Growing up, my father always insisted on exacting perfection. From my mother to each of us children, every inhabitant of the house was expected to show the world a veneer of happiness, couth, and propriety at all times.
There was no crying or yelling in public. There was also no excessive gaiety. We kids were expected to be quiet, controlled, docile, and agreeable. We were not allowed to show anger or sadness, even if we were hurt or upset. When other people could see us, my dad expected us to always put on a performance of quiet contentment. Things were always supposed to appear “just so”.
I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that we had a terrible childhood. We didn’t. But I know that the constant pressure to appear “proper” has taken a great toll on my psyche. I hold myself to impossible standards, and often make myself a wreck trying to live up to them. But I do it. The unfortunate flip side is that I then expect others to uphold the same standards, which they rarely do. That, as we all know, is just laughable insanity.
Now that I’m a parent, I find myself quick to anger, and I think a lot of it has to do with all this constant perfection we were supposed to be projecting. I get physically bothered by noise (which we were never allowed to make), or repetitive sounds like tapping or drumming. Whining makes my head pound. I stress out very easily when the kids misbehave. In fact, I feel panicky when my children get demanding or rambunctious. And I hate it. I hate being so sensitive to imperfection.
I try very hard not to let my hang-ups affect the kids. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday, for example, DD2 found my bag of coffee filters and walked out of the kitchen with them. A few minutes later, DD1 came running, naked, into the kitchen , pushing a plastic storage tub in front of her. The tub was filled with – you guessed it – my coffee filters, all crumpled up. I hate using crumpled coffee filters. I hate it so much that I won’t use the last 20 or so in the package, because they’ve been widened from stacking the other 180 inside of them. So you can imagine how upset I was at seeing ALL the filters crumpled and ruined. Of course, they could still be used, but not by me, not now that they’re crumpled. Most people would laugh and shove the box of filters into the cupboard, and be glad that they didn’t have to peel them apart with bleary eyes in the early morning. Me, I wanted to shake the house off its foundation.
(For the record, I did count to about 150 or so and did NOT yell, even though I wanted to scream my head off at the fact that my filters were crumpled. And I did shove the box in the cupboard to use later.)
(Also for the record, when I made coffee this morning with a crumpled filter, it took great restraint not to yell my head off even then, but I didn’t. There was much muttering under the breath, but no yelling. Small victories.)
So I realized late last night that the thing I really need to work on is accepting imperfections. It’s not just about controlling my anger, which is important, but also learning that things don’t have to be just so all the time. It is fine for the kids to be loud sometimes, or to spill things, or to throw tantrums. It’s okay if they smudge the windows with yogurt, or drop acorns through the hallway like Hansel and Gretel, or take all of the toilet paper off the roll just to see what the tube looks like. It’s fine for them to crumple a bag of coffee filters once or twice, even. These things are going to happen, and I can either roll with it or roll myself up in a ball and go insane. Personally, I would rather enjoy my children than to constantly nit-pick at every detail. I hated when my dad did it to us, and I am really trying hard not to do it to my kids.
I’ll just buy myself several back-up bags of coffee filters. Just in case.