Early in my business career I learned to embrace the concept “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” The idea, which was very hard on a recovering perfectionist, was that something that is done well enough is infinitely more valuable than the thing this is never complete because it wasn’t yet “perfect.”
The concept of perfection in parenting is also hard for me to let go of, especially since our culture readily enforces the idea that there is parenting perfection and if you work hard enough you can achieve it. But I had the chance to practice letting go of perfect recently – not for the good, but for the wonderful.
My son’s room décor has gotten a little crazy. The border that I put up when I was first pregnant with his older sister is now old and peeling. He’s put up stickers (including many colorful Band-Aids) all over the wall next to his bed. For the winter holidays my mother gave him a new set of vinyl “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” wall decals and my fantasy was that we’d take everything else off the walls, repaint and then put up the Jake stickers – perfectly. And because I haven’t made the time or mustered the energy to organize that project, and because I secretly know he’ll still keep putting Band-Aids on the wall, I haven’t gotten around to it. So the Jake stickers sat in a package on a shelf for six months. And I felt stressed. Stressed by an undone to-do. Stressed by the imperfect room.
The other day my son came up to me with the stickers – come Mommy, let’s put these up. His little face was imploring. My first thought was “No, no, no. We need to take the other stuff off, we need to repaint, we need to make it … perfect.” And I looked into his little face and realized that he didn’t give a hoot about perfect. He wanted to put up Jake stickers. With me. Right now.
And so we did. And we had a blast. It was so fun. He was very serious and deliberate in where he chose to put them. His room looks, if it’s possible to imagine, even crazier. It’s very far from perfect. And yet, it’s wonderful. And, I’ve let go of the stress of the imperfect room. I don’t have to fix it. I can choose to let it go and just enjoy my life and let him enjoy his. We can repaint anytime. He’ll only be six and overjoyed putting stickers all over the walls for a very short time.
When I do work/life integration trainings I talk a lot about knowing your goals and values. What are you trying to achieve? Does what you are doing right now, in this moment, serve your goals? My goal is for my kids to have warm memories of time with me that was fun and silly. A perfectly decorated bedroom that could appear in the pages of a magazine may be a goal for some, but for me the payoff of that isn’t worth the stress and hassle. And it certainly doesn’t beat my goal of enjoying time with my kids, which was achieved by turning his room into the crazy sticker cave.
The next time you find yourself feeling totally stressed out because you want something to be perfect, ask yourself if the perfect thing is worth the stress and see if you can let it go and instead embrace the wonderful.