I Can’t. (Confessions of a Perfectionist Mother)

“I think I can. I think I can.”

I teach my daughter this mantra, echoing the words from the story book as she learns to pull a shirt over her head, pry a lid off a jar, climb higher on the jungle gym.

I repeat it silently to myself, too:

I think I can. I think I can.

…Make time to write today.

I think I can. I think I can.

…Release the enormous pressure I put on myself to be Perfect as a mother. “Perfect,” as in kind, patient, firm, fun, open, present, engaged. Setting limits, but not too many — just the right ones. Present, whenever we’re together, because all day, when she’s in school, we aren’t together, and so, I owe her this. I owe her Me.

I can’t be perfect — I know this — and yet,


my brain wails at me.


“Silly Amanda,” my heart replies.

“You couldn’t be perfect, even if you tried. What might happen if you released all the energy you put into trying to meet that impossible standard? Where could you channel it instead?”

I think I can. I think I can.

Accept (except?) that… I can’t.

I can’t be perfect.

I can’t be present and engaged, always. 

I can’t avoid scarring her, somehow, this precious cargo. Despite all my best intentions, somehow, I will fuck this up.

And it will be ok.

The world will keep on turning.

It is a mysterious and dangerous love, this love of parent for child…this love that I have, for her. I fear her. Very much. I fear the power that she has over me, but mostly, I fear what’s at stake. Fucking it up. Being unfair to her. Asking too much. 

…The way I ask too much of myself.


I thought I was done with this shit. Done with Straight-A Amanda. At home in my new, grown-up, carve-your-own-path, improvisational self. Turns out, that shit follows you around. Tugs at your skirt. Like a needy kid.

“Shhh,” I say, to Perfectionism, the little monster, tugging at my skirt, eating up my heart.

“Shhh,” I say.

It won’t go away, but I can keep on shushing it.

Maybe it will get the message. 


I think I can.

I think I can. 


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