The Perfectionism Crisis
Posted: January 18, 2021
Perfect: the enemy of good.
The messages are everywhere, pushing mothers toward perfection. The ability to multitask and balance it all, while smiling but not smiling too much, being in touch with your authentic self while also making sure everyone around you is happy…The message is that you can have it all, and if you don’t, then you must be doing something wrong.
But the perfect life just doesn’t exist. There is probably perfection in this world, just not on that level. You can have a perfect quilt, or a perfect car, or a perfect tuna casserole, made exactly according to directions and meeting the expected standard. In these cases, you can look at the perfect example and strive for it.
But parenting? Nope. If you’re aiming yourself in the direction of “Perfect,” you are embarking on a miserable quest that will only leave you disappointed and unfulfilled.
Consider how perfection worms its way into parenting. It means that if a problem arises, which it MOST DEFINITELY will, then it is someone or something’s fault, and it should have been avoided. Someone did something wrong somewhere along the line that led to the problem. The perfectionist mind believes that all problems are avoidable, if only one does the right things. That idea really puts the pressure on! Mothers who harbor the deep belief that problems are avoidable and controllable will end up quite ashamed when problems inevitably arise. That perfectionist mind will then look for who or what to blame, and almost always, that blame shrapnel explodes in all directions, especially inward.
In effect, any problem becomes an indictment of your character, rather than a natural part of life.
For example, imagine your child’s grades are dropping ever since he started remote schooling. The perfectionist parent will likely see this as a failure on her part as well as her child’s to adequately prepare for remote learning. Perhaps it is also the teacher’s fault. Someone’s got to pay. Anger ensues, either inwardly or outwardly or both, and the shame spreads. From your child’s inherited perfectionistic viewpoint, your anger was avoidable if only he had done something differently, but he doesn’t have the tools yet to consider what he could have done, and now he is also ashamed. In general, shame causes people to retreat and disconnect, to rebuild their defenses in hiding, and it’s not the most effective way to come at a problem.
Looking at the above example from a non-perfectionistic stance, your child’s grades are dropping, and this is a problem that may or may not have a solution. There may be blame to lay at someone’s feet, but that is not the priority for the good enough parent. Instead, she focuses on basic problem solving, knowing that she is a good mother and that no one needs to suffer with shame on the road to solutions. Since her thinking is not clouded by shame, she comes up with some practical solutions and moves forward. The dip in grades is just that, a dip in grades. It is not a sign of an inherently inept mother or a hopeless student.
Perfection has no place in parenting (well, you should be perfectionistic when you put that crib together, but you know what I mean). Letting go will bring you that much closer to happiness.