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SAHM Tip #13: Avoid Perfection (Go For Progress Instead)

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Avoiding perfectionism looks like not beating myself up about my mistakes, that I don’t expect everything to be done, and that I learn to let go of certain things (for me). So for example, with trying to be a mindful parent, I used to often feel like my response to my kids could be better. But, you know what, what’s better is when I feel like ‘Ima try, I’m human, things are so much better now than they were 6 months ago, than they were a year ago, and definitely than they were, like, 2 years ago. I’m growing. Feeling uh-mazing at times, failing forward at others. So that’s what’s up, Mrs internal voice that’s trying to put me down’.

And if our ‘bad’ days and moments, which do not feel good in the moment, will inform what we will do differently next time, for the better, what else does that inner critic expect us to do?! Just wallow in the guilt?! That’s neither productive nor conducive to any good.

Progress, Not Perfection, In The Many Facets of Being a SAHM

Getting more things done around the home, with the kids, and being mindful in how we interact with them, for example, can be challenging for me – especially in our modern set-up where we don’t have a village to raise our little blessings with. I noticed in the past that when I’m cooking and/or getting through chores, I would likely be less mindful. However, I noticed this, which at first made me feel like, I need to then back away from those things until their screen time (which I didn’t want to do) or do them in the evenings. But now, I’m trying to do both and go for progress. I’m thinking practise is what it needs, not elimination/time re-designation.

Also, keeping it in mind that it takes practise to get near getting most of what we’d like done: food, home, chores, laundry, mindful responses, time to work on our individual projects, connection time (and add, prepping for homeschooling and primary caregiver to the list) = hello, something’s gotta give. So for now, at the beginning of my journey, something’s definitely gotta give. We need to remind ourselves to be mindful of where we are in our journeys, what thing(s) we can improve, that our resources are often few for the amount that needs doing (and to do something about that where we can), and that it all will get better with practice, approaching it all with a growth mindset, being kind to ourselves and planning and prioritising (especially our self-care).

Perfection vs. Self-Compassion

Perfection makes us want to abandon ship on self-improvement or run ourselves into the ground- it knows no middle ground; self kindness beckons us towards progress and proactivity, that we do our best, try again, humbled and yet enriched (and struggling some days) and insha’Allah, wisened up from the falls and fails. So when we try again, we try again at a more elevated, improved level, in that we have lessons and experiences in tow now.

There are days where I have taken a long time to do stuff around the home alhamdulilah, and thus had to skip the boys’ baths. Or days when the boys have needed me so I miss something else. There is no reason why we can’t strive to tick off our to-do list but we must not feel guilty when something more important (according to our individual and family values) comes up and we want or need to halt the to-do list; and also just halting it for little snippets of self-care so that we are taking care of ourselves.

Perfection With Time-Keeping

Another area that I, when I try to improve, can get perfectionist with, is timekeeping. So the other evening, my son asked me if he could ride his scooter in the corridor with my younger son and our neighbour – in our communal hallway space (the little kids on our floor play in the corridor sometimes). So I said yes, but not for too long, as they both still needed to take their baths. But we had recently just got in, and I was trying to balance that, and then getting their dinners ready post running my elder one’s bath, after they were done with their scooting session – which extended a little as I was speaking to my neighbour whilst her son played with our sons). And then I wanted to pray Maghrib as it was just about to come in and was trying to figure out in my head if I should get the dinners set before, or take Smiley, who was now in his bath, out of his bath before praying or after praying.

I’m very much a person who needs to focus on one thing at a time and I was finding it hard to let go and be mindful, in the midst of all that was going on. And I did that to myself. I do better when I let go and think ‘okay, what’s the priority here?’ If it’s a certain bedtime, let’s let one of their baths go (I did that eventually; bathed younger Smiley the next morning) but I made that decision not completely intentionally but rather, consequentially, when I was already all frazzled.

So yeah, eventually, I went for progress and not getting it all done. But I couldn’t readily step into the potentially joyful space that progress and making room in my schedule could bring, as, in this instance, I was already frazzled so was a little exhausted from that (and the day). Not fun.

What works better in situations like that is to pause, or even sit down for maybe a minute and think ‘okay, what’s best here? Should I let something go? Or should I do it all but with little pauses, and taking it slow, and embracing a later bedtime?’ That way, I find, for next time, I’d probably take the letting-go-of-perfection in this instance as a springboard to do better, perhaps to get both baths done calmly, and start earlier too, learning from experience. But once I’ve hit frazzled, I can still learn from experience, but I think less so for me. I’m a lot less lighter, too, when I don’t roll with the flow and exercise flexibility with time-keeping (and life).

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Progress, Not Perfection in Mindful Parenting

Next, there is going for progress in the realm of mindful parenting. So although, I say I prefer to work with my kids, I fall into lecturing, getting worked up and other less than optimal ways, too.

The point it you get it right on some days, or in some parts of the day, and wrong on others. You do okay in some incidents, smash it outta the park with other incidents (yay! we must note, dwell on, and thank Allah for those – alhamdulillah), shame (and blame) in some moments (which feels horrible upon reflection and requires repair), and sound like a whiner with our kids ourselves in other moments (well, I do). Parenting is not an easy gig. It can be a joyful gig for sure, filled with laughter and love, and we wanna find and also, with Allah’s permission, go about facilitating those moments insha’Allah, but it is most certainly a challenge.

Taking Stock Of Our Context

We can’t implement all mindful parenting brilliance all at once or even from moment-to-moment: internal work requires effort at the best of times, let alone on little sleep, with young kids under a certain age, kids who are nap resistant, and when our ibaadah doesn’t feel solid quality-wise. I know the deal.

But we have to be kind to ourselves. To take stock of our context which is some or all of the above (or more than the above). And aim for progress. To think ‘only love today’ (as Rachel Macy Stafford writes). To think: are we moving forward and progressing overall? To repair sincerely when necessary. To celebrate little wins. Like, today, wahey, alhamdulillah, I took something off my son that he crashed into me with a few times, and he cried his eyes out. I managed to remain calm and to empathise with his feelings verbally of having it taken away and him still wanting it, but still kept it away. I didn’t do it all perfectly, but I was calm and you know what, all round, it’s progress, wa lil laahil hamd.

And thennnn, in the afternoon, I was all sigh-y, and sleepy, had a ‘come on, guys!’ kind of tone, and blame-y a few times. In hindsight, I realise I was getting sleepy and what I needed was a good filter coffee. Noted and will be implemented next time insha’Allah. Progress. Not perfection. Self-kindness, not harshness. Baby steps forward. And sometimes, we can hear our voices and then start again when the harsh or blame-y sentence comes out: “I’m sorry, honey, that was my cross voice; let me try again” (<learnt from Dr. Laura Markham)

So guys, this parenting gig that can demand so much of us…do me a favour, okay? (I need to listen, here). Let’s try our best, learn and grow, go for progress, not perfection. Let’s nurture ourselves, offer ourselves grace, call out to Al-Mujeeb, Ar-Rashid for help and guidance, make repairs and move on.

So how can we move from perfection to progress, practically?

Actionable Steps in Implementing The Tip:

1) Embrace self-compassion! When you fall short, mess up, wonder if you can do it, or make mistakes, do not believe all the thoughts that tell you that you can’t (or that you’re not enough), etc. Relate to them as an observer, and put a space between you and those thoughts, and do not make big decisions in this state. If there really are doubts or questions you have or things you want to quit, address them honestly when you’re in a happier, settled kind of place. In the interim, nurture yourself. Speak to loved ones whom you trust and are compassionate if you need to. Journal. Du’a. Rest. Go slow. Chill. Ya’ni, let the thoughts just pass on by.

2) Define what’s important for this season (and what it’s okay not to be so good at!). At my home? That the kids and I are well, and that they are learning, and that play is facilitated (big reminder to myself: I fall into bouts of overwhelm at times). I’m big on read-alouds, as well. The house and stuff, I will try to keep up with but not at the expense of the kids’ curiosity or us going out and them getting a good run around, or having the energy to parent calmly.

Another priority: that I’m well (especially in terms of mindset – generally!) in order to facilitate the above (also, we are looking for a cleaner; I encourage outsourcing if ya need help especially as a home ed family; us modern mamas don’t have villages). That Mama is happy! Cos, as The Parenting Junkie says, ‘you can’t give [in this instance, with regards to kids] that which you do not have’. How can I want contentment for my kids when I’m not working on contentment myself?

3) Go to Self-Kindness and Gratitudes. Celebrate progress – especially on the days where it feels like it’s just a usual day. Nothing new, nothing noticeably improved, nothing apparently exciting. But there is. Take a few minutes and jot down that which you’re grateful for, that which has improved on this day (or in your life in general) or that with which you were gifted.

I hope some of these tips help, and I wish you great days with your little lovelies, insha’Allah 😃

Please share if you or someone else you know may benefit: jazakum’Allahu khairan and thank you. Below are some beneficial resources on this topic 🙂

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Resources on Overcoming Perfectionism:
1) An article on Perfection and Deen entitled ‘Myth of a Naturally Good Muslim’ 
2) http://www.ahaparenting.com/blog/How_to_forgive_yourself
3) http://www.ahaparenting.com/blog/my-name-is-laura-and-im-a-recovering-perfectionist
4) Lecture pertaining to growth mindset by  Dr. Carol Dweck entitled ‘How to Help Every Child Fulfil Their Potential’
5) Book: The Gifts of Imperfection – Dr Brené Brown. I love the distinctions she makes between perfectionism (not healthy) vs. healthy striving/striving for excellence (healthy).
6) Book: How To Be An Imperfectionist – Stephen Guise
7) A short clip from Brendon Burchard entitled ‘Procrastination and “The Perfectionist”‘
8) Book: Mini Habits – Stephen Guise

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SAHM Tip #12: Carving Out Intentional Breaks (Daily & Weekly)

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Having some time in the day at home with the kids that I can generally count on to get a break is really important for me. For me, it used to usually happen when my younger son was napping and we usually did quiet time with my elder son: which meant he played in a different room with his toys for about half an hour (and I would chill in another room). For that half hour, I’d usually read or sometimes write. Sometimes, I’d call a close friend or just be.

Carving Out Intentional Breaks (+ The Benefits)

Having such time in the day is vital for me to feeling ‘topped up’ for the afternoon. I feel more able to relate to my kids and the rest of the day from a better place. Keeps depletion away (most of the time! Mummy depletion is neither cool nor pretty: snappiness hollers at me and I begin to respond)

Carving out such intentional breaks then – which will look different based on individual circumstances and/or needs – I feel, can really help us to feel like we’re not running on low (at least, not for the majority of the time).

These little breaks, if we take them, can allow us to fill up our tank a little bit so that we can function and move through our days from a better place. We can use this time to work on an individual project, to nurture a personal dream even in small but consistent time chunks (even if it’s just 15 minutes daily), to just be, to nurture ourselves; and this helps nurture our families.

These days, we don’t do quiet time but my children have a set amount of screen time most days (usually in the afternoon) and I generally use some of that time for replenishment/reading.

On The Days That Break Time Doesn’t Work Out

If, for some reason, break time doesn’t work out for a continuous stretch of time – even if ‘brief’ like a few days – finding another slot of time where the kids are safely occupied, like bath time or independent play time helps – even if it’s just an intentional 5 or 10 minutes on some days. This, coupled with getting (re)intentional regarding committing to pre-planned break times, helps in getting back on the consistent daily break time train. We can (and do!) all sometimes fall off any good habit train, but I think it’s just about learning to course correct quicker.

If there are days when break time isn’t happening at all, then I like Dr Laura Markham’s suggestion of making a deal with ourselves: to nurture ourselves in the evening when our lovelies sleep.

For me personally, especially in the summertime when sunset is later in the UK, I opt for a walk in the early evening after the kids’ bedtime when I feel I need some me-time – this happens infrequently but it’s there as an option.

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When We Don’t Take Breaks (Pitfalls!)

I have gone through phases where I don’t take these breaks for whatever reason, underestimating how useful they are for me. Sometimes, Smiley used to ask if we could take quiet time together or play together and I, at times, said yes, so as not to refuse the sweet boy who wanted to connect and play with his Mum. I’d (at times!) feel bad refusing that. But then I’d often regret it.

Taking quiet time together in the same space didn’t work for me, as even though beautiful young kids mean well, they don’t always get that you’re reading (cue: lots of talking and questions and the quiet time not being so…quiet). Which is fine in that it is to be expected with young kids. But I found it to be a trigger for me (because I don’t get a break and it’s not playtime for us, so we don’t get to enjoy each other completely).

And the times when I’ve thought that maybe we could just skip quiet time altogether and just have one-on-one time, it mostly hasn’t worked out as, towards the end of the day or afterwards, I’m okay but would be feeling like I needed to switch off a bit. So I’d find myself wishing I had taken that time…so that I’d keep as well as I can – so I’m beneficial to myself and them.

So when we did quiet time, kindly and firmly upholding that we have quiet time apart worked better so that we could all rest insha’Allah and spend time together post quiet time. There would be resistance at the beginning but I continued with kindly redirecting; and to b honest, getting annoyed and not being so kind on a few occasions, and then striving to fix that…like establishing anything new, the process will be neither perfect nor mistake-free on both sides.

Now that I take time during screen time though, we often take time *together* in the same room; I use some of their screen time as reading time and they are into what they’re watching so it works for now, alhamdulillah.

Getting Ready In The Morning

Intentional ‘me’ time is also getting ready in the morning for me (not always!). Taking this investment into the day can allow us to feel good rather than sloppy, and that makes the challenges feel less…weighty. They feel like ‘I feel good and I got this’. I’m not wishing away any morning tantrums or challenges etc. There’s something about neat hair, a clean face, and being dressed in day clothes (as opposed to PJs) that can make us feel put together and for me, feel like ‘I can captain this ship’. The ‘feeling together’ feeling of being ready can induce a readiness to engage with the day. But if I don’t get ready in the morning, I feel sloppy and unfresh, and more pertinently, I am more likely to be wishing away the challenges, resistant to them rather than going with the flow and accepting whatever comes up.

So what can we do to carve out intentional breaks, insha’Allah? Here’s what works/has worked for me:

1) We can look at our day and see if there is a time when our children are consistently busy. for example: a consistent time of the day the kids play independently; nap time; screen time etc, and perhaps consider using some of that time to do something replenishing: reading Qur’an, reading good books, watching a lecture, getting some exercise, or something else personally uplifting and/or replenishing for you.

2) Consider if establishing quiet-time would be of use to you. Here is a useful article on how to establish quiet time and things to keep it in mind for quiet time:
http://loveplayandlearn.com/7-tips-transition-toddlers-naptime-quiet-time/

When we did quiet-time, I went for 30mins – but at times, set the timer for about 40-45mins; to account for the occasions when my little one would come in or resist or come and ask some questions; the little extra time would allow me to be a bit gentler in handling it and redirecting him to quiet time (without the time buffer, I was finding myself frustrated at times).

3) Weekly time-off  can also be incredibly nourishing – an afternoon, morning or evening where you take time to nurture yourself.

I hope some of these tips help insha’Allah.
And I wish you great days with your littles 🙂