This guest post is by Liz Brown, a hopeful adoptive mom.
I know a little something about trying to be perfect because for many years I thought it was something that I could someday attain if I just worked hard enough.
And I’ve always known how to work hard: I’ve had jobs since I was 14, got straight A’s in school, got an early acceptance to Yale, graduated with honors, and have since built a successful career.
But the problem with having perfection as a goal is that even when you reach whatever benchmark you thought would equal perfection in that task — the good grade, the acceptance letter, the job offer, the marriage proposal — when you’re looking for those things to make your life okay, to mask pain and vulnerability, it turns out that there’s a hole in the boat.
There’s an approval high, maybe even accompanied by some distracting and exciting events, but once the accolades stop and everyone goes home, the insecurity starts to seep in again like a flea bite: small at first, barely discernible, but once you scratch it, it won’t stop itching.
Some bad stuff happened in my life during my teens and 20’s that I was hoping that my intelligence and high achievements would be able to shield me from, but they eventually caught up with me and I went off the rails for a while.
The details aren’t important; what happened is, I had to let things fall apart, I had to let myself fall apart, and I had to ask for help.
And it turns out that with help, I could be put back together again, not perfectly, but much stronger than before in the places where I had some reinforcement.
It took time. One of the cool things that eventually happened was that in spite of my perfectionist hesitance to make commitments (in case they weren’t perfect), I met someone I loved, and we got married when we were both 39.
And now, after years of waiting because we weren’t sure we could do it perfectly, we said “screw it” and decided to go ahead and be imperfect parents.
Yes, imperfect people can also get approved to adopt! In fact, I feel that keeping our imperfection out in front is working and will continue to work to our benefit, both now during the adoption wait, and later when we become parents.
And because no blog post is complete without a list, here is one, but I promise it is incomplete.
1. Imperfect people are not interested in judging anyone because they have already judged themselves harshly and it didn’t work.
We have already “been there and done that” with so many things that for the most part, we tend to feel compassionate for others who are struggling — and that’s everyone, by the way.
Ted and I have had something in common with every single expectant mom that we have talked to, and we expect that the same will be true for the woman who ultimately decides to place with us.
This is also definitely good news for our kid, who — pinky swear —will not be raised to believe that a B is a failing grade!
2. Imperfect people don’t take themselves too seriously.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re really hung up on doing something well or impressing people, that you lose your spontaneity and sense of humor?
Knowing that you’re imperfect gives you room to breathe and laugh at yourself. We have been able to have some good laughs with our adoption contacts because we are not trying to front that we are the Cleavers. (June Cleaver didn’t have as many tattoos as I do, for one thing.)
When you’re not trying to be perfect, it’s also okay to say “This is uncomfortable” or “I was so nervous when you called!” We would much rather be chosen to parent because of who we really are, than because we pretended to be something we’re not.
Doing that would be too stressful anyway. And as far as a delusion of being perfect parents? Fuggedaboutit — how could we possibly do everything right?
If that’s the goal, we will miss all the good stuff. We are going to do the best we can, with a lot of love and enthusiasm, and that’s all that we can promise.
3. Imperfect people know how to say “I can’t do that,” otherwise known as “no.”
This one doesn’t come easy to perfectionists.
We don’t want to let anyone down or disappoint anyone, so sometimes we overcommit, overschedule, and overextend until we collapse, hate everyone, gain ten pounds, or all of the above.
Luckily, making those mistakes does teach you how much you actually can do as one human being, and then you can make plans or respond to requests based on those more realistic parameters.
This was helpful recently with an adoption contact who started making some requests that we weren’t comfortable with. It didn’t feel right to us and we were able to say so, promptly and kindly, without anything getting weird.
Being true to yourself and exercising your right to say “no” just makes everything simpler in all your relationships, including as a parent.
Parents need to set limits, and kids need to know what those limits are.
4. Just kidding, there is no 4.
Time for bed. Guess you’ll have to wait for the perfect blog post.
Liz and Ted Brown are a married couple living in Los Angeles and hoping to start their family through open adoption.
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