Several months ago I was running errands.
My husband, Shawn, was home with the kids. I said I’d be home by bedtime, but I was running late. I’m not talking hours – I’m talking minutes. I was certain Shawn would be frustrated. I rushed home and apologized profusely. His response? “Why are you apologizing? Everyone’s still alive. The kids are getting ready for bed. This isn’t a big deal.”
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. My husband is the most patient, laid back man I’ve ever met. While we were dating I once asked him when he had last been angry and he replied, “I can’t remember a time I’ve been angry.” (Insert eye roll here.)
So where did all of the pressure come from? I’m finding that most of it comes from myself.
I once blogged about how Shawn and I each get one night “off” each week to do whatever we want while the other handles all responsibilities. For the last several months many of my nights off have entailed doing chores because, “When else is this stuff going to get done?”
Today I had the whole day off because Shawn is off work.
We planned a schedule with certain days off, certain days for projects, and certain days just for family time. I consciously decided to actually take my day off and not do any work. Let me tell you, it was HARD (but so, so relaxing). There were many times I felt like I needed to handle something, but each time I reminded myself that my husband is a loving and competent father who can handle anything our mischievous little troublemakers throw his way.
The pressure I put on myself also affects my parenting.
I am a people pleaser to the core. I have one child who can be hard to parent and traditional parenting efforts are not typically effective for her. A lot of people enjoy giving unsolicited advice about how to parent this child. In my mind, I’ve always accused them of putting a lot of pressure on me, but truly, I don’t feel pressure to follow their advice. I know it’s not right for my child. I simply feel pressure to please them, because I don’t like to have people thinking badly of me. It still comes down to the pressure I put on myself to make others happy even when I don’t agree with them.
Finally, I put pressure on myself to do everything on my own because I don’t want to burden others for help.
When I could really use a babysitter I tend to think, “Oh, but all my friends are just as busy as I am – I should really be volunteering to watch their kids instead.” I have a hard time remembering that even though I occasionally need to say “no” when my friends ask for help, I would NEVER want them to feel like they shouldn’t ask. I always want to help my loved ones when I can and I believe it’s safe to say that they all feel the same. So my tip here is to ask yourself what you would want if it were reversed.
To be clear here: I’m not suggesting you be irresponsible or neglectful in your relationships.
In fact, the reason I put so much pressure on myself (besides being a people pleaser) is that I tend to live in extremes. I was once incredibly, but ignorantly, selfish. I was constantly severely late to appointments or missed them altogether. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I also didn’t realize the effect it had on other people – businesses, family, friends. (I’m not here to guilt anyone who runs late: it has taken me years to get better and I still don’t have a perfect record.)
When I realized my decisions were negatively affecting other people’s lives, I determined to do better. But like I said, I live in extremes, so now I have trouble granting myself some grace.
Now, for the harshest truth of my perfectionist tendencies: I expect a lot from myself because I expect a lot from everyone.
If my husband came home late and I was left to put the kids to bed by myself, would I be as gracious as he is with me? Along with taking some pressure off of myself, I’ve also had to learn how to take pressure off of others. Now when Shawn does the dishes and stacks them the wrong way, I try to think, “how nice that he did the dishes” instead of, “how does he still not know how to stack these?” It helps me be thankful for the good in others instead of criticizing the “flaws” I might otherwise notice.
So my advice to you (and myself): Give yourself a break. You can’t be perfect. You can’t be everything to everyone. Give 100% of your effort and know that’s enough. And in case you need to hear it: Give others a break, too. They also can’t be perfect. They can’t be everything to everyone.
And most likely they are also doing their best. Let that be enough.
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