Why I strive to be Good and not Perfect

I have a confession to make which may interest those of you who are mums too (and probably won’t interest anyone else!).  I use disposable nappies on Daniel, and I think he’s only worn about 3 cloth nappies in his 16-month-long life.  This is in spite of the fact that I know how bad they are for the environment (possibly for baby’s health too :-/ ) and in spite of the fact that I am culling as much plastic from our house as I can (for the reasons I outlined in my last post).

We used cloth nappies on Stella from when she was about 6 months’ old until Daniel was born (she was just shy of two years’ old when her little brother arrived).  I made my own inserts out of bamboo fabric and recycled cotton cloth nappies because I didn’t want to have micro-fibre against her skin, even though they came as part of the cloth nappy system I bought into.  But when Daniel was born, I switched to disposable nappies for both of them because I decided that’s what I could cope with.

For a while I felt pretty guilty about having taken a backwards step with the nappies.  But I have since reconciled my feelings with my actions and I don’t feel guilty anymore.  I decided that I have only so much time and only so much energy (less than I used to, since I succumbed to depression, even though I feel I am fully recovered now).  I could choose to use cloth nappies on both kids, or I can choose to use disposables but have the time and energy to make food from scratch; reduce, reuse, and recycle; experiment with fermented foods; extend our veggie garden and grow more of our own (organic) food; make all our cosmetics and toiletries; and share my ideas with others via a made-from-scratch blog.  Perhaps if I did some serious eco-maths I would find that the environmental benefits of using cloth over disposable nappies would outweigh the environmental benefits of all my other ‘eco-activities’, but I believe that would only be in the short term.  The nappy stage will be over and done with in a year or so, whereas all of my other eco-ethical-efforts will continue for years to come.  More importantly, I feel that one of the greatest social impacts I can have as a mum is to create a lifestyle around a set of habits that my children will forever consider a kind of ‘normal’.  Even if they end up living a different life from mine in the future, my hope is that they will always feel sort of comfortable with the idea of fermented foods, separating their rubbish, whizzing up fresh mayonnaise, growing vegetables, and storing things in glass jars.

I don’t think I could have come to this conclusion or found peace with myself for all my shortcomings as a domestic goddess and eco-warrior-mum if I hadn’t consciously decided that I am not striving to be perfect.  I decided to name this blog “Mrs Goodness” because I believe that in striving to be ‘good’ you are valuing the effort that goes into what you do, rather than the outcome. Perfection is an outcome, and an impossible one at that.  I’ve considered myself a perfectionist for a long time, and I always saw that as being a positive trait.  But it meant that I was constantly disappointed, anxious, guilty, for all the things I did wrong or failed to do, and I was often unable to appreciate the amazing things I achieved and did well.  When I think about what I value in other people, it is always their good intentions that I appreciate, more than what they achieve.  As a teacher of design, I always encouraged my students to value the process of (good) design rather than for them to work backwards from a pre-conceived outcome.  And when I watch my own children, I care more about how much effort they put into their Lego creations, rather than how symmetrical or functional their masterpieces are!  I’m not quite sure how it came to be that I had such different expectations of myself.

Since embracing the idea of goodness over perfection, I have come to realise that I can achieve so much more this way.  Because my energy goes into what I am doing, rather than how it will end, I am no longer scared to try new things (like making a sourdough starter from scratch); embrace new ideas (teabags are poisonous?! Oh well, I’ll just switch to loose leaf tea); or accept defeat (there’s no such thing as a homemade alternative to dishwashing liquid – that actually works).  I look around me and see many people who refuse to make more environmentally sustainable or ethically-minded changes to their lives, and although it may seem like laziness or stubbornness, I personally feel that it has more to do with the idea that our society puts all its energy and resources into outcomes over efforts – eg. skinny vs eating well, rich vs working hard, passing exams vs learning, profit vs process – and that we’re led to believe that if we can’t achieve everything then we’ve already failed.

To my friends and family, I imagine I seem really fanatic and possibly intimidating with all my experiments, eco-rules, and conscious-consumerist shopping quirks (I have no shortage of blog post topics to write about, that’s for sure!).  But all they are is the culmination of lots of small, manageable steps in a direction I believe to be the right one.  I don’t feel overwhelmed by the changes I’ve made to my life because each little one was easy and better than what I was doing before.  I celebrate the things I am doing well, that sit right with my values, and I accept the things I can’t change for the time being.  This feels like a sustainable way of life for me, striving for good rather than perfect.


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