Mom with Failure-phobia, aka Perfectionism

By MeekMark (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Measuring Up

I have never been an alcoholic.  So, I was surprised at how well I could relate to Sandra Bullock’s alcoholic character when I watched the movie, “28 Days.”  I went straight to the computer and stayed up way too late researching addiction to figure out my connection.  That’s when I stumbled upon the concept of perfectionism.  I was surprised to find out what it meant.

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:


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One response to “Mom with Failure-phobia, aka Perfectionism

  1. Pingback: 3 Ps: Priorities, Perfection, Procrastination in Sobriety | Catholic Alcoholic

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