Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

My name is Laura and I'm a (recovering) perfectionist

"I am a recovering perfectionist.  Before, I experienced that I and everyone else was always falling short, that who we were and what we did was never quite good enough. I sat in judgment on life itself. Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken...Wholeness lies beyond perfection. The life within us is diminished by judgment...." -- Dr. Naomi Remen

I first went to therapy as a young woman because I hoped that it would make me perfect. Even once I realized that I'd never be perfect, I was still striving towards it, figuring that falling short would at least get me closer.

It wasn't until I became a mother that I realized that perfectionism is always the enemy of love. If you're criticizing yourself all the time, you can't feel good inside. Since we can't act much better than we feel, our lack of compassion for ourselves translates into more criticism towards our kids. (Does criticism help you change? Me neither.)

If you're criticizing your child to make her "better," you're giving a clear message that she isn't good enough yet. Most of us go through our entire lives feeling not good enough, because we never felt quite "good enough" as children.

By definition, perfectionism is judging ourselves, our loved ones, and life as not good enough. We reject the present moment -- peanut butter hands, tear-stained face and all -- because we wish things could be some other way. But that means we hold ourselves back from really loving during so many of our interactions with our child. Because how can you love while you're judging?

We think "if only" our child wouldn't act out, we could love him unconditionally. "If only" we could stop yelling, we could love ourselves. Once our child gets through this phase, and we lose weight, and our partner gets a raise, our real life will start. But as John Lennon once said, Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Still think striving for perfection will get you closer? Imagine going through childhood with a mother or father who thinks you aren't good enough.

Ready to renounce perfection?

1. Agree right now to forgive yourself for all the ways you will mess up in the days to come. Yes, commit to your own growth, but also commit to loving yourself fully, even though you'll still raise your voice or say exactly the wrong thing on a fairly regular basis. (Shocking, I know. But we're only human.)

2. Try this healing practice. Look in the mirror, beam at yourself, and say "I love you....You are more than enough, just the way you are." Sound sappy? That's your discomfort speaking. Go ahead and brave that discomfort, and eventually you'll be able to do this easily and feel a rush of love wash over you. You won't believe how healing that is.

3. Commit to loving your child exactly as he is, even though he (what a surprise) turns out not to be perfect. Remind yourself that love is what kids (and all humans) need to grow and change.

4. Agree right now to be emotionally generous to your child when she messes up. Train yourself to say something like: "That's ok, honey. You don't have to be perfect. Nobody's perfect, not even grownups. You are more than enough, just the way you are. You are such a gift to me, and to the world, just the way you are, and I love you so much, no matter what."

You might find that in the midst of imperfection, life feels a whole lot more perfect.



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