships in my life are pretty top notch simply because of my disdain for perfection. All the parenting books lecture moms on not being overly critical of dads, but it just never occurs to me to correct a job Joe has done. If it is done at all, that’s good enough (well… to be honest, Joe is more of a perfectionist than I, so he probably did it the right way anyway). I also refuse to fight with Maya over her hair and her clothes unless it is an important picture day or we have company that she doesn’t see often. Some days her hair just doesn’t get done and she wears a homemade nightgown all day. Other days she is the picture of toddler cuteness. Either way if she is happy, I am happy.

So let me give you all permission to let up a bit on the perfection binge, and take a moment to celebrate whatever is perfect in your life. Because even when you achieve perfection, it doesn’t last. It needs constant maintenance and correction (which is why marriages require constant attention and big lawns are a ridiculous waste of resources).

As I parent my second baby, I celebrate temporary perfection all the time. For example, Elliot has slept between 8 and 10 hours in a row (no snacks!) for nearly two weeks. Woo hoo! When Maya did that, I was so smug. I breathed a huge “hallelujah the sleepless nights are over” sigh and started handing out advice to other parents. A month later, when Maya decided she needed company most nights around 4 o’clock (which she still does), I was just crushed. With Elliot, I knew her perfect sleep patterns wouldn’t last, so I just enjoyed them. Even though I have worked hard to teach her how to sleep on her own, I know she won’t be immune to frequent set backs from teething or, oh, the three shots she got this week. Yes, she started waking up again. I’m not holding it against her, and I’m certainly not going to Ferberize her. I’m satisfied with kids that don’t sleep perfectly.

Another example? Maya had a little friend over today (which means I had a big friend over, yea for adult conversation!), and they played beautifully together. Until the tantrum. Today, however, it wasn’t my kid screaming and moaning like an extra in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Nope, mine was perfect. This time. And I very much enjoyed being the sympathetic, commiserating mom instead of the end-of-my-rope and embarrassed mom.

Whether in a spouse, in your children, in your home life, or in your professional life, I believe perfection is cyclical, and the unending pursuit of it will exhaust you (sometimes “good enough” is exhausting). Do your best, appreciate perfection when it comes along, and compensate for the imperfect by being a saner, more stable, and less over-worked person.

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