Trauma & Parenting Part II: Perfectionism

white and green electronic device

Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash

Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash

I wasn’t always a perfectionist. In fact, for a huge portion of my young life, trauma had the opposite effect on me, causing me to care very little about anything. I dropped out of school, screamed at my mother, blew people off, and was generally known as a bitch. I was of the opinion everything and everyone sucked, so what was the point in striving, or caring, or being driven to do anything other than what felt good in the moment.

When I got pregnant at twenty, everything changed. Suddenly there was something to care about, a whole other human I was responsible for, whose actual life and well-being depended on my ability to care and show up. The enormity of responsibility shook me hard and fast, and I began to work at getting myself together as best as I could given my history and my circumstances at the time. My kid’s life was going to be so much better than mine had been. I was going to be such a better parent than mine were. I was going to get this right.

Part of getting it right included me finding my way back to the faith of my youth and immersing myself in it. I spent A LOT of time at church, which was incredibly healing, but at times contributed to this ideology of “rightness/goodness,” that was becoming more and more prevalent in my thinking and ultimately was not so life giving. I got really into being good, doing good, thinking good, which meant being hard on myself when I didn’t meet those expectations. It also meant I was at times judgmental towards others who were not so obsessed with goodness, or who claimed to be but were clearly missing the mark. I spent a lot of years embarrassingly self-righteous.

I also lost myself completely in motherhood, which is not so uncommon, but unfortunate at its best and dangerous at its worst. In my striving to be number-one-mom at all times, I lost sight of who I was and what my needs were as an individual. I lost myself in my children, which was to all our detriment. In my attempt to do everything right, I blamed myself for anything that felt like failure.

woman in white sleeveless dress holding book

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

I was so afraid of screwing my kids up. I am so afraid of screwing my kids up, even now. This is a noble and honorable fear, but the pressure I tend to put on myself to be everything at all times, is crushing. I overthink, overwork, overexert, overbear, beat dead horses dead again, when I know what I should be doing is just shutting up and trusting my kids to self-soothe and navigate their lives. I know logically I am shorting them by not shutting up and trusting them, because how else will they ever learn to be human. Unfortunately, what I know in my logical mind feels a million miles away from how I operate emotionally sometimes.

My kids are both teenagers now, with one on the cusp of twenty, and I feel as though I am only just beginning to grasp the reality that my best is all I got, and it won’t ever be what they deserve, because what parent in the history of the universe has had the capacity to show up and give any kid the whole of what they deserve? What human has so little baggage that they are able to show up as a parent and not be stifled, hindered, tripped up or knocked out by how outrageously difficult it is to properly nurture a child through every stage of life? There is no version of reality where my kids don’t end up sitting on a sofa trying to process something to do with their mother, and that is okay.

About the Author

Brooks Decker is a survivor, writer, artist, and mental health professional in Jacksonville, Florida.

Published by SurvivorSpace, an initiative of Zero Abuse Project.