Perfection is a Bullsh*t Goal

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.

And here.


Be well. But not perfeckt.


About Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE

I am a full-time parent of three, Writer, Life Coach, Lecturer, Parenting Mentor, and Shamanic Practitioner. In all of the above, I am seeking to assist my fellow humans in their processes of claiming and unleashing their highest potentials.
This entry was posted in Parenting Ideas, Parentisms and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Perfection is a Bullsh*t Goal

  1. Gina says:

    I loved this post, Nathan. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this perfection idea as well lately as it’s something that gets in my way a lot. You put into words so well, what I had been trying to say. Thank you. I gave you a shout out on my blog today:
    Happy New Year!

    • Hey Gina!
      You are so welcome! I am sincerely pleased you found something worth taking away for yourself.

      Thanks for your kind words and for passing on the post. Both are much appreciated!

      Happy New Year to you also.

      Be well.

  2. jo johnson says:

    thanks, nathan. i really needed to hear this today. i have unrealistic ideals in my parenting and i’m aware that this is the case and that it makes the business of parenting much harder. i have emotionally disconnected relationships with my parents (the blame for which they lie squarely at my feet), have had since i was a teenager and my dad withdrew from me and my mum’s instinctual responses to me got muddied in her fear of she and i having the same dreadful relationship as she and her mum…which makes it very hard for me to have any sense of perspective on a healthily messy relationship as just a downright messy (ie real) relationship. i think the key for me is communication – that, and owning my stuff, so that it’s no big deal to say to my boys, “you know what? i screwed up today when i lost it with you. i was feeling grumpy because i was hungry/tired (whatever); i didn’t like it when you ***** (whatever), but my reaction was out of proportion and i’m sorry. want to talk? how was it for you?”

    here’s a great line from a poem by kate clanchy, called “not art”:

    i am learning
    the art of mistakes, to accept
    every evening that the marks of the day
    are woven in too far back to pick out.


    • You go it Jo. Really glad that I could synchronically be there for you, Mama. You “deserved” it… 😉

      And I totally agree that communication is the key. Plus, even getting ready to articulate it, you wind up giving yourself just a little bit of empathy, if only just to get in touch with the feelings enough to talk about them, and that’s really good for you as we’ll…

      Loved the line from the poem.

      BE well.


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