I grew up in a time when the real world would have you believe that you could be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect everything. I had examples like June Cleaver on “Leave it to Beaver”. The virtuous middle-class woman who would fetch her husband’s slippers, serve her family a delicious home cooked dinner, have the perfect answers to all of her son’s questions about life – all this while wearing pearls and high heels.
Martha Stewart – the guru of all things crafty, delicious and entertaining. The perfectly folded fitted sheets, dinnerware for every occasion, home décor made with her own hands, every meal made gourmet with home grown ingredients and perfect pie crust, impeccably arranged flowers from her garden – easy breezy, right?
I had an idealism in my mind that I had to do it all. Keep the house clean, do the laundry, cook homemade meals, grow a weed-free garden, volunteer at my church, have my children involved in extracurricular activities while maintaining top marks in school.
On top of that, I was watching all the other moms making a huge success of their families. I took up scrapbooking, quilting, and working out at the gym. I attended the ladies’ bible study at church, volunteered on the Parent Teacher Council and served pizza lunches on Thursdays. If I was neglecting my spouse, I would agree that he could have that new truck or boat or go away with the guys – he could have whatever his heart desired. I was so proud of the happy life we were portraying. The only thing missing was the string of pearls.
Keeping it real. I created the Martha Stewart ideal of the perfect home, the June Cleaver ideal of the perfect mother and the church’s ideal of the “Focus on the Family” perfect family life. It was all a farce.
The very thing that I was trying so hard to do was the very thing that brought me down. Pride goes before the fall – and perfectionism is a form of pride. I was crushed under the weight of it. I couldn’t keep it up and eventually experienced burnout after 17 years of trying to live up to those unattainable standards. I was a complete failure as I dropped every single ball that I had been juggling for years. I had been climbing the pile known as comparison and rejection. It affected my self worth. It affected my children. It affected my marriage.
I was lost and dazed when I let it all go, including the marriage. I lived with shame and guilt. I felt ostracized by my church, judged by my family. Ugly and unforgivable.
I lived with guilt for smashing the illusion of the perfect life for my children. I was ashamed that I couldn’t keep up the image of the perfect family for my church. I was judged by my peers and family. Not one person asked, but rather made assumptions about why this all came crumbling down. Neighbours would comment on how I had the perfect life – you know the one with the white picket fence, 2.3 children, a golden retriever impeccably brushed – the “picture perfect” life. How could I throw this all away?
My children will tell you that they lived the perfect life and had the perfect mom despite the divorce. They were supported and loved, fed and educated. They went to school with messy hair and grass-stained jeans just like everyone else.
After years of wandering, I finally discovered comfort when I tucked myself in under the wing of God – my Saviour – and rested. I started searching for His words and thoughts about me. He told me who I was and didn’t compare me to anyone else. I watched Him show me how much He loved me as He rescued my life. I let Him show me how to move into the next chapter of my journey, then show me again as I would stumble over my past. I humbly sat with Him, and He restored my soul.
This is where I found peace. This is where I found joy. It wasn’t where I thought it would be, in those chapters of unattainable perfection.
I need to acknowledge my friend Dawn, who inspired me to tell this part of my story. She is a truth teller and inspires others to keep it real, to tell their stories so that they can bring healing to others.
My life doesn’t look anything like I thought it would, yet it’s better than I could have imagined. It’s better than perfect. Even minus the pearls.