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Mom Talk: My Fight Against Perfectionism & Motherhood

Written by Makenna Goodman

Photography by Ulla Johnson, photographed by Maria Del Rio

We’re back with our new “Mom Talk” column, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. In this week’s essay, Makenna Goodman, editor and mother-of-two, discusses her struggles with perfectionism and motherhood. -JKM

About six months before I got pregnant with my son, I decided I had to release some serious demons. I knew that if I didn’t get my shit together in certain areas, I’d carry my traumas into my pregnancy, struggle against them during birth, and then pass them along to my children without even realizing it. I got my haphazard circulatory system in order (no baby wants freezing cold hands changing their midnight diapers!), and went to my community acupuncturist for weekly sessions. I had a homeopathic intake, where I told the story of my childhood over and over again until I had bared it down to nothing but symbols, almost reciting a poem in the voice of my own internal organs, describing the energy in my life as barreling into my stomach, then swooshing up my body and out the top of my head, disappearing into a vapor, stripping my insides with it on the way. I saw a craniosacral therapist who massaged my fascia and literally gave me an exorcism, calling me by my childhood nickname, while I writhed and wept on her table, only to emerge into consciousness an hour later to have—I’m not kidding—finally and utterly released all of my post traumatic stress from watching my father die in front of me as a young girl. In other words, I invested in what I thought I could control, and made a promise to myself: I would heal, in order that I could be the best mother in the world.

Well, it didn’t work.

I fooled myself for the most part the first couple of years, until I had my second kid. But once my daughter was born, the jig was very seriously up. Sleep deprivation and total chaos ensued. If I wasn’t making snacks or spending 45-minutes getting everyone’s mittens on, I was trying to do work, while scattering markers in their general direction. Despite all my best efforts to rid myself of all the wrongdoings of my ancestral line and make up for my parents’ mistakes in spades, I still managed to break all the rules I had made for myself. I succumbed to the noodle tyranny, and now buy boxed (organic!) mac and cheese for quick lunches, even though I swore I would be the kind of mother who made every meal from scratch. When my son asked me recently why he wasn’t allowed to eat snow on his preschool playground, I told him, “some rules are stupid”. My 18-month-old daughter just got frostbite on her face from too much sledding (hygge, people!), and we have to slather her face with vitamin E and wrap it in fleece before leaving the house for the rest of the season. The kids have watched Robin Hood every afternoon for the last five days, just so I can check my email and wash the dishes. If they start asking questions, I just hand them popcorn. I am an editor who focuses on deeply holistic, leading edge integrative health books, all of which focus on sugar as the root of all disease, and last night we had Girl Scout cookies for dessert.

Besides this extremely minor messiness, there are much deeper cuts I’ve made that stem from my subconscious, and present as projections of which I am likely blind. But the point isn’t to offer a litany of my failures. The point is, for me, to stop seeing them as failures to begin with.

It has become clear to me that “getting it right” does not equal “doing a great job”. In fact, my subtle acts of self-loathing in the guise of perfectionism serve to undermine a deeper sense of vivaciousness and ultimate acceptance of the motherhood paradox. (Heard of it? It can be summarized as follows: “With every one achievement come 38 fuck ups.”) Instead of obsessing about doing it right, I need to practice being okay with getting it wrong, and become aware of why I am fixating on something, and not beat myself up about it. I try to call it by name as a means of pulling myself out of the black hole and into daylight: “There it is again, where I tell myself I’m not good enough…”

I guess I’ve realized the best gift I can give my kids is to accept myself for who I am, and fall deeply in love with myself. Even if it takes me 80 years—that is my mission.

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