I’m a perfectionist and, maybe to some extent, a bit of a martyr. I've prided myself on doing things right and not taking shortcuts so, when I had my first child, naturally, I applied these traits to my parenting. I placed so much pressure on performing at a certain level as a mom that, honestly, it detracted from my joys. I set a grueling pace for myself; I fed my baby only homemade, organic purees, I followed all the rules of early parenting and had my son on an airtight daily schedule to ensure a sense of security for him, I kept an immaculate home, I entertained guests and family regularly, I prepared gourmet dinners for my husband and myself, I was working an additional part-time job and exercising five days a week. In some senses, I loved the order and the sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of each day but, in a lot of ways, this standard was more about me being perceived in a certain light as a woman and a mother than doing what actually made me happiest. I added so much stress to my job as a mom, and I made it a lot less enjoyable than it should have been.
I maintained this pace after welcoming my second child when, just after she turned a year old, my life as I knew it was turned completely upside down. My son, who was three years old at the time, was diagnosed with Leukemia. It happened suddenly, unexpectedly and it changed our lives. We were thrown into a world of hospital stays, chemotherapy, surgery and sadness. For the first time, I truly needed to depend on other people for help, and had to accept the lack of control I had over my life.
My son, thank God, is in remission and everything we could have hoped for out of his treatment has happened for us. We have been so lucky, but it has been a long, treacherous road and we are still not at the finish line. Due to his compromised immune system, we were on fairly strict isolation for more than a year, and rarely left the house or took our kids to do anything social. Being home with my children all day every day took a lot out of me. So much of my focus was turned to my son and preserving his health, which meant everything else took an immediate back seat and, as a result, my priorities shifted.
After about day 54 at home with my very young children, I was hardly concerned by maintaining my once perfect standards. I was doing what I needed to do to get through the day. Some days, we only ever ate snacks and watched movies. Some days, no one got out of their pajamas, and we would run amok around the house making a giant mess. Some days, this was all I could muster and, in the midst of it all, I learned a lot.
Being faced with such a major challenge forced me into thinking about life differently. When the survival of your child is threatened, everything else is an incredibly distant second. It’s not that I don’t still strive to maintain certain standards. Now that my son’s health has improved and stabilized, I have gone back to doing a lot of the things in my life before cancer because, to a great extent, those things make me happy but, the difference now is, the pressure is off. Knowing what truly matters allowed me to realize that so much of the self-imposed quotas we set out to achieve are trivial if they don't make you happier. Life is short, precious and fragile, and I am a great mom because I know that, simply being here together, is perfection.