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The Parenting Truth You Need to Hear

It took five years of motherhood, but I finally learned to let go. I learned to let go of doing it all—and doing it perfectly—and to let myself be happy with "good enough." I learned to put down the pen and not try to write a Christmas card to everyone I ever knew, to throw the dampened tablecloth in the dryer instead of ironing it, to slap a store-bought bow on a present instead of making an elaborate display with raffia and bells. Enough was enough, finally.

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The breaking point came half a year ago, when I was trying to wrap presents while my kids watched television in the same room. Invariably, within 10 minutes they decided wrapping Christmas presents was more interesting than any trouble Curious George could get into.

"Let's use this paper, Mama," my 3-year-old said, holding up a roll of Hot Wheels birthday wrapping paper that had gotten mixed in with the Christmas paper after my older son's early December birthday.

"That's not the kind I need," I said.

"But I want it, it's pretty!" he whined.

And it spiraled down from there, with my 5-year-old getting into the act and dragging out the ribbon and bows and other holiday ephemera, gleefully announcing he was going to help me wrap gifts, too.

"Enough!" I said, louder and more forceful than I should have. "I'm wrapping the gifts. I don't need any help. Go watch TV!" And the look on their faces—well, what parent hasn't experienced that moment of instant stinging regret? I apologized for yelling, I let them help me wrap their father's gifts, and everything was fine.

Why do I let myself get so worked up over doing things "right" versus doing things as a family?

Except it wasn't. My need to make everything "just so" and to create perfect Instagram memories linger. I know I'm not the only one. Every day I see the faces (and the Facebook posts) of mothers who are struggling with finding the balance between perfection and something approaching sanity. And, man, I know that struggle all too well.

But when I find myself striving for perfection, I flash back on that moment with the gift wrapping: the frustration and exasperation of dealing with two pre-schoolers who want to help, who don't understand the difference between one pretty wrapping paper and another, who just want to be a part of the excitement. And that's what I want—right? For them to be happy and excited and interested in the holidays we're celebrating, as well as the day-to-day adventures in our lives?

I want my kids to have more than just a pretty picture with a back story about how I yelled at them right before the photo was taken. I want more than that for myself. So why do I let myself get so worked up over doing things "right" versus doing things as a family? There's no good answer, except that it's the version of motherhood I have been sold over the years—the same version we've all been sold. And it's time to let go.

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It's not easy. It's an ongoing battle to stop thinking in terms of the right way, the perfect way, the only way. But it's neither right nor perfect to dread the holidays, nor is the so-called right way the only way to do something. Sometimes the way to do something is the way my boys did it that day with the gift wrapping: with enthusiasm and exuberance and an utter disregard for the "right" way. If the bow doesn't match the crookedly taped, non-holiday paper, who cares? We had fun. And when these years have passed and they're in their own homes wrapping their own gifts, that's what I want them to remember.

Image via Twenty20/brittleighhh

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