Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mrs Perfect, go to hell

Many people use the time of Lent to give things up, things upon which they are unhealthily dependent, as a way of investigating the hold those things have over them. This year, some friends gave up drinking to investigate how reliant they are on beer as a social lubricant; others gave up not drinking, to investigate the ways they might be holding back from social situations. People give up social media, or even all electronic devices altogether, and kids often give up chocolate, or a particular game or toy.

Me, I'm not giving up any of those things. I might need these props to help me challenge the one thing I am trying to tackle head-on, with, it must be said, no expectation of success. But perhaps there is dignity in the attempt!

This Lent, I'm trying to give up Mrs Perfect. She's not easy to give up; in fact, I've been trying to silence her for years. But in these next few weeks I am putting some serious energy into naming and shaming her.

She's the sanctimonious voice that whispers, 'A real mother wouldn't have done that', or 'If you were a better person, then....'. She's the one who tells me a hundred times a day, in a hundred different ways, that I'm not good enough, never have been, never will be. And it's more than time that she went to hell.

These are some of the things she says, and which I struggle to deny:

You're not a naturally maternal type. It's true that I'm no earth mother goddess. I don't breastfeed my kids past six months, I don't make my own yoghurt, I don't bother with a highly charged tantric sexual practice with my husband, I don't home birth, I don't knit, and I use the public education system. Worse, I'm shy around strange kids, I'm scared of kids in groups, and it takes me time to get to know them.

But what exactly is a 'naturally maternal type'? I have given birth to three children, with very little intervention. I have raised them as best I can in a relatively clean and loving home. I have cared for five other little kids while their mothers went back to work; and I am about to be trusted with a sixth. I spend hours every week with kids – kids in the classroom, kids in the schoolyard, kids in the playground – and the ones I know smile when they see me and tell me their stories. Their friends come over and introduce themselves and have a conversation too.

Mrs Perfect, I don't know what you're talking about. You're a silly old bitch.

If you're not going to be an earth mother goddess, you could at least work. By that, she means I should be back in paid employment and building a career. Her comment stings, because at one level I think I want a career, and yet my actions show me I don't. If I pause for a moment and reflect, it's clear why not. On the one hand, I can't stand to leave my pre-school kids in childcare, or even for very many hours at a time, with anyone except my husband; and on the other, I had perhaps fifteen jobs before having kids, and I pretty much hated every single one of them. Sitting at a desk and doing repetitive tasks in an air conditioned office turns me toxic. I hate phones, I hate politics, I hate work clothes, I hate commuting... enough said.

On a bad day at home with kids, a grindingly repetitive task can make me cry. But at home at least I can weep with frustration and let those healing tears do their job; at work, the emotion turns inward and sour. So no, Mrs Perfect, I won't go back to crappy paid employment unless I absolutely have to. In any case, what, exactly, is work? I run a household, garden, cook and clean, I read with kids and I write. Couldn't that be enough?

But if you were really serious about writing, you'd have written a book by now. Perhaps, I say, but I haven't. I've slowly written the equivalent of a book, but instead of having generated a great burden of hope, a mass of paper which bounces from rejection to rejection, I've put things up on the blog and had some fun with it.

That writing is pointless, says Mrs P about a thousand times a day.

I certainly have times when I can only see the flaws, hate what I write, and despise myself for having written it. Habits of self-loathing runs deep. But I write in faith, which is not a feeling but an attitude. With that attitude, I write the best I can about what is most pressing at that moment, then set the words free. It doesn't matter how I feel about myself that day. Someone somewhere may find my words useful; and I write in faith that they will.

That's all very well, but you're terribly lazy. Well yes, that may be true. For example, my father is picking up the older girls from school and staying for dinner. I'm not planning much, just half a quiche leftover from last night and a couple of salads. I will fret about this decision all day, and feel guilty that I'm not cooking up a storm; but the food is there, and it is very good, and in any case I'll probably bake something for afternoon tea.

Apart from failing to cook a three course dinner, the floor needs a mop, the toilet a scrub, and here I am writing. Perhaps I am lazy, but the writing exhausts me – and yet, for all its exhausting pointlessness, it feels too necessary to ignore it and scrub the toilet instead. When I'm finished writing, I'll sit in a chair for ten minutes before the after school onslaught begins. Better a dirty floor than to make myself so tired that I scream the kids to bed.

Speaking of that laziness, you're still carrying the baby weight. Well, it bugs me too, but it's time to get over it. I've had three kids; I'm hardly going to look like I'm eighteen. Anyway, when I was eighteen I was miserable and fat. I don't have a nanny or a personal trainer and, like so many adults who spend their lives hanging around little kids, I keep getting sick. Every time I get into an exercise routine, I catch another cold or bout of gastro, and that's it for a couple of weeks. You may remember, Mrs P, that I was up until one last night hacking away with my latest chesty cough?

Anyway, I suspect my kids think my soft breasts and tummy make for nicer cuddles. So there, Mrs P, you scrawny old prune.

Observation: Every morning and afternoon, my two year old runs into the schoolyard and throws her arms around first one mother, then another, then perhaps a child she is particularly fond of. A wildly confident passionately loving child like this does not come out of a terrible home.

Conclusion: My parenting is good enough. There is always room for improvement, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to that sly voice which tells me every hour of every day that everything I do is flawed.

Conclusion: Mrs Perfect can go to hell.


  1. Stuff perfection! There are far too many other important things in the world to experience and enjoy than focussing on that which which is essentially unachievable and self-absorbing. For you may think that you have achieved perfection or are perfect at something, but it is only by your own personal standards...and all it takes is some naysayer to bring your ego crashing back down to earth and highlighting that time and energy wasted to achieve that shortlived and pointless state in the first place.

