I thought that a perfectionist felt driven to do everything perfectly, and probably looked perfect and had a very neat home. That was definitely not me. But apparently, there is much more to it. A perfectionist is afraid of not being perfect. A perfectionist, oh, just for example, might not pursue her love of writing for decades because she is afraid she might not be good enough. Or, a perfectionist might be anxious about how she measures up as a mother. For a perfectionist, “perfect” is the minimum that you are supposed to achieve. Anything else feels Not Good Enough.
The day after I watched “28 Days,” I wanted to find a book about perfectionism right away at the library. There were none available in the regular adult section, so I got one from the children’s section, “Too Perfect,” by Trudy Ludwig. I started reading it as I stood there. Soon I had to shut the book and fight back tears, because I saw myself in the little girl who couldn’t be happy.
This fear of failure is a powerful motivator. It drives us to do well, but sucks the pleasure out of the process. It paralyzes us when we consider trying something new. Unfortunately, I thought I needed my children to be perfect in order to feel good enough as a mother. Naturally, by this standard, I was never good enough, and neither were they. I pushed, I nitpicked, I corrected. I did it to myself, my kids, and my surroundings.
Even worse, I discovered that this fear of not being good enough had already infected my kids. Within a week of discovering perfectionism, I heard my daughter asking to quit ballet because she wasn’t good enough. My son was feeling the same about gymnastics. I knew I had to get it under control in myself so that I could model it for them. There are a few things I did:
- Read about perfectionism online. A couple of pages I liked are linked below.
- Tried to catch myself and stop myself from being critical.
- Tried not to get upset about making mistakes or having problems.
- Tried to let the kids see me not getting upset about making mistakes or having problems.
- Talked to the kids about enjoying their activities and not just doing them for the sake of achievement.
- Did a fun little exercise of choosing one thing to do imperfectly on purpose. This was in a book, and I am sorry I can’t remember what one. I chose measuring cooking ingredients. I did this carelessly, rather than my usual way of filling the tablespoon, leveling, adding a little more, removing a little. It sort of made me cringe, but lo and behold, the recipe came out fine!
- Accepted that it is ok to fail at things. This is part of living and learning.
- Worked on accepting the kids and myself as just fine who we are.
The funny thing is, the less anxious I was about how clean the house was, the cleaner the house actually became. The less worried I was about the kids’ schoolwork, the better they performed. I think we are better balanced and more successful when we can relax a little and enjoy what we are doing.
Links I like: