In college, my friend Ellen told me that despite being a type-A, high-achieving first born, I had middle child syndrome. She argued I was too flexible, too willing to let other people have their way, and that instead of always trying to be a peacemaker, I should express my own needs and opinions. I totally dismissed her at the time, but lately I’ve come to realize she’s right.
In When Harry Met Sally, Harry insists only two kinds of women exist in the world: high-maintenance and low-maintenance. Sally, of course, doesn’t realize that ordering her salad dressing on the side makes her high-maintenance (at least as far as Harry is concerned).
I’m afraid of being high-maintenance.
One of the most challenging parts of being a stay-at-home mom is the constant drain of my energy reserves. I am an extreme introvert, and I need lots of alone time to recharge. Even when I was working full-time, I spent hours by myself: writing emails, assembling volunteer gifts, organizing classrooms, reading over curriculum. My schedule was packed and I crossed more off my to-do list, but it didn’t feel as depleting as caring for these two little boys. Now, all my energy is going outward, and there is rarely a moment of calm until after Ian’s in bed at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, we are approaching our second Michigan winter. I am looking ahead to gray days with little sunlight, and I am remembering how anxious and blue I felt on many days last year. With a newborn in tow, I didn’t often venture out into the 30 (or 20, or 10) degree weather. The lack of “me time” and the winter collided into a perfect storm of…exhaustion.
The truth is, I know how to cope with these issues, but I often choose not to. Last year, I dragged my feet before finally buying a therapy lamp to combat the dreary days. I kept thinking, do I really NEED it? I don’t have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it’s probably not necessary. I started taking an omega-3 vitamin because I read it can help us HSP-types, but I felt silly admitting that to someone. It feels selfish to go out for coffee, take a longer shower, or schedule a haircut. I keep trying to write-off and dismiss many of the needs I feel, but I know I won’t be able to thrive this winter if something doesn’t change.
I think we perfectionists sometimes make up the story that people think we’re needy or a pain to be around, and mature or responsible people just get over it and suck it up. I’ve convinced myself that a better mother could deal with Ian’s noise without needing extra alone time. A happier person wouldn’t need a therapy lamp or more sunshine to make it through winter. And I often think I wouldn’t have any of these issues if only I was more grateful for my circumstances.
I don’t know where this tendency comes from. I didn’t grow up with parents who told me to “suck it up” or ignored my needs; I have a husband who serves and takes care of me generously. I feel like a toddler who can’t articulate what she needs, and I hate resenting others when my needs aren’t being met. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I do know I’m sick of it. There’s certainly no joy in this cycle.
Reading Present Over Perfect helped me realize that my prayer life follows this same pattern. I pray for healing for the sick and freedom for the oppressed. I pray for Evan’s success at work and favor with coworkers, and I pray for Ian & Leo’s development and future relationships. I pray for all sorts of things…but not for myself. The only prayers I pray for me, personally, are prayers of confession and prayers of gratitude, but rarely prayers of supplication.
This fear of being high-maintenance took root in impossible expectations and the shame I’ve felt over not living up to them. I think, none of this would be an issue if I were more grateful, mature, and flexible. And I am better off not letting anyone else know that these issues exist.
Last summer, I wrote about how one of the reasons vacations are good for me and my relationships is that they force me to say “I need…” At the time, I wrote,
“Don’t get me wrong: independence has its upside, obviously, as does sometimes putting the needs of others before my own. But as an approval-seeking, codependent, recovering perfectionist, I have to ask myself where my desire for independence is coming from. Do I simply enjoy the feeling of taking care of myself? Or is that that I want to appear selfless and flexible so that others will think better of me? I recognize how silly some of this sounds because–hello–I’m a human being, and no one would expect me to not be hungry or thirsty or tired once in awhile. Still, like always, it’s the simple things that trip me up.”
When I am afraid of bringing my needs to other people, I eventually grow afraid of bringing my needs before God. I believe God is intimately concerned with our living abundantly, walking into our callings with enthusiasm and confidence and a sense of fulfillment. That’s His business, because He is infinite and infinitely concerned with even the minute details of our lives. Understanding this helps me to think less in terms of “maintenance” and more in terms of owning the way God has wired my mind, body, and soul.
So, I continue to practice saying, “I need…” It’s one of the ways I learn to rely less on my own striving and more on the people and Savior who love me.
“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on ‘going it alone.’ Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share what I learned when my batteries died…like, really died.