Overcoming the “Perfect Family” Syndrome

“Love suffers long, having patience with imperfect people.”*

When I was a young mom, I wanted to have the perfect family. As you can imagine, this put a lot of pressure on my husband and children to try and live up to my expectations. Mind you, I had it on good authority from all the books I read (before there were blogs), the tapes I listened to (before there were iPods), and the conventions I attended (before there were online conferences), what that perfect family looked like. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my family measure up. Instead, we sort of looked like the Banks family in the movie Mary Poppins.

Remember when Mary Poppins pulls out her magical measuring tape and sums up the Banks’ young breed? Michael is found to be extremely stubborn and suspicious, and Jane is rather inclined to giggle and doesn’t put things away. The children are embarrassed by her frank observations. And then, Mary Poppins measures herself. Why, she’s practically perfect in every way! I’m not surprised, are you?

In those days, I exhibited many of Mary Poppin’s perfectionistic traits (but my family knew I was far from perfect). I’m sure they thought it unfair that I was the one doing the measuring! But then the Lord began to use them to show me just how “imperfect” I was.  Suddenly, I became a student in the school of forgiveness and an expert at making apologies.

How misguided I was to think I could be the Holy Spirit, hoping to push my family up the slippery slope of sainthood. I did have a great role to play in their growth, but apparently I was a little slow in scaling the ascent myself. I wasn’t nearly as patient with my family as the Lord was being with me. I had a lot to learn about love.

“Love suffers long, having patience with imperfect people.”

The Greek word for long suffering is makrothumia (mak-roth-oo-mee’-ah) which means to be long spirited, forbearing (indulgence towards those who injure us; delay of resentment or punishment). The definition of resentment is: The excitement of passion which proceeds from a sense of wrong offered to ourselves, or to those who are connected with us; anger. This word usually expresses less excitement than anger, though it is often synonymous with it. In this use, resentment is not the sense or perception of injury, but the excitement which is the effect of it. Webster’s 1828 Dictionary asks, “Can heavenly minds such high resentment show?”

Look out children, Mary Poppins is not happy!

More than not, impatience, resentment and anger were my first reactions to bad attitudes and family squabbles. I (Mary Poppins) did not handle conflict well! An inner voice kept telling me, They’re not measuring up! They’re not measuring up!  Well the truth is, I was the one who wasn’t measuring up, and it took me many years to realize that I needed to change.

And this is what I really want us to meditate on, ladies. If you’ve ever heard that judgmental voice in your head or struggled with a critical perfectionistic spirit, there are some important questions I would like you to ask yourself. How do you handle your family’s imperfections? Are you patient and long-suffering toward them or do their flaws bring out the worst in you? Scripture says, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2 (NASB) I would rather err on the side of God’s grace and mercy, wouldn’t you?

Personally, I need all the grace and mercy I can get. But more than what I need, my children need me to parent them the way the Lord does. He doesn’t embarrass  or humiliate. He’s gentle, loving and kind.

Just think: Where would we be without the Lord’s unconditional love? He’s not surprised by our mishaps, mess-ups, and miserable attempts at living a godly life. He’s knows that sanctification is a process. And the funny thing is, the very imperfections and failures we cringe at are His greatest catalysts for perfecting and making us whole in Him. We need to see our family’s imperfections in the same light and pray for God’s wisdom in handling them. After all, it is the Lord’s kindness that leads us to repentance. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 (NASB)

The good news is: the ground is level at the foot of the cross! We can choose to love fully in the face of imperfection, just as we are fully loved. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8 (NASB)

God isn’t interested in any of us looking perfect, but He does say to be perfect as He is perfect. There’s a difference. To have Christ formed in us more and more, to be maturing in the Lord, to be complete and whole in Him, – this is the perfection the Bible speaks of and this is the perfection I want for my husband, my children, and myself. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

Now, that’s the perfection worth striving for!

Making Changes Gently

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10

In the spring, I started  most of the plants we wanted to grow in our garden from seed. It was quite a chore to keep them watered, and for the lack of a watering can, I found myself using just about anything to get the job done.

At first I tried to use a large glass of water to nourish the newly forming shoots, but as I aimed it at the individual cups, the water came out too fast and splashed everywhere. So, I grabbed a small pitcher that was sitting on a nearby shelf and used it instead. I was amazed at the difference the contoured spout made. Depending on how I tipped it, it would produce a dribble or a gentle stream of water compared to the deluge of the glass with the larger rim.

That’s when the Lord spoke clearly to my heart about the difference between a gentle, steady stream of encouragement and the destructive floodgates of condemnation.

Have you ever exclaimed to your family, “I’m making changes now!” Have you ever, out of frustration come across as a  bit of a tyrant?

I have.

Sometimes we moms can pour change to our families like a flash flood, suddenly and with little warning! Usually after reading an inspiring book or blog post that offers good advice (i.e. the prescribed number of steps to reach success) our hearts become conflicted between our personal reality and the ideal family life we hope to achieve. A critical voice rushes in to say: My kids aren’t where they need to be. They can’t do anything right! When is my husband going to act like the other spiritual leaders I read about? I feel like a failure compared to…

We become overwhelmed by all the changes we think our family members need to make (or we want to make for them), and a suffocating feeling rises up in our chests, and we panic!

So we go on a campaign of sweeping change. Like an AAA member cleansing the house of every last bottle of alcohol or a dieter tossing an unopened bag of cookies in the garbage, we try to rid our kids of bad habits or sinful attitudes and our husband of all of his shortcomings in one fell swoop, only to embitter their hearts in the process.

But comparison only produces fed-up mamas, exasperated children, and clueless husbands.

I have known many wives and mothers, who because of the spirit of comparison have heaped an impossible load of expectations on their families only to find that they have instead planted seeds of discouragement and bitterness.

In my younger years of mothering, I was one of them.

When I reflect on some of the reasons I failed to introduce change gently, fear seems to be a big factor: fear of the future, fear of failure, and fear that my children might make the same mistakes I made when I was their age. But fear is a poor impetus for the spirit-led change that brings life and liberty!

The word of God tells us that comparison is not only foolish but futile. Not every model of family life we see presented out there in the big beautiful blogosphere is meant to be our model–at all. Not every path explored is the path we are to personally follow. It takes a discerning spirit to sift through all the advice, the bulleted points, and the endless stream of helpful suggestions.

The motivation behind making changes for our families deserves a period of evaluation–weighing decisions against the word of God, seeking to be in agreement with our husbands, and praying and asking, “Lord, is this the direction you want our family to go?”

Psalm 25:12 says, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.

The Hebrew word for instruct (yarah) is such a beautiful word. It’s like the flow of water or a gentle rain. But it’s also purposeful like an archer taking aim at a target. The word Choose denotes taking a keen look at your options based upon thorough examination and not an arbitrary whim. In choosing, we are to thoroughly examine the way in which we should go.

Isaiah 30:20-21 say, “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”

The Holy Spirit speaks comfortingly to us on a daily basis, instructing us in the way we should go. We are to lead our children in the same way. I pray that God will council us mamas and give us wisdom in the secret place of our hearts, and that we will contemplate making changes, not on a whim or suddenly for shock value to whip our families into shape, but in encouraging, gentle ways that will be refreshing and nourishing to their souls–like a steady stream of gentle rain from the hand of God.