Take it from a lifelong sufferer of his own particular strain of perfection addiction — we’d be better off putting ourselves out of everyone else’s misery (especially our children’s) than laying all our bets, or staking our consciences, on being perfect parents. And the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that the drive to be 100% ideal in our parenting choices is less of a suitable goal, and more of an obstacle to ideal parenting than no drive to make positive choices for our kids. That is, our children would be better off if we had no philosophy of parenting than if we allow parenting our children to be another place where we stress perfection.
“Stress” is one of the key words above, and it is one of the primary side effects of perfectionist parenting. Can you guess how good stress is for parenting kids effectively or kindly? And can you imagine, or remember, how being stressed about the parenting you are doing effects the parenting itself? Stress has the ability to infiltrate and disrupt interactions anywhere and with anyone, but perhaps most especially with our children. We don’t need another single thing stressing us out in our lives — and certainly not whether or not we are being perfect parents.
One serious problem with perfectionism itself, is that it casts the light of our perspective almost solely on what remains undone. As many of you, dear readers, know already, we are in the final throes of a home remodeling that has taken a bit longer than any of us wanted (what else is new in home remodeling, though, right?). And as we make “final inspections” of various pieces of the construction and finishing, I have found myself so stuck in the scrutinizing role that I have actually twice gotten increasingly angry, rather than being able to enjoy the real grandeur of the place and the transformation it has undergone. I think this is the same thing that happens when our perspective on parenting, and our own parenting specifically, is too narrowly focused on perfection. Any deviation from the ideal is seen, not as part of the process, but as an affront to it. And frankly, that just isn’t realistic.
We are going to blow it. Royally. We are going to go down in fiery balls of idiocy — at least occasionally. Hoping for anything otherwise is not only setting ourselves up for disappointment and an inflated sense of failure, but may also be just plain foolish. And punishing ourselves and our kids because we cannot live up to the presumptuous ideals of perfectionist parenting only compounds the loss, both of opportunity, and of connection with our kids. To be honest, I’d rather be more of a crappy parent, than one poisoned by the guilt of not being perfect.
Of course, our children are of absolutely paramount importance, and the drive to be the best that we can be for them is not the worst thing we can have as a parent. But we would do well to remember — we are just as much “works in progress” as are our developing children. And if the drive to be at our best gets to the point of interfering with being our best, then (even by perfectionist standards) it has to go.
So what if we got rid of all the institutional and cultural “shoulds”? What if we got in touch with and empowered our own human intuitions/instincts? What if we stripped down the goals of our parenting to: connecting with our kids, giving them information useful for living life, and working with them to meet our particular family’s needs? What if we turned our “failures” at being perfect into genuine opportunities to strengthen the relationships we share with our kids, and to teach them more about what life is actually about — with all its complexity, and messiness, and uncertainty? What would that be like?
Let’s face it — our kids will have their own reason to go to therapy of whatever sort is most in vogue or most appealing to them when they are adults and working through their own stuff. If we don’t screw them up too much, then they’ll find other reasons to need to look deeply into themselves. And more power to them! We would do well to make certain that our goals as parents have nothing to do with keeping our kids from life or from us (as human as we are), nor with keeping their environs so hermetically sealed in the ideal that they never see a speck of dirt in the world. As with actual dirt, letting our children get down in it occasionally is really quite good for them.
For more on how to f-up with success, look here.
Be well. But not perfeckt.