Raise your hand if you ever feel like you need to have the home of Joanna Gaines, the compassion of Mother Theresa, the success of Oprah, the style of Kate Middleton, the humor of Amy Poehler, and the body of Sofia Vergara.
Impossible to do, right? Well, no matter how silly the above list seems, we often put those unrealistic expectations on our shoulders.
Now, raise your hand if you want your son or daughter to be perfect as well. On top of our own delusions of perfection, we pile on our expectations for our children. We want them to be fun but quiet, smart but silly, bold but polite, kind but strong. And we expect this perfection at around toddler age, which is even crazier than our perfect woman list.
Striving to be perfect or have perfect children does not lead to joyful living. On the contrary, it leads to a life of control, comparison, and scarcity. Every error is in high definition when you are caught in the web of perfectionism.
We spend time on social media comparing our real lives to other people’s highlight reels, and we continue until our reality is no longer even good enough. Perfectionism is not only trying to do everything right, but includes striving to avoid negatives instead of savoring the positives. Perfection doesn’t exist, not for our children and not for us.
You Can’t Be Perfect
“I remember when my first child was born it was my job to make sure he turned out okay. That if I did everything ‘just right,’ he would. The trap of perfectionism says that there is such a thing as ‘just right.’ This belief will lead to serious disappointment. Especially when we define our own value by how perfectly we parent,” Nicole Green, local life coach, says.
Too often parents believe that everything they do determines their child’s future, when the truth is a bit more complicated. Taking ownership of your child’s development and health are positive things, but when you are defined by this role, then you tread into perfectionist waters. Allison Schoonmaker, counselor at Spring Life Counseling, LLC in Baton Rouge, shares, “I see perfectionism when the focus shifts from your own personal health to ‘my kids depict my health and success.’ Perfectionism is an identity issue, and perfectionism in parenting is no different. The false sense that ‘I am only as good as other’s perceptions of me’ is just a lot of pressure to put on any human, small or fully grown.”
The Consequence of Perfectionism
You cannot be perfect, so the inevitable result of your striving is disappointment. A mother burdened by perfectionism will see every fault in herself and her child magnified, which results in blame and shame. Schoonmaker explains, “No one likes to feel like a failure. Anxiety, irritability, anger, and/or depression can all be closely associated with the sense of ‘not being good enough’ that perfectionism brings. Nobody should feel like they have to hustle for their value. That’s not really a space we as parents want to live in ourselves, let alone a space we want to invite our kids into.”
We want our children to be raised in healthy spaces, not ones in which they feel they have to work for love. Green adds, “Perfectionism is completely unhealthy. If unhealthy actions are sown, unhealthy results will follow. A perfectionist parent cannot expect health in any of these areas. I know that sounds harsh, but take it from someone that tried perfectionism for many years. I remember saying that I wanted to raise kids that didn't need therapy because of me. I've been in more than one appointment now. My perfectionism left a scar.”
If you are just realizing you are a perfectionist or if you have been battling it for years, you can work on making a positive change now. Overcoming perfectionism starts with acknowledging the mistake and moving on. Schoonmaker believes the best thing to combat a negative cycle of perfectionism is to “demonstrate resilience, positive self-talk, and acceptance when we mess things up throughout the day.”
Create a space of grace for yourself and your children will follow. “Qualities of forgiveness, unconditional positive regard, warmth, acceptance, and the like always encourage much more connection than the behavior of criticism or complaint,” Schoonmaker says.
You Can Be Present
“Being present” has become a buzz phrase recently. You can buy multiple pieces of wall art reminding you to breathe and be in the moment, but what does that really look like?
Green integrates the practice of being present through intentional listening, which is a “very active practice, one that is a gift we can give to everyone, but our children may benefit most.” Her primary recommendation is to put the screens away and look them in the eye. Get on their level and give the gift of listening.
Schoonmaker suggests another approach to being present: “Value connection over task. It all comes back to asking, ‘What’s the most important thing in this moment?’ The answer to that is always going to be shifting, so learning to be flexible and rolling with it goes a long way in fighting the tendency to place the image over the individual connection. ‘Ask yourself: what am I valuing most right now?’”
Try this experiment. Next time you are cooking dinner and your little ones want to help, evaluate how you feel about their hands in the mix. If you bristle at more mess or more time, then you may be placing task over connection. It’s easy to do. “When you catch yourself valuing task over connection, don’t beat yourself up. Take a deep breath and pursue that which matters most,” encourages Schoonmaker.
And when you spend time together, closely observe when they misbehave. Then, ask why. Green advises, “We are so hyper focused on correcting behavior instead of understanding what the driving force is behind the behavior. Kids usually have no idea, so many times we have to be quite intuitive. This starts with asking ourselves and then asking them.” Go deeper and evaluate your motives as well as your child’s. Then, tap into empathy and compassion for more understanding.
The Blessing of Good Enough
Instead of perfection, choose “good enough” parenting. Being good enough accepts that you and your children will both make mistakes, and the best you can do is what matters.
Schoonmaker says, “When it comes to ‘getting it right’ in relationships, the research is actually quite forgiving. Supposedly we only have to be emotionally attuned with people about 30 percent of the time for a person to actually feel understood and supported. It’s kind of hard to believe, but I think it points to a built-in, pre-wired unconditional love and adoration our kids have with us.” This fact confirms that being present and engaged with our children supersedes doing everything right. Green adds, “For me, ‘good enough’ is accepting where we are, who we are, and growing from that place; loving our children unconditionally as they grow; and showing up for them.”
As you shift from perfectionism to good enough, you will be more present in the moment. Give yourself and your children grace and space to mess up.
If you need some encouragement, Schoonmaker shares, “Truth be told that anyone taking the time to read this article (or any parenting related blog, book, etc.) is the kind of parent that is already demonstrating all the qualities that engaged parenting is all about. You’re already a success!” ■