Replacing Perfectionism with Good-Enough Adulting

I have fairly sensitive teeth.  This may be genetic, or perhaps it’s because when I had braces as a young teenager, I wasn’t as fastidious about brushing and flossing as I ought to have been.  (See Ariel Hirsch’s recent post about forgiving yourself for embarrassing follies of youth!)  Regardless of the reason, I’ve been using prescription toothpaste since I was about 15.

When I was 15 years old, if I ran out of toothpaste, all I had to do was say, “Mom, I’m out of toothpaste,” and some would show up in the bathroom within a few days.  At 19, in college and on my own for the first time, I discovered it wasn’t quite that simple.  When I noticed I was low on toothpaste, I called my dentist to have him send the prescription across the country for me.  I went to the pharmacy and they gave me the generic, which has a weird texture and doesn’t work as well.  Bringing it back, I asked them to substitute the brand name, but they said that in the state where I was living, there was a law that they had to issue the generic unless the doctor specifically ordered the brand name.  So I called my dentist and… well, you get the point.  Replacing an empty tube of toothpaste – a seemingly straightforward task – became convoluted and exhausting when I had to do it for myself.

When I was in college, there was a common refrain among my friends: among studying, sleeping, and socializing, you had to pick two of the three.  Notice that within this, there’s no acknowledgement of other needs.  Do you need to vacuum your apartment?  Attend to basic self-care such as medical checkups and haircuts?  Work a part-time job?

For most people, entering the workforce and the “real world” only intensified these pressures, leaving people in their 20s and 30s with the refrain, “adulting is hard!!”  And you know what?  They’re not wrong.

So how do some people do it?  Well, for starters, we have a lot to learn from the philosophy of “Good-Enough Parenting”.


The Good-Enough Parenting Movement

Anyone who has ever become a parent (especially, but not exclusively, if you have ever become a mother) knows that this new identity hurls you into a tornado of high-stakes expectations – both self- and other-imposed – and conflicting “shoulds“.  Here are some examples:

  • Some people will tell you it’s vital to sleep train your child to teach boundaries; others will tell you that it leads to unhealthy attachment issues.
  • Some people will tell you that you must breastfeed your child until the age of two; others will tell you it’s disgusting if your child is older than six months.
  • Some people will tell you that you have to take several years away from the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent; others will tell you that’s setting feminism back to the 50s.

For new parents, anxious to raise healthy and happy children, it’s enough to make your head spin!  Trying to do everything right, to be the perfect parent, can make vulnerable, well-meaning mommies and daddies descend into a spiral of shame and helplessness.

Thus, the Good-Enough Parenting movement was born.  This paradigm says, “don’t try to be perfect – that’s impossible.  Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses or be a Pinterest parent.  Just focus on meeting your child’s emotional and physical needs.  Model for your kids that it’s human to be imperfect sometimes, and learn to laugh at yourself.  Make sure everyone is healthy, happy, and attended to.”


Embracing Good-Enough Adulting

Hyperbole and a Half, a webcomic by Allie Brosh, went viral because of the relatable way she writes about everyday life – and one of her most viewed articles is called “Why I’ll Never Be an Adult”.

XKCD, a stick figure webcomic, released this comic, which sits framed on a shelf in my office:

Adulting is a hot topic, and it’s time to give ourselves permission to be a little bit messy.  Yes, when you become a parent, your life becomes exponentially more complicated.  But even as a non-child-having human grown-up trying to live a “successful” life, things can get overwhelming.

It’s fine if your home isn’t always spotless.  It’s totally okay if you have to triage your priorities.  And it’s definitely not a problem if you decide once in awhile that you’re pooped and want to binge-watch four episodes of “Dear White People” on Netflix, which is definitely what I did last night.

People have a finite number of… let’s call them “energy units”.  This may vary from person to person, or from day to day.  Part of this is within your control, based on things like whether you’ve had enough sleep, whether you ate food that gives you energy, whether you exercise regularly.  Part of it is outside your control – maybe you have an injury or a chronic illness, maybe you caught the flu, or maybe you have to expend more energy than other people on things like fending off casual everyday misogyny or systemic racism.

So if you start your day with 20 energy units and then you go, go, go without taking moments to check in and recharge, you’re going to run out of energy before you run out of obligations.  You are not a perpetual motion machine.

So you have a choice: you can run out of energy and then become self-critical, which actually uses even more energy units.  Or you can find a way to be self-compassionate and forgive yourself.  This latter attitude is the crux of good-enough adulting.

One Response to “Replacing Perfectionism with Good-Enough Adulting”

  1. Thank you Jennie for this fabulous article. Will you please keep reminding us? Those of us who are recovering perfectionists and people-pleasers need this reminder regularly!

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