I was thinking the other day how I used to be a perfect mom. You know, back before my kids’ diet consisted of more than chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. Back when the TV wasn’t a babysitter. Back when I promised myself I would follow through on discipline. Back when my kids never threw tantrums. Back when I didn’t have to avoid public situations for fear of a meltdown. Back when I had all the answers.

You know, back before I actually had kids.

I laugh at my pre-mom self now. Not only because she had no clue how much her life was about to change but also because she actually thought her kids would be better off if she was the perfect mom. It’s taken me awhile but I’ve finally learned to silence the voice of my inner perfectionist (at least most of the time) when it comes to how I’m raising my two sons. Because I believe there are so many things my kids can learn from my imperfections.

My kids may see me fail over and over (and over and over) again, but when they finally see me succeed they’ll understand perseverance.

I may lose my patience a thousand times, but I’ll say I’m sorry a thousand and one and they’ll understand forgiveness.

I may listen to my instincts and run away from something that scares me, but when they see me turn around and face that fear head on they’ll understand courage.

They’ll watch me make all kinds of mistakes, but when they hear me own up to them and do my very best to fix them they’ll understand humility.

They may hear me disagree with my husband, but they’ll also see me choose to love him every single day, despite our differences and they’ll understand commitment.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many, many things I know I won’t be able to teach my kids.

How to change the oil in a car (because hello, my friends at Valvoline can do it in 15 minutes)

How to dance (because sadly, I pretty much just look like I’m being electrocuted or something)

How to solve a linear equation (because I’m not even sure how to explain what that is, let alone solve it)

Public speaking (because just the thought makes me want to throw up)

How to draw (because that talent was somehow given to everyone in the family except me)

How to give directions (and my husband said “Amen!”)

But the things that truly matter?

If they’re true to themselves and their beliefs.

If they’re kind to others.

If they do the right thing when no one is watching.

If they know the importance of honesty.

If they work hard.

If they understand selflessness.

These are the kinds of things I refuse to let the world teach them.

It’s hard. Extremely hard. Some days (most days) I feel like a broken record no one wants to listen to anymore but I’ve also learned I’m teaching them way more with my actions than I ever could with my words. Their eyes are always watching, their ears are always listening, their mouths are always repeating, and their actions are always imitating. It’s completely humbling and completely terrifying at the same time.

But do you know what isn’t terrifying? Knowing that as their mama, I’ve already helped them understand one of the most important things they’ll ever need to know.

They understand unconditional love.

I’ve loved them through the whining, fighting, and crying no differently than I’ve loved them through the happiness, kindness, and laughter. I’ve loved them through the tantrums and meltdowns no differently than I’ve loved them through the moments of wonder and excitement. I’ve loved them through the stomach viruses and trips to the ER no differently than I’ve loved them through the days of completely perfect health. I’ve loved them through the bad days no differently than I’ve loved them through the good ones.

So they know by now that I’m here, that I’ll always be here. No matter how much they change and no matter how much the world around them changes, my presence and my love are constant. I’m pretty sure that’s a good, solid foundation for us to keep building on.

So even though “perfection” will never be a quality I’m able to offer my kids, I feel pretty good about what I do have to offer. And honestly, when it comes to that perfect mom? I’m not sure why I ever wanted to be her anyway.

Lindsay Stauffer

Lindsay is married to the most supportive husband in the world and momma to two adorable rascals, who have turned her into a caffeine addict. She writes about marriage and motherhood on her Facebook page, Life Off The Record.