Feelings every perfectionist parent can relate to, and how to recover

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Feelings every perfectionist parent can relate to, and how to recover

Parenting

Feelings every perfectionist parent can relate to, and how to recover

Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn!

Credit: Giphy

I’ve taught this foundational belief of the Positive Discipline program in parenting workshops for a decade.

And every time, my tongue goes immediately to my cheek.

I explain that if you’re anything like me, that’s the hardest concept to really integrate into your parenting.

Don’t get me wrong—I totally believe that mistakes are wonderful opportunities for others to learn. But me? I have to do it right the first time!

Hi, I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I fight a daily battle with my brain, which still leaps automatically to the mantras of my childhood:

  • If you want something done right, do it yourself!”

And:

  • “Do it right the first time!”

Mistakes were something to be ashamed of, and if you made one, there was this dance you had to do — a combination of rationalizing, excusing and blaming— in order to hold onto the illusion that you would have done it right, if it weren’t for….

Credit: Giphy

Hence, the tendency toward perfectionism.

Not in every area of my life (drive by my house and you’ll notice that yard work doesn’t even qualify for placement on the perfection scale!) but definitely in the parts that really matter: career, relationships, and of course, parenting.

Positive Discipline, thankfully, saved me from needing to be perfect. It’s been a gradual awakening that has left me with greater perspective on what’s possible when I come at not-perfect situations with a learner mindset.

A few highlights that come to mind:

1. Temper tantrum at the grocery store!

Gut-level perfectionist thought:

Credit: Giphy

  • child out of control
  • shoppers judging me
  • annoyed looks
  • am I a bad mom?
  • do I have a bad kid?

Learner thought:

My son needs to learn that he doesn’t get to whine and be rewarded with a trinket to keep him quiet. Other shoppers can deal. Pick him up, put him in the cart, finish up and get on home. This was probably one errand too many.

2. Red light from the teacher!

Credit: Giphy

Gut-level perfectionist thought:

His behavior is a reflection on me! How dare he misbehave at school! What if he turns out to be one of those “bad kids”?

Learner thought:

My son is more likely to learn to control his impulses at school if he takes ownership for the mistake. He can write an apology note, deliver it to the teacher, and then we move on.

3. My son is making a C in geometry. What if he slips to a D or an F?

Gut-level perfectionist thought:

He can’t fail! He’ll lose the college scholarship! He won’t have good opportunities and his life will be permanently altered!

Learner thought:

If he loses the scholarship, he can start at the community college and it will cost us less money. Success over the next 70 years does not hinge on this class!

Credit: Giphy

It still takes constant vigilance to keep me from slipping into those childhood mantras, but when I look at them with a more critical eye, I can see them as traps that keep me from being an effective parent.

“If you want it done right, do it yourself.”

But what does that invite? Embarrassment and isolation that make me resist asking for help. Learner mindset, however, assures me that I can’t possibly know everything, and I will benefit from seeking other perspectives before deciding how to handle a challenge. I will be a better parent if I DON’T do it alone!

“Do it right the first time”

Sometimes I do. And then again, because I’m human, sometimes I don’t. In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement or growth. Perfectionism is …the belief that if we do things perfectly, and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”

The truth is, that cover-up dance actually brings MORE discomfort, not less. It’s another trap that keeps me from learning and actually doing better the next time.

Of course, as a parent, one of my great hopes is that my kids will benefit from my hard-earned wisdom! Teaching them that mistakes really are wonderful opportunities to learn means that I must be diligent about taking ownership and making amends when I screw up.

Positive Discipline’s 4 R’s of Recovery from Mistakes:

  • Recognize that you made a mistake, feel the embarrassment and