The woes of a pissed off perfectionist

I looked my 11 year old daughter in her big round, brown eyes. I had called her into the kitchen where I was cooking supper, because i suddenly realized I had said a horrible thing to her and I had to make it right. In those big, beautiful tender eyes I saw fear and dread. I had done that. I had put that dread and fear in her heart that came spilling out of her eyes. She stood there timidly, waiting to hear what I wanted to say and my heart broke a little inside my chest.

The previous conversation had gone like this:

Chloe: I can’t wait for summer vacation! (skipping happily around the kitchen)
Me: (chopping veggies for supper) Ugh, I can wait. During summer break you guys are always here making messes!

Then I said something about liking it better when they were in school. To which she pointed out how many hours she is away at school every day and after a half a minute more, she walked out of the kitchen. The skip evaporated from her step.

And in that few seconds after she walked out of the kitchen the Holy Spirit struck me through my heart. Through and through. So I called her back. And there she stood, looking at me, fully open and vulnerable to (and i could tell a little afraid of) whatever it was I had to say. In that moment I finally understood what my problem has been with housekeeping all. my. life.

I am a perfectionist.

I know, I know, some of you who know me may scoff to hear me say that, but I read a description of a perfectionist once that hit home and made so much sense to me. There are different types, 2 that I know of. We’ll call them A Type Perfectionist and B Type Perfectionist. The A Type believes everything has it’s place and always, no matter what, has everything IN it’s place all the time. Easy to spot. They spend much of their lives making sure everything is just so, always with a long to do list of things that must be done, and are driven (often times past the point of exhaustion) to accomplish the task list, and refuse to rest until it’s finished, because being in a cluttered mess is depressing and unacceptable. So come hell or high water, they’re gonna fix it wether anyone helps them or not because it must be done. (This is not me.)

Which brings us to B Types, (like me) who believe everything has it’s place and must be “just so” but often feels overwhelmed at the prospect, leading to things piling up little by little around us till one day we look around and realize we can’t see the floor any more and there are no clean clothes, and finally the drive kicks in and we clean furiously until every crumb is sucked up, every smudge is wiped and every last stitch of clothing is washed, folded AND put away, all the winter clothes put away, the spring clothes pulled out, the pantry re-organized and labeled and the bathroom scrubbed till it shines and on and on. Which is unbelievably satisfying and leaves us deliriously happy.

But then (at least in my own personal little world) someone leaves a dish on the counter. Or someone leaves their clothes on the bathroom floor. Someone doesn’t do their job and clean the litter box and I have to do it – AGAIN. And I am driven over the edge. Just. like. that. All the satisfaction and joy of the accomplishment of having a PERFECTLY clean house is gone and I am livid, and fussing and nagging and pulling my family away from whatever they are doing in that-very-second to come deal with the MESS THEY MADE…. AGAIN!!!! My blood pressure boils and my head starts to hurt at the audacity that people have to think I am the one that is supposed to clean up after me and them and everyone else, and I throw up my hands and say forget this! No amount of dirty dishes or piles of laundry is worth getting this upset over. Screw it, if no one else wants to help then it can just pile up.  I refuse kill myself, constantly picking up after everyone, always livid and constantly disappointed with the people I love because i can’t get them to help me clean, I block it all out saying to myself, I would rather spend time with my family than have a perfect house, I would rather my children know that I love them than have me constantly fussing and losing it when they don’t perform to my satisfaction. Which brings on the piles of mess, which brings on the binge cleaning… resulting in a miserable try hard, give up cycle. It’s not as easy to spot and may be hard to believe, but it’s just as depressing for us B Types to be in a messy house, have a messy yard, drive a messy vehicle, etc, which only perpetuates the messiness. But for some reason that driving mechanism doesn’t work the same way for us. We are driven, yes, but not to put things in order. We are driven to condemn ourselves for our failure and shut down, blocking out the disorder that we have allowed to fall on our heads until it can be ignored no longer.

Since I have been married (13 years now) I have resented picking up after my husband. Since I have had children I have resented cleaning up after them. Yes, I have lived with a healthy dose of self-pity. It’s not easy to admit, nor has it been easy to live with. Some may ask why I don’t “just clean it up!”and the conclusion has often been, well, you’re just lazy. But regardless of all the years of trying to figure it out and fix my problem, here i sat. During the down cycle I was drowning in plies of unwashed dishes and hampers full of clean clothes, and on the up cycle I was a beast to live with furiously scrubbing and cleaning pushing away those I loved until the job was done. And this was my story until the day I looked my daughter in her eyes and realized I was passing on the lie.

I had told my daughter that I would rather she be at school, away from me, away from home rather than have to clean up after her. And my heart was laid bare. I was struck to the core to hear those words come out of my mouth and understand what message that had put in my daughter’s heart.

She wasn’t worth it. I’d rather have a clean house than be with her.

I turned from the onion I was chopping and looked her in the eye, waving the butcher knife in the air.

Me: Chloe, I just want you to know – that spending time with you is always more important than any mess that has to be cleaned up. You being around is TOTALLY WORTH IT!

And all the fear and dread suddenly melted from her face and the biggest, happiest smile lit up her eyes as she lunged toward me and wrapped her arms around my waist. I held her and kissed the top of her little blonde head and repeated to her that she was worth it, and I loved her and she happily skipped out of the kitchen.

Somewhere along the line my worth and how much I deserved love was tied to how well I did what I was “supposed to do,” how clean my room was, my house was, how well my children behave and do what they “should do,” how well my business is doing, how clean my children are and if they have on nice clothes and if their teeth and hair are brushed. If I didn’t do it perfectly, I wasn’t worthy. If I didn’t do it right (whatever IT may be) I didn’t deserve affection or closeness or kindness or love. This is an overwhelming prospect. Because (just in case you didn’t know) we aren’t perfect, we won’t always get it done or always do it right and if my being worthy of love or acceptance is dependent on anything i DO, I’m up crap creek.

Due to not having an understanding of grace in my early years, I have believed God was mad at me, disappointed with me, ashamed of me, displeased with me – until I performed well. Do everything unto the glory of God (or else)! Cleanliness is next to Godliness (so God can’t stand to be with you if everything isn’t clean)! The (lazy) irresponsible man is worse than an infidel (and it’s obvious that you’re the worst kind of slacker/lazy man)!! These are all messages I realized I have believed and they have played in a loop in my head, an audio tape of condemnation leading to self hatred, punishment and fear, ultimately making it impossible to truly accept love from anyone, including God himself until I felt I had done the task well.

All of this came rushing to the surface of my heart when I heard myself tell my own daughter something that would plant that same message in her tender, young, believing heart. I am determined to do whatever it takes to help my children understand that they are worth it, and they are worthy of Love, and to not punish them by withholding my affection if they don’t perform up to my standard. This comes along with teaching them to pick up after themselves and learning to work together as a family, but that isn’t and can never be the main focus – which is impossible as long as it is attached to my worth.

I believe I am well on my way to no longer measuring my worth or worthiness to be loved based on what I am able to do, but that instead I am worthy because of what Jesus has done and who I am in Him.  When we start from this place we will never question our worth and never believe for a second that the Father will withhold His affection or love until we get it right.  And by the grace of Jesus, I pray I instill in my children this truth, and nevermore be a pissed off perfectionist.

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