Be Present not Perfect

Posted on: January 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

To me, young children are among the world’s greatest gifts. Given the chance, every single child can flourish. Before children, I found my way into the world of therapy through research and my work. In all honesty, I was curious about this world, as I have two very loving parents but even my childhood was not without struggle. I needed to understand how my environment shaped me and in turn how the environment shapes all children. I have come to believe through my work, research, and own short story as a mama, that environment is everything. What I’ve also come to know is the exhaustion of trying to create a perfect environment for my own children.

The Environment and Postpartum Depression

Photo of mother with her toddlerAs I’ve disclosed before, after the birth of my son Henry I suffered from postpartum depression. There were several factors that contributed to this. While it was a chemical reaction that caused my depression (due to PTSD), my fear of creating a perfect environment for my child fueled it. I wanted so dearly and desperately to create a world for Henry where he was always welcome to be his best self. In the heart of a well-woman, this goal is beautiful; when I was sick this goal was obsessive. I know too many other mamas still trying to climb over this hill today.

As someone who loves research and “knowing,” I thought through my knowledge I could create the perfect environment. To me this looked like constant engagement, setting up learning and language every chance I could, cooking organically (OK, I still love this one!), pushing bilingualism (my husband is Bulgarian), avoiding screen time and being present all the time. Well, after healing from my bout with postpartum depression I still struggled with perfectionism. I wanted to be perfect so Henry could always be his best self. I wouldn’t let an environment I controlled hold him back. It wasn’t until Declan was born that I realized I could not keep up the same pace; it just wasn’t possible with two children under two. And oh my did I get mad.

Dealing with Anger

I have not struggled with anger for well over a decade. Through self-care and learning to love my authentic self I kind of had it made. Having a second child quickly made me feel as though I was failing both Henry and Declan. I felt enormous pressure, knowing what I do about development, to get it right for my boys. I also felt judgment from society about parenting and some weird silent competition with the other “perfect,” moms I met. It took me a good six months and some great therapy sessions to unpack why I was so angry, as well as how being a perfect mom isn’t the goal; being a real mom is. To do that I actually needed to do less, not more.

In today’s world, I find we are all on the go, crunching as much as we can into any given day. It’s somehow become a status symbol to say, “I’m so busy!” But if being busy doesn’t make us happy, what’s the point? No, really, what is the point? To me, there isn’t one. Nothing is more important than my own happiness and that of my children. More than I want them to know their father’s native language, or reading, math–you name the skill–I want them to know love and belonging. I can’t model that if I’m pissed off I didn’t fit enough in our day.

Moving Forward Towards Better Parenting

Six months later I am a recovering perfectionist. I still have Bulgarian flashcards around the house and struggle not to probe Henry with “what color?” when he’s just playing. Instead, I am making a conscious effort to do nothing but truly be with my children when I’m home verses instructing them. I also make sure I don’t put down what I want to do in order to create a learning opportunity. If I want to organize, bake, pay bills–anything for me–I just bring the boys into that activity.

It’s been nearly two years since my recovery from postpartum and I can tell you that being present brings me joy and brings my children joy. I am hoping this piece of my story will bring other mamas peace and joy as well. Do less. Be present. And live freely–imperfections and all!

Xoxo,
Jessie

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