Eight Practices to Let Go of Perfectionism in Parenting
Here’s a recording of a Periscope video I did last year on perfectionism in parenting and an edited transcript below.
Today’s blog will be the first four practices. The next blog will be on the second half and include an additional practice I forgot to include that my son recommended to me.
Here’s three signs that you might have an issue with perfectionism in parenting I didn’t included in the video: feeling Stressed out, Shouting a lot and struggling with Shaming your kids or feeling Shamed. If you feel that way or notice this going on, if you notice decreased joy in your role and work as a parent, if you feel decreased closeness with your kids even if you spend a lot of time with them or if you talk a lot with them but don’t feel connected at a heart-level, I hope watching this video or reading this blog will help you and your family.
This is something I work on with a lot of adults. I see the effects of their parents’ perfectionism, their stress and anxiety, on them. I hesitate to talk about this a little because I don’t want to come across as shaming parents. Because that’s one thing about perfectionism: shame feeds it and it doesn’t help to feel bad. Feeling bad about your parenting doesn’t help, long-term that doesn’t sustain change. Feeling bad about who you are and how you’re doing as Mom or Dad just feeds that vicious cycle.
At the same time, I do want to encourage parents to be aware of how protectionism affects their kids because that’s one of the ways that perfectionism is harmful to kids and families is that it makes parents really self-focused and selfish.
My kids are 19, 16 and 12 (now) – girl, boy, girl – and this topic, this issue of perfectionism and performance-based love and acceptance is something kind of near and dear to my heart because I just want my kids to experience grace and unconditional love. But it’s so tough and we can we can slip and get sucked into focusing on behavior, focusing on how we look outwardly to other people to other families and get caught in comparison and jealousy and things like that.
So, a little bit about my family for some context then we’re going to talk about practical ways to let go of perfectionism. One of the key ways that this is a challenge and difficult – or has been in the past – for our family, is that each of my kids have been involved in musical theater and music and performance so we’ve had lots of talks about “How do you balance working hard, to do your best, to do things with excellence to do quality work and not get sucked into your self-worth and your approval and your sense of yourself being based on what you do?”
I’ve always tried to affirm and notice the kids for who they are regardless of how well they do with auditions or school work, test results in projects to turn in things like that. But it’s tough, I got to admit, I can slip it into that myself and brag and boast about when they do well. And with social media that’s a challenge that I see and I hear folks talk about a lot in the counseling office about feeling discouraged and anxious, less than, not good enough, because they see how well other people are doing, how well other families are doing, how well-behaved other kids are in the grocery store or at church and they start feeling discouraged and feeling like they’re failing as a parent. So here are eight practices, I hope will be encouraging to you.
Practice #1: Self-awareness. To replace performance and perfectionism and getting caught in that trap, the first practice is self-awareness and identifying what’s driving any type of perfectionism, procrastination, avoidance or controlling behavior as Mom or Dad.
For me, one of the things is insecurity. Honestly, when my kids are doing well that’s a boost, that makes me feel good. And we want to be proud of our kids but I notice – self-awareness – that I know I’m getting off track and getting unhealthy when how well they’re doing…I’m more concerned about how I feel, how that makes me feel better, than how they feel and how that’s growing them and how that’s helping them gain some self-confidence. And I’m losing track of what their experiences, and what they’re going through, are teaching them about life and character and forming them into the people that I hope that they will be. So self-awareness, practicing self-awareness about where you’re at with this, can be really helpful.
Practice #2 is Patience: the other thing that can help with parenting and communication is being patient with your kids. You might have heard the phrase “tiger mom”, it’s from a book written by a mom who really drove her kids down in California. (I didn’t read the book, I’ve read some articles and interviews with her.) There can be a culture of pushing kids academically with music, with extracurricular activities, with the kind of the goal of making it in the ultra-competitive college application process and hoping that they stand out.
The desire as parents for our kids to be successful and be able to graduate high school and get a job and take care of themselves – that, that’s legit – but it really helps to get some perspective and to be patient with their growth, and patient with their maturity level. Allow them to be kids. Stretching them but not pushing them to the breaking point and causing lots of stress and anxiety. I talk with a lot of single adults who are still struggling to find their way they don’t have it figured out and their parents really pushed them.
Having your kids just follow your agenda and expectations doesn’t set them up for success because then they don’t have the ability to problem-solve and discern who they really are and what they end up doing, or pursuing, doesn’t end up being a good fit for who they are, the way of doing things, their personality, their strengths, their temperament. That can be really confusing and disillusioning: when you pursue a college degree, a career path, and get the message that “this is going to make you happy and this is going to make you successful” and you’re just miserable.
Practice #3 is practicing Presence. This is a whole other topic (blog), but just listening well, spending time with your kids to hear how they’re doing with school how they’re doing with relationships, how they’re doing personally is practicing presence. Listening for how they’re feeling and viewing themselves, what their self-image is, what the messages that they’re telling themselves are, can be really helpful. But that means spending less time on TV. That might mean spending less time on social media or even Periscope. Setting healthy limits so that you can spend time because those conversations come in the middle of spending time, in the middle of the rhythms of the day and rhythm of the week.
Practice #4: Praise and Positivitity. Another practice is praise and positivity. And that can be with yourself. Our kids observe and know the things that we really believe based on the things that stress us out and make us fearful and anxious. They sniff out the hypocrisy in the things we really value. For example, if we are really critical and negative of other people, other families, then they pick up on “That’s not OK.” and “This is what Mom and Dad are expecting and if I don’t want to be criticized if, I don’t want mom or dad to think poorly of me, then I’d better not look like or act like that person.” And if we speak critically or negatively of other families that can be damaging because they likely pick up on where we’re judgmental and that makes them at risk to be perfectionistic and inauthentic with other people.
So work on your issues. Don’t pass on your negativity. Don’t pass on your anxiety.
I’ll post the next four practices is part two of this blog.
If you struggle with perfectionism as a parent or with the affects of a parent’s perfectionism, what do you think of these practices so far?
How might you incorporate these practices in your life this month?