    Perfection to me is selfishness. The need to either admire oneself for achieving something or having something or having someone else validate you for it. In striving to achieve it you focus so much energy on yourself to the detriment of those loved ones around you. It is smugness and narcissisism and driven by a need to conform to societal perceptions of what is perfection. It is what drives consumerism and personal debt. Apparently, perfection can be purchased. Pay someone to enable you to be perfect. Buy that plastic surgery, buy that self-help book, buy another TV, buy, buy, buy. Perfection is overrated, expensive and soul-destroying. Your ideas of perfection are not the same as mine, so what are killing ourselves for?

    Give me happiness over perfection any day of the week.

    Right now I am sitting here reading your blog and writing this comment in pyjama pants that have far too many frays and tears but which are so comfortable and warm in all of their stripey purpled glory that I cannot bear to reduce them to dusting rags or consign them to landfill. They are far from perfect, but I love wearing them.

    My husband laughs at them. Hmm, warm, comforting AND funny. You can´t tell me that my PJs aren´t verging on perfect!!!! They tick so many boxes.

    BTW...I LOVE YOUR WRITING!!! Hence I am a follower and a now avid reader. Thanks for the food for thought.

    More BTW, please excuse any typos as I am in full on night shift mode. I really should be in bed asleep and not discussing and exploring concepts that are beyond my scope of expertise considering that it is the equivalent of 2am for me.

  2. I read your blog regularly and I cannot tell you how often I am left feeling relieved that I'm not the "only one"! Not the only one to feel so conflicted between meeting the needs of those around me and those of myself; of aspiring for a life that finds joy and fulfillment in the daily and small, but often cries out from doing the mundane. I have drawn much strength and wisdom from your posts - and, above all, reassurance. Mothering and maintaining a sense of self and purpose in life are so inextricably linked for me at the moment - it can be difficult to see what helps, what doesn't and why. You name so honestly what it is that you struggle with - and what you find helpful despite that struggle - that I am always left feeling that bit better about myself. So, please keep sharing and writing - it helps me and I'm sure it helps others.

  3. Glad I'm not the only one who wants to give perfection the flick - I just wish I could be free of her nagging voice!

    Daffodil - You'll be glad to know I write almost everything in my daggy old pyjamas, sitting in my husband's grandmother's tatty old nursing chair. It's comfortable, and the symbolism means a lot to me; I'll take that shabby comfort and sense of being held any day over a spotless ergonomic 'perfect' chair!

    Anon - thanks for the vote of confidence - I always hope what I write is a way of saying 'you are not alone', and that what we do is important whatever the world says. I'm very glad it conveys this to you.

  4. I'm not only glad to have read this, I am glad to have told you (mostly) how important your writings have been to me. Hope that information sinks in, with time.

  5. About the time the information sinks in will be about the time everything I write becomes crippled with hyperawareness or overinflated self-indulgence! Wrestling with the what and the why of writing has great value - and I do very much appreciate the encouragement. The whole point is to find a way to write for others not me, which paradoxically seems to mean writing about me. Thanks Jen. xx

  6. As a stranger halfway around the globe who stumbled onto your blog a couple of years ago by absentmindedly clicking a link, let me assure you that someone somewhere finds your words useful. I read them faithfully.

  7. Hi Alison I love your writing as always! Some of the mindfulness techniques I have been taught might help. When your Mind presents "Mrs Perfect" to you, label the thoughts as "The Mrs Perfect story" & then perhaps imagine it being taken with a loud whoosh with an imaginary cross bow you always have at your disposal. The moon is a good destination! Whenever the Mrs Perfect story appears you acknowledge it & then move on. "Its you again. Thanks Mind". Labelling it also helps to distance you from it. I can see from your writing that Mrs Perfect has power over you as its still part of you. By observing the thoughts & labelling them you can see it for what it is; a bunch of lies. Perhaps the article will help you observe "Mrs Perfect" by looking carefully at what she has told you. By giving "Mrs Perfect" less attention it will be starved & your mind will stop presenting her to you. It will of course present something else & the battle continues! Joanne

  8. Stay Well, I love the idea of being stumbled upon! Glad to be a serendipitous find.

    Joanne, Shooting Mrs Perfect to the moon and beyond sure beats sending her to hell. Yes, she has a hold on me; yes, writing this helps me label and understand that - so thanks for the great suggestions!

  9. fantastic honest writing!
    I actually read this piece earlier but came back for another read after a day battling my own Mrs.Perfect.

  10. I have been wanting to finish reading this for 2 weeks now, finally a minute where I can, and how worth the wait. Thank you for the honest and truthful writing, I have a Mrs Perfect too and she has been winning a little too often , winning over the kids the husband, the sleep I need, the movies I should be watching, the books I should be reading. It is so hard to do it all, I wish I could do one thing and do it well, I think I will forever spread myself as thin as the butter I scrap on my bread, to stay somewhat slim.

  11. Thank you for the honest and truthful writing. I had been meaning to read this post for 2 weeks, it was worth the wait.
    I too have a Ms Perfect and she has been winning over everybody of late, over the kids the husband. She even gave me a horrid cold sore to prove that she is winning. It is so hard to do it all, I wish I could do one thing and do it well.

  12. Hiya Shelley, Great to hear from you - and such a relief to hear I'm not the only one fighting these demons!

    DuckEggBlue, sometimes I wonder if, once all the kids are at school, will I be able to do just ONE thing, slowly and well, and will I remember to pause from time to time to enjoy it? So then I try to practice now - but it's hard with little kids, very hard... hope it helps to name some of the pressure we place on ourselves.


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