Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

Your 12 Step Program to Become a Recovering Perfectionist

"Perfection is the lowest standard any human can have." -- Heather Forbes

Think your child needs a perfect parent?  Think again. In fact, your quest to be perfect gets in the way of loving your child unconditionally, because it stops you from loving yourself unconditionally. You can only give your child what you have inside. 

So let's just renounce perfection. Aspiring to be perfect doesn't get you any closer to being perfect; it just makes you less loving. In fact, perfection is the lowest standard a parent can have.  We aren't going for perfect. We're going for love!

Here's how:

1. Drop that list of all the ways you need to be different before you're good enough in your own eyes.


You know what I mean. That voice that says you should be a little more together, a little thinner, a little nicer...a much better mother or father. That's right; if you want to heal your ability to love unconditionally, you have to start by loving yourself unconditionally. That means with no conditions, as in, you love yourself exactly as you are, "faults" and all. (This gets easier if you look at your faults as an opportunity to grow, not by making yourself more perfect, but by loving yourself more!)

2. Choose love.

If you pay attention, you'll notice that life holds constant choices. Should you be harsh with your child because you're frightened that if you aren't, he won't learn? Should you point out to your spouse that you were right? Should you let yourself stop cleaning and instead have a pillow fight with your child? 

At core, every choice is between love and fear. Choose love as often as you can.

Your life is the sum of your choices. You'll make bad ones, sure. But those mistakes you've already made? They don't matter in the long run. Because you get new opportunities every single day to turn your love ratio around. No one can go back and change the past, but anyone can start today to make a new future.

3. Notice the fear. 

If you recorded the chatter in your mind, you'd think you were supposed to be perfect: "That was dumb....What an idiot I am....If only I were a better mother/father.....What have I done wrong that she's acting like this....Have I damaged him for life?...I should have known better..."

Unfortunately, our minds run on old belief systems that are designed not to keep us happy, but to keep us safe. So our thoughts worry constantly and find fault with everything, so we'll keep striving to make things better! Whenever we buy into those belief systems that we aren't good enough and are making a mess of things, we reinforce our fear. Fear is the opposite of love. So we need to notice this habit of fear running our thoughts, and...

4. Shift into your heart.  

The only way to stop the vicious cycle of negative thoughts is to shift out of those thoughts and into the heart. Your heart can't be negative. It functions at a higher level. Your heart is looking for connection and growth. It can only be compassionate.

So next time you notice a negative thought about yourself, just Stop, Drop (the thought) and Breathe. That deep breath unplugs you from the tape loop in your thoughts. Now you have a choice. Put your hand on your heart and breathe love into your heart. Use a mantra if it helps, like "I am more than enough, exactly as I am."  Consciously choose to feel love, and watch your whole sense of well-being shift. 

5. Change your internal chatter to support and reassure yourself.

Anne Lamott says, "Take yourself through the day as you would your most beloved mental-patient relative, with great humor and lots of small treats."  So why not transform that inner critic, so you become your own fairy godmother? 

Every time you notice self-criticism, remind yourself that your goal isn’t perfection. Your goal is loving yourself and others. Retrain your mind. When it starts catastrophizing, change course:

"Nobody bats 1000....You can handle this....Two steps forward, one step back still gets you where you want to go...Easy does it... This too shall pass....Two steps forward, one step back still gets me where I want to go.....I am more than enough....My child is getting better parenting than I got, LOL; he will be ok....I don't have to know what to do, I just have to love him through it....I can trust my instincts....Love never fails."

6. Forgive Yourself.  

Ok, you made a mistake.  That's not because you stopped striving for perfection, it's because you're human. We all make them, all the time. Really. Can you still have a happy, responsible, fabulous life and be a good parent? YES! The key is to forgive yourself, so you can accept your imperfections graciously. That makes it easier to admit when you mess up, and to make amends. You can't be compassionate to your child when you're beating yourself up inside. Just commit to doing better, and take a step in the right direction.

7. Make Reparations.

So you're mature enough to see that you made a mistake and you've created a problem.  What a terrific role model you are for your child! Focus on solving the problem you've created, not on blame and guilt.  As long as you can forgive yourself, you'll be find a way to repair those little rifts with your child, a way that strengthens your relationship. Your child will survive your mistakes. In fact, when you acknowledge that you messed up, and apologize, and work to repair the relationship, your child learns some of the most important lessons in life.

8. Don't even try to be a perfect parent. Try to model graciousness while being humanly imperfect. 

Your child will never be perfect, because she's human. So having a perfect parent would be a terrible role model.  If your child sees you as perfect, she'll feel worse about herself, since she knows she's not. And if your child sees you as imperfect but not willing to admit it, what are you modeling?

We've established that it would be terrible for your child if you were perfect. (Liberating, huh?!)  What your child DOES needs is a role model for how to graciously acknowledge when we miss the mark, how to apologize, and how to make amends.  So give up on perfection.  Forgive yourself for being human.  Heck, APPLAUD yourself for being human and live as fully as you can.  That means you'll make mistakes. They aren't mistakes if you grow from them and repair any problems you create. They're opportunities to love more. Starting with yourself.

9. Practice appreciation, the antidote to shame and guilt.

Appreciation and gratitude interrupt negative thoughts and give you access to more love. When you notice you're criticizing yourself, change gears and find something to appreciate about yourself.  Nothing to appreciate?  You can shift that. Just start with "Even though..."

"Even though I sometimes get annoyed at myself, I deeply love and accept myself.....Even though I sometimes lose my temper, more and more I am patient with my child.....Even though I make mistakes, I am good enough just the way I am....Even though I don't always know what to do, I keep listening to my inner wisdom so I can hear it better....Even though I get scared and tired sometimes, I love my body's strength and energy....Even though I'm tired at the end of the day, I'm so grateful I have my kids, my home, my health, a bed to sleep in, and a fresh start tomorrow."

10. Practice forgiveness.

We all judge ourselves harshly.  A forgiveness practice can heal that tendency, help us to atone for times we've missed the mark, and increase our compassion for ourselves.  Every religion and wisdom tradition has one. My personal favorite is the Hawaiian (Ho'oponopono) prayer:

"I'm sorry...Please forgive me... I love you... I thank you."

Try repeating this prayer to yourself for self-forgiveness, even if you don't know what you're asking for forgiveness for. It is actually harder to forgive ourselves than anyone else, and we all need to practice. Try speaking it (in your mind) to anyone in your past or present who occurs to you, even if you aren't quite sure what you are asking forgiveness for. You don't even have to think about what's being forgiven. Just forgive it all! See it as repairing any damage.  Speaking from experience, using this little mantra for a few minutes daily is very powerful.

11. Realize that there is nothing to forgive.

Guess what? You aren't perfect. You never will be. You're human. But don't worry, the goal is not perfection. The goal is expanding your heart and creating more love in the world. 

If you fill yourself with love, it will automatically overflow to everyone around you. Go ahead. Nurture yourself with infinite tenderness. Let your heart stretch past its boundaries. There is nothing you need to change, or do, to deserve love. 

You're already more than enough, just the way you are.

12. Repeat daily....

.... and notice that you're healing your ability to love unconditionally.

Watch your life -- and your parenting -- transform,


Today is Step One of Ten Steps to Unconditional Love, Forgive yourself for not being perfect: Your 12 Step Program to Become a Recovering Perfectionist. Want More?  We're exploring each of the ten steps in more detail over the next few weeks. Join us for some heart stretches! 

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids


"Dr.Laura's daily emails are the perfect way to start the day with love and compassion"

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