I am a perfectionist. This means I settle for nothing less than perfection in every aspect of my life; well most of them. This trickles over into my parenting in good and bad ways. The results of being a perfectionist are annoying at best and life-sucking at worst.
Perfectionism poses an assault against human relationships in so many ways. You may be thinking you do not struggle with this, but so did I. Being the perfect parent isn’t possible, we all recognize it. Here are the 2 main indications that you struggle with perfectionism in parenting and the consequences that flow from them.
The Perils of Perfectionism: #1 – Obsession
Obsession is a key symptom of the perfectionist mindset. It says that one must give all of their mental and physical energy toward some task, relationship, object or way of life. Parents may struggle with obsession in many ways. The key to discovering if you are an obsessive parent (or person for that matter) is in your response to failure.
When your child gets it wrong for the third time in a row, or you botch that batch of organic-made-from-scratch soup, or perhaps your toddler destroys your freshly vacuumed floor simply by…you know, eating something on it. What does failure invoke in your heart?
Worse yet, what lies do you tell yourself about who you are as a person or a parent when you completely blow it and verbally mishandle your child? This one is hard.
Under most situations where I fail myself or where someone in my family “fails” me by ruining something I have obsessed over, I am sent to the brink of utter ruin. I have no grace; no grace for me if I fail and slow grace for others if they fail. Slow grace means I only forgive someone else if I first get to “speak my peace” about how their actions wronged me and flew in the face of my obsession. That’s not grace at all – that’s anger wrapped in a late offer of forgiveness that puts my retribution front and center.
I am short with myself because I believe in my heart of hearts that I have to be perfect to provide stability for my children and family. I have to speak perfectly to them, plan perfectly for them and lead them flawlessly. Anything less than that fills me with shame and sometimes I lash out or get depressed because now I’ve contributed to the inevitable “ruin of my children’s lives”. This is just one of the lies I wrestle with due to obsessive perfectionism.
These thoughts and fears are of course, not true. This is obsession over my performance -which places me before anyone else. My actions are often more about me feeling accomplished than about my family being led or protected. Does any of this sound like you?
You probably struggle with perfectionism.
The Perils of Perfectionism: #2 – Apathy
Apathy is most definitely different from obsession, but they are different sides of the same coin. Apathy says, “There’s no way I can get this task anywhere close to perfect so why try?” It says that I can’t fail at something I don’t try to accomplish. This is the play-it-safe response to something I feel destined to fail at.
For example, my little girl presses the limit on a daily basis. She’s at that age where discovering boundaries happens by stumbling over them. If she asks for a snack and we’ve just finished breakfast I tell her no. She has to wait. Most mornings when I tell her she has to wait she’s cool with it. Some mornings – not so much.
When she pushes the limit it means the whining kicks in, the never-ending questions about why and when she can have a snack (bear in mind I do not believe in starving my children). But here’s the deal, she’s two and a half…this is her job, quite literally. She is growing and learning and much of that experience comes from identifying boundaries through questions and testing the limits.
I tend to forget this and when she walks the thin line I often think to myself, “How in the world can I talk her through this without her becoming annoyed or frustrated? If I can’t do this without her losing it I must be failing at this whole parenting thing (dumb thought right?). I may as well avoid failure this time. Next time I will address this.”
This is a classic perfectionist parent move. If there is not a perfectly easy or convenient way to navigate my kid’s humanity, I’m out. I often bail, opting for the easiest way in sacrifice of the harder (and messier) task of leading my child.
Put the Perfect Away
Let’s be real. Perfectionism affects us all – that’s a completely different story. It affects our children and our significant other, often in negative ways. Why? Because we perfectionists put our spin on reality, making us – me, my version of life, my hope for this scenario – at front and center. Perfectionism focuses on the perfectionist and it’s regularly done at the expense of others and their needs.
Perfectionists make great sculptors when dealing with clay. But reality is not clay. We can’t mold each moment into what we want or what we think we need. It’s time for this dad to lay aside my obsessions and apathies and begin the wonderfully messy and life-giving process of embracing the perfectly imperfect life I have. It’s where true joy meets experience in an authentic way.
I highly recommend Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection (affiliate link – purchases help to support our family) if this is something you believe you struggle with. There’s freedom in letting go of perfection, and the freedom is attainable!