“Stop. I thought we were doing a pattern. Why did you do it like that?”
That was me, an annoyed perfectionist Mom unneccessarily snapping at my son. Not my best parenting moment.
I didn’t have to look over at my husband’s face to know I messed up. And then, I watched in slow motion as my five-year-old son pulled his hand back, like he had been burned by my words.
Inside, I was kicking myself. Why did you just do that? Why did you snap at him for something so insignificant? Look how you made him feel!
He reached back and quickly pulled off the gumdrops from the roof of the gingerbread house.
“There, it’s all fixed.” He whispered.
I felt awful. Actually, awful didn’t fully define the emotions I was having. His words had just affirmed what I suspected.
I was becoming a grumpy, perfectionism-seeking Scrooge this holiday season. And I hate it.
I wanted to press rewind and have a do-over. To snap my fingers and magically step back in time. Who was this person that just lost it over a stupid gumdrop?
“No, I’m sorry. The way you had it was fine. It was perfect.” I tried to back pedal but it was clear I had already squashed his spirit.
BEING PERFECT MADE ME A GRINCH
I’m turning into a real-life Grinch I thought while lying in bed. I’m spoiling Christmas for my kids. I-am-actually-ruining-Christmas!
I love the holidays – the build-up and excitement when the smallest of things make my kids bubble with happiness – but this year, this year I knew the weight of making everything perfect was turning me into a very unhappy person.
I was a real-life, living and breathing Scrooge. Bah-humbug.
But at first, I couldn’t see why. For Christmas, we made the choice to simplify our giving; committing ourselves to not gifting any plastic or battery-operated toys and replacing them with experiences and books of substance.
Yet still…. I felt an unseen heaviness.
Maybe it’s because I subscribe to the HGTV and Better Homes & Gardens magazines and I flip the pages of perfectly decorated homes, with the most gorgeous of living rooms and fireplace mantles. Sure, kids may be in the pictures yet there’s never a single toy or cookie crumb or scrap of paper on the floors and everyone looks deliriously cheerful.
This is what a perfect home at Christmas looks like, right?
It could be because I see hundreds of homes with just the right amount of strung lights, sparkling ornaments, embellished mantles, and front porches on Pinterest that my home absolutely needs to look like that.
Or, maybe it’s when I walk the aisles of Target and they’re lined with the chicest, most overpriced decorations that cause me to question if my house is “Christmasy” enough.
This pressure to make the holidays PERFECT is overwhelming.
The perfect tree.
The perfect decorations.
The perfect Christmas lights and front porch.
The perfectly wrapped presents with homemade name tags.
The perfect line-up of activities.
The perfect cookie decorating experience.
AIMING FOR PERFECT FEELS LIKE CRAP
Trying to make Christmas perfect made me feel crummy.
I thought I was doing the right thing but every mess, batch of burnt cookies, broken ornaments, and deviation from the illusion of a perfect Christmas bore a new reaction.
I became stressed when something was “off,” reacting overly emotional and devouring more sugar than Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Snapping at my five-year-old who wanted to put gumdrops on the roof in every which place instead of in straight lines with licorice bits to form “roof tiles,” was insane.
It was also the last straw.
HOW TO BE A HAPPIER PARENT
That night, I thought about what perfect looked like; what my home is supposed to look, how my kids are supposed to act and the list of activities we are supposed to do. But, the expectations I had about what Christmas is supposed to look like, were spoiling the holidays.
Sometimes though, it takes one moment of clarity – just like with parenting and in life – to see that unhappiness is often created from having high expectations.
Too high of expectations, to be precise.
Once I could see clearly, I knew that I had to make one important change in order to be a happier parent. If I was going to stop being a total spoilsport, I had to lower my expectations… or more likely, throw them out the window completely.
Life isn’t meant to be scripted and staged. People don’t live inside the covers of a magazine and aisles of big box stores. It’s not about the money you throw at decorating your home or dressing your kids in matching outfits for Christmas card photos, it’s about the love you share with your family in your home.
The spontaneous and casual moments that happen when you’re with those you love and letting go of ridiculous notions of what it’s “supposed to look like” is when contentment will occur.
That’s when the real magic of life – and the Holidays – happens.
Who cares if the gingerbread house looks like a lopsided explosion of half eaten candy?
And that batch of cookies that were hard as a rock and once again reaffirmed my complete lack of baking skills… Martha Stewart probably burnt her share of cookies at first too, right?
The Christmas Tree that my youngest rammed with her ride-on toy and toppled over, was my first true test to let go of “perfect.” I took a couple deep breathes, managed to laugh out loud before I snapped a few pictures and then propped it up and set to work rehanging ornaments with the kids.
IMPERFECTION MAKES ME A BETTER PARENT
This lofty picture I had in my head of the “perfect Christmas,” is exactly what the holidays are not. Now that I have a clear understanding that to be happy I need to accept imperfect, I’m a whole lot happier and no longer a Scrooge.
Do you feel pressured to make the holidays perfect too? How do you overcome those feelings of perfectionism and learn to let them go?