It was a Saturday afternoon and my husband was away for the weekend. It was just me and my three kids, three years old and under. I was exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed when a good friend called, asking if I wanted her to come over and help. She left a voicemail saying she could come or not, depending on what would be most helpful to me. As I listened to her voicemail, I had to convince myself to ask her to come.
It had been a long day. It was a Houston summer, my three year old decided not to nap after I was finally able to get the newborn down for one, and I had no idea how I was going to make it from 4 p.m. to dinner, bath, and bedtime.
Yet I struggled to call back and accept the help. Why? Because I have been trained to believe that to be the best mom that I have to do it myself. That to be the successful woman, I have to do it myself. That I have to be put together and in control.
In short, because I have been trained to be a perfectionist.
Have It All, Having It Together
A lot has been written recently regarding this idea that we, as women, put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perceived as “having it all.” There are plenty of resources shared about how social media depictions of “everyday” life can cause us to compare our worst day to someone else’s best—or better yet, staged—day.
For the most part, those kinds of things don’t bother me. I don’t tend to compare myself to other women’s Instagram posts of perfect rooms or perfect dinners or to other people’s successes posted on Facebook. However, I am influenced by the moms’ groups I am in on Facebook. I read about their struggles and successes in parenting, whether working or stay at home. What I focus on the most is how they’re doing it themselves.
I often think that it doesn’t “count” as being successful as a modern woman if I have help from outsiders. The voice in my head interprets those posts as saying that I’m not really doing it right or doing it well if I’m not doing it myself or if I get help. This is especially true coming from a Catholic background and from being rooted in what JPII called the “feminine genius.” We, as women, are created and called to be nurturing caretakers and to be mothers in some way.
Holiness Does Not Mean Perfectionism
My need for perfectionism twists this to mean that getting help with being a wife, with being a mom, and with taking care of my family is a weakness. Or that it can be considered a form of laziness. I let myself refuse help and struggle more. What I perceive as a success is really a personal pride that makes me more stressed, more tired, and more impatient. So in the end, I let the voice of self-criticism and self-doubt win while my family loses.
It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child. This is an African proverb that we all know well. This proverb used to feel less pithy and cliche because it used to be true. Families lived closely in communities where everyone would chip in to watch the kids, serve as models for them, and support the other families. We constantly hear about the good ole days when neighborhoods were full of kids playing with their neighbors, coming home when the sun went down.
Today, we don’t know our neighbors’ names, let alone work in community with them. We often live far away from family. We have little time for making the friends that we need to have such a community. Even parish life, which used to be the center point of community in a family’s life, has gone the way of the neighborhood. We go to Mass, maybe to other events, though most likely not, and go on our way as a singular family unit.
So what do we do? We try to do it all by ourselves. We think we have to do it all, be everything to everyone, and do it gracefully and flawlessly.
I am the first to say “thanks but we’re good” whenever someone asks if and how they can help. But I finally began to realize that doing it on my own wasn’t good for my family and it wasn’t good for me either. So when my third baby was born, I finally said “yes” to the meal train offered by my parish, to the time off my mom and other friends could take to come over, to the friend who called my at 4 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon while my husband was gone. What was best for all of us was to say “yes” to the help, to dinner being brought to us, to having a family friend take the two older kids so I could catch a break, to having some adult conversation for my sanity.
It wasn’t a weakness to need the help. It was a grace.
Fighting Against Solitary Perfectionism
We need to push back against the voice that tells us that we need to be perfect. We require the help of our community, our tribe, our family. It’s pride that keeps us from accepting that help a lot of the time. It’s a fear of showing weakness or of making it seem like we don’t have it together.It wasn’t a weakness to need the help. It was a grace. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
What we forget in all of that is that we are made for community. We are made in the image of a God who is communion, who is constantly a loving community of Persons. We are meant to not only offer support and help to others, but also to be willing to accept it when it’s offered to us. Our community is a way in which Christ offers us His hand, His help, His support in our times of struggle, of loneliness, of need.
I need a village to raise my children. I need this village to show them what it is like to be a neighbor, to serve another, to love without cost. If they see it and accept it, my hope is that they genuinely pass it on to others in the future. Most of all, I need the help so that I can be who they need me to be, not so that I can be who the evil spirit wants me to think that I need to be.
Who is in your village?Accepting Our Village, Accepting Help #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Victoria Mastrangelo is a wife, mother of three, and high school theology teacher in Houston. She loves to read, research, write, drink coffee, and travel, as her dream job is to be perpetual student.