THE PROBLEM WITH PERFECTIONISM
Show me someone who always has to have everything “just right,” and I’ll show you someone whose picture would look good in the dictionary next to “misery.” Life in this world was never meant to be 100% flawless and frustration-free. If it were, there’d be no room left for growth and discovery, and we’d sink into passive, apathetic lives that would hardly be worth living.
The worst type of perfectionist is the one who won’t stop at berating himself for getting things “wrong,” but applies that attitude to his whole circle of contact. The most visible examples are the customer throwing a full-volume tantrum at a service desk, the driver pounding on a car horn in backed-up traffic, and the office supervisor screaming at a subordinate for misspelling one word in a memo. But many people who wouldn’t think of “making a scene” are pushy perfectionists in more subtle ways—and can cause just as much discomfort to those on the receiving end. Especially if those on the receiving end are their own children.
You may have “perfectionist parent” issues if:
- You feel keen disappointment at any grade less than 100% or any finish behind first place—no matter how well your children do compared to the average or their own past records.
- You’re always offering unsolicited “help” with homework, chores, and even for-pleasure projects.
- You sign your kids up for everything in sight, and can’t stand to see them “just taking it easy” for five minutes.
- You react to the expression of a big dream with “But that’s too hard,” or “Don’t be ridiculous, you’ll never make much money that way.”
- You judge your children’s friends by their grooming and their economic backgrounds.
- You feel a burst of envy upon learning that an acquaintance’s child has achieved more—even in an activity where you were never interested in getting your own children involved.
If that’s you, don’t be surprised if your children dread talking to you.
Fortunately, there are ways to cure perfectionism and make life happier for everyone.
- Quit being hard on yourself. Affirm regularly, “I am a valuable person, and the best I can do is enough.”
- Don’t try to veto your kids’ interests or dreams unless someone is in immediate physical danger. Let them choose what they want to sign up for, and what projects they want to attempt.
- And if they’d rather not sign up for anything, accept that too—but encourage them to talk about what they really enjoy doing.
- Try new things yourself. Sign up for a continuing-education class—preferably one that involves doing hands-on work and sharing the results without competing.
- If you’ve been too hard on your kids, ask their forgiveness. It’s the first step in mending a perfection-driven relationship, and they’ll respect you for it.
- Remember that the world, and future generations, will be better served by a legacy of self-respect than by anyone’s accumulating a long string of awards.
- Practice living in the moment and enjoying activities for the pleasure of doing them. Really, what life could be more “perfect” than the one you love living?