I have always been a perfectionist. It is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, my high ambitions and expectations for myself have led me to excel in many areas throughout my life. On the other hand, I can become overwhelmingly distressed and discouraged when I miss the mark. So the question is, can you be a perfectionist and a mother?

If I had things my way my husband would come home to a sparkling clean house, a delicious gourmet dinner coming out of the oven right as he walked through the door, and a beautifully in-shape wife wearing a cute outfit and a bright smile. When it was just the two of us, I got pretty close. But here is reality now: my husband comes home to a house with dirty dishes in the sink and baby things strewn all around the front room; dinner ends up being something quick and easy, and half the time he ends up making it; I greet him in my pajamas (unless I had to go out for some reason) and a tired smile. But the baby needs my attention all day, and her naps just aren’t sufficient time for me to do everything I would like. When she’s awake, she wants to cuddle, or at least have a silly face contest with Mommy. And she always wakes up if I try to move her after she has fallen asleep. So if I can’t get her to fall asleep without my holding her, my best option is a baby sling, which lets me do some things, but not everything I would like to get done.

It has been a struggle not to become discouraged by falling so short of my idea of a perfect wife and mother. But having lost our first son to SIDS, I want to make sure that I am always there for my daughter when she needs me. And most of the time, this means sacrificing a perfectly clean house and an expertly crafted meal. There will always be dishes to wash and laundry to fold; there will always be dinner to make and serve. But she is only going to grow up once, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it because I was too busy trying to take care of things that are ultimately less important.

But I am still a perfectionist at heart. So how do I balance that with motherhood? It’s very simple. Actually, I just had to realize that a perfect mother is not a maid or chef. A perfect mother is there for her child, no matter what. And as long as the house is tidy enough, and as long as I get dinner on the table soon enough, that’s all that matters. My children will always know that I love them and put them first in my life. And if they know this, I will have succeeded at becoming the perfect mother.