By: Adina Schwarzbaum
Last night, I gave my children hot dogs for dinner. The vegetable side dish was ketchup. I did not put it on the plate in the shape of a smiley face. Oh, and it was a disposable plate.
My name is Adina, and I’m a Recovering Perfectionist.
In the Broadway show, Avenue Q, there’s a song entitled, “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?” I’ve never heard the song, nor have I seen the show, but I think of that song title sometimes, as I consider what I want to be when I grow up and how I might utilize my Bachelor’s in Psychology. It’s possible a Psych degree might have more practically applicable career options than a Lit major, but if we’re being honest, I’m not particularly interested in them. Of course, it only occurred to me in my last semester of college that I would be a terrible therapist or social worker. Patience is not one of my virtues.
So, I tell myself that my time spent in New York City, living right near Lincoln Center, attending school with wonderful friends, was an important experience for me to have as an emerging adult (note my casual use of psychological terms). It was definitely worth the private college tuition (plus room and board). At the very least, it helped me explore a topic that is of great interest to me—specifically, what makes a person tick? Why am I the way I am? How can I better understand my nature?
One of my favorite personality tests is the 16 Personalities test (which is available online for free). With all questions answered honestly, I find my result to be extremely accurate. The results are broken down into how the identified personality affects different aspects of one’s life. And let’s be real—when I get compared to Hermione Granger, who, like me, is a Logistician, I’m pretty jazzed.
In many ways, it’s a great personality to have. We’re dependable; we like to see a task through to completion and can be counted on to get the job done right. We’re not always the quickest to make new friends, but our friendships tend to be more meaningful because we invest our time only where we expect to see the best ROI (return on investment). For a woman, the role of “Household Manager” becomes a natural fit, which is great, because it’s a role we’re often expected to fill. (Don’t get all feministy on me, ok. No matter how much your husband pitches in at home, the role of Manager is usually on the women.)
But there are some tough things about this personality too. We view mistakes as failures. We like to plan, and have a difficult time handling plans going awry (did you just throw up 2 minutes before carpool?!). We can be perceived as blunt because we value honesty. In a perfect world, truth should trump feelings, shouldn’t it?
My sister, who is much more outgoing, spontaneous, and willing to experience first and learn lessons later, has always had a hard time with my rigidity. “Why do you always say no?” She would suggest an activity or a change in previously scheduled itineraries, and my instinct would be to turn her down. Because everything was so carefully laid out, how can we just change it?! Of course, when it came to planning our weeklong trip to Israel one summer, with a full day stopover in Amsterdam, my planning skills were heavily utilized. It’s a trade off she is still learning to accept. And I’m learning to accept that change can be good.
The real difficulty in being someone who craves order and aims for perfection is motherhood. Because children are NOT perfect little creatures. I’ll pause while you laugh.
Plans need to change last minute, and following your kids around with a mop and a broom to maintain order will probably give them some kind of disorder that will have them in therapy for years. I don’t think my B.A. in Psychology will help with that.
It is an ongoing struggle to maintain all the positive aspects of Perfectionism that I believe make me an asset as a friend, spouse, mother, employee, etc., while learning to let go a little. I have had some revelations along the way.
Before Purim, I stopped by a neighbor to pick up a costume that I was borrowing. It was 9 o’clock, so I figured it was a good time, post bedtime, pre-complete collapse into exhaustion. I knocked quietly, and when she answered, I said, “I hope it’s a good time, I figured any earlier would be bedtime.” She laughed and told me her kids had just gone to bed. They’re all under 5. In my head, I said, “My kids are both in bed by 7, and her kids just went to bed?” It was not a judgment, but a thought formed in true reverence that she was fine with that. Then I stepped inside while she went to get the costume. And I couldn’t help but smile because the place was a wreck. (I hope she’s not reading this, although I’m really saying it as a good thing.) Toys and clothes and games strewn everywhere, and the remnants of supper still on the table. My favorite thing was she made no apologies. Because when you have three kids under the age of 5, this is how the house is going to look at the end of the day.
I went home and told my husband, and his response was, “I told you so.” He’s been telling me since our daughter could walk, and thereby make significant messes, that I shouldn’t be stressing myself out all the time about how the apartment looks at the end of each night. Sit down. Relax. Now I have 2 kids, and I’m just starting to understand the futility of attempting to get all toys and books put away each night.
The recovery process from the malady of perfectionism may be lifelong. I’m certainly not going to display perfect patience all the time with my kids, because boy do they know how to get under my skin. Even my little one, who is just over a year, is on a mission to turn my hair gray, I am certain of it. He is a daredevil with the sweetest little face, and you would not believe some of the stunts he attempts. But I take a deep breath, and try to remember that they need to be allowed to make their own mistakes. And I need to be allowed to let go of unrealistic “ideals”.
Tonight, I’ll be serving carbolicious noodles, which I know my kids will eat. We’re going to have to skip baths because they’re getting cranky, and we ran out of time, after spending an extra hour playing outside this afternoon. I may even forget to brush someone’s teeth, but we’ll sing an extra song at bedtime. Tomorrow, I’ll make some smoothies for breakfast with fresh fruit, kale and chia seeds. Tonight, we’ll all go to bed a little overtired and a little stinky, but I promise not to yell.
grew up in the Midwest, went to college in NYC and began to work in the Jewish non-profit world upon graduation. One husband and two kids later, she realized she was not built for the hustle and bustle of New York City and took the first opportunity to move out! She has not looked back.