I wasn’t sure how Natalie would react to hearing me admit my most painful truths in a bookstore filled with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and complete strangers. Although Natalie had heard snippets of my past mistakes and the lessons I’d learned from them, this particular book-signing talk contained a steady stream of the most difficult admissions I’d ever spoken out loud.
Although I was concerned about how she would react to this complete baring of my soul, there was something that troubled me even more. Would she see herself in the pre–Hands Free version of myself? And if so, would this be good or bad? You see, Natalie and I are very much alike. Natalie is a planner and has the organizational skills to run circles around even the most ambitious adults. She is very busy, rarely sitting down, because there are so many ideas to bring to life. Natalie is a mover, a doer. With quick strides, she wastes not a single minute doing what her heart leads her to do. But when things don’t go as planned… or when perfection is not achieved… or when the expectations she sets for herself (or others) are not met, Natalie is not a happy camper. Sayings like, “Everybody makes mistakes” only tick her off even more. There’s no question where Natalie acquired these personality traits. She lived with me, her perfectionistic mother, for the first six years of her life. My highly driven, type-A tendencies had rubbed off and stuck like a regrettable tattoo.
The bookstore owner interrupted me from my reverie to tell me it was time to address the audience. As people took their seats, I saw Natalie break away from a group of friends. She was looking for a place to listen. My worry intensified. Would she hide her face in embarrassment? Or worse, would she make a beeline to the children’s section and act like she didn’t know me? No — she did none of these things. Natalie found a prime spot off to the left of my small author platform, away from everyone else. As I began to speak, she rested against the bookshelf as if planning to stay awhile.
With the most tender expression on her face, Natalie stood there captivated. And there I stood, exposing my flaws and the lessons learned, wondering only what one particular person was thinking about my confessions. There was this look on Natalie’s face — the one that so many people noticed and later commented on as they came through the signing line — that gave me overwhelming peace. I couldn’t deny the overpowering love radiating from one spot off to my left from a little girl with humongous brown eyes who was hanging on my every word.
Watching her mother take her imperfections and mistakes and turn them into life-changing revelations offered a reprieve to this mini high achiever. I saw the recognition take place on Natalie’s face.
The missteps of a messy, imperfect life were not something shameful or bad — they were a means to a more loving and fulfilling life.
Watching Natalie watch me was like seeing the sun come out after a long, hard rain.
Watching Natalie watch me was like seeing the tightrope walker realize the ground was much closer and much softer than he thought.
Watching Natalie watch me was like seeing a worn bandage taken off to reveal healing pink skin underneath.
In that moment, Natalie’s radiant face was a reflection of my own — peace with who I was and hope for who I was becoming. But there was more. Her eyes seemed to sparkle with a possibility she hadn’t considered before — maybe “It’s okay to make a mistake” wasn’t just a saying. Maybe it was actually true. This could be a turning point in her life, I thought to myself. With a little more guidance and a little more openness about past regrets, I could alleviate some of the future pressure Natalie was bound to put on herself. I vowed to speak to her in private to further encourage this shift in perspective that I believed was happening in my child.
“I am sorry I used to want things perfect all the time,” I blurted out to Natalie in the glow of the night-light at Talk Time a few days later.
“Give me an example,” she asked unexpectedly.
“Do you remember how stressed out I would get about wanting things to look a certain way when we left the house? Or how I made such a big deal out of trivial mistakes and mishaps?” I asked, bracing myself for distressing recollections.
“Not really,” she shrugged. “I just remember how you used to lay out my clothes every morning, and I didn’t get to pick. But now you let me wear what I want.” She snuggled closer. “I like the way it is now.”
“I’m so sorry, Natalie,” I repeated. “I wish I would have realized sooner that relationships matter more than expectations, plans, and appearances. Pushing perfection on myself caused me to yell and become exasperated over minor things. It was hurtful to you and Avery, but it was also hurtful to me. My blood pressure was dangerously high back then. I felt angry a lot. My unrealistic expectations could never be met so I was constantly disappointed. I don’t want to know how many perfectly wonderful days I ruined and how many feelings I hurt by putting pressure on myself. I wish I’d changed sooner,” I admitted with regret.
“It’s better to know it now than never know it at all,” she wisely offered, taking my hand in hers. I closed my eyes and prayed such a mature remark meant she was starting to know it too.
The next morning Natalie’s words were fresh on my mind as we prepared for school. Avery was standing in front of the mirror parting her hair straight down the middle. She completely ignored the back of her hair, and as a result, it resembled an angry cactus plant.
I could see Natalie eyeing her little sister’s disheveled mess. She reached out her hand to take the brush, but then quickly drew it back without saying a word. Avery, unaware she was being observed, walked out humming to herself happily.
Natalie looked up at me. I was about to find out just how much our discussion the night before had resonated with her. “The old you probably would have fixed her hair, and she probably would’ve cried.” After pausing for a minute she admitted, “I thought about telling her to change it, but then I decided not to say anything. It’s better to just let her be who she is. People’s feelings matter more than how things look,” she said with certainty.
Natalie ran off to gather her backpack while I stood there relishing what had just transpired. As I stared at my teary-eyed self in a mirror splattered with toothpaste, the most beautiful thought occurred to me.
Maybe second chances are not given to us but instead are something we offer to ourselves by using new words and new actions. And maybe the undesirable traits that were passed on to us and passed on to our children don’t have to stick like permanent tattoos. Maybe they can be birthmarks instead — beautiful reminders that we don’t have to live perfectly, but rather with small, positive steps and daily doses of God’s grace.
Hands Free Life Daily Declaration
Today there might be mismatched socks. There might be not-so-healthy food choices. There might be messes, bulges, and fine lines where I don’t want them to be. But today I will be at peace with my less-than-perfect day, my less-than-perfect body, and my less-than-perfect life. I refuse to waste precious time or hurt precious people (including myself) in my unachievable pursuit for perfection. After all, love doesn’t have to be perfect to be nurturing or nourishing.
Watch the Hands Free Life Video
Excerpted with permission from Hands Free Life by Rachel Macy Stafford, copyright Rachel Macy Stafford.
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If you’re anything like me, a daily dose of God’s Grace that perfection is not only unachievable but also hurts us and those around us is such an important reminder… and a huge relief! I want to control my surroundings so things feel “less stressful”. I want to make my environment, my life, and my people tidy, predictable, and chaos-free, but truthfully it’s more because I’m trying to manage my own image than be a healthy human being and mama. Can you relate? Let’s listen deep to Rachel’s wise words again: The missteps of a messy, imperfect life were not something shameful or bad — they were a means to a more loving and fulfilling life. Today, let’s ask God for the grace to live in His grace and to dole it out in lavish heaps to those around us. Come join the conversation on our blog! We’d love to hear from you about taking the pressure off! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full