I’m a perfectionist. It’s part of my personality. My standards are impossibly high. I can’t help it. It’s difficult for me if I don’t manage it, but for my kids’ it’s a living hell.
There are many people who have high standards, attention to detail, and a persistent dedication to quality…but that’s not perfectionism. My Jung Typology is INFP. I’m an idealist. If I’m not careful, I will NEVER judge anything as ideal. I just keep wanting things and people to be better. Nothing is good enough
No matter how careful I try to be, sometimes my son falls victim to my out-of-whack standards. Little boys always want their daddies to be proud of them, and he knows that I am. However, he also knows when I’m not satisfied. I’m not talking about when he has done something mean to his brother or made a mistake. I’m talking about when he has done something GOOD and my inner perfectionist thinks it’s not good enough.
It happened at karate the other day. My seven-year-old had a long day, and he was tired. He went to karate anyway, and he was a little slow and dull throughout. After the lesson, he came out the door, looked at me and said, “Sorry.” He thought I was disappointed in him. I realized I had been wearing an unimpressed stare throughout the lesson. I think I had even thrown in a few head shakes. It was a poignant moment.
So what’s a perfectionist parent to do? We all love to watch our kids do their best, right? After all, it’s a competitive world out there. If they don’t get top grades, make the “A” team and keep up with the pack, they’ll never make it, right?
Wrong. There are some very good reasons why our hyper-achievement culture isn’t healthy and may actually produce the opposite of what we really want. For more on this, take a look at the above trailer for Race to Nowhere.
Here are some thoughts for us perfectionists to remember if we want to keep ourselves from projecting the wrong message to our kids:
- “Good enough” is a responsible option.
- Our children’s performance should not define our success or identity.
- Making mistakes is ESSENTIAL for healthy learning and development.
- It’s O.K. to just participate (and not win).
- Realize the hypocrisy of the phrase, “I just want you to do your best.”
- Let them define their best rather than you.
- Show them they belong and are loved when they lose and under-perform.
Practical strategies for perfectionists:
- Since nothing will ever satisfy our need for perfection, we need to clearly define realistic goals in partnership with our kids so that they can know when they have succeeded. For instance, my son can choose one skill to improve on at karate and feel good about rather than feeling like he needs to be Bruce Lee then entire lesson.
- Focus on the process by asking them to think about something that worked and something that didn’t.
- End the day by sharing the three best things from the day (you too) without any evaluation (just acceptance).
- Instead of only celebrating successes, surprise your kids by going out to celebrate THEM sometime when their effort was less than par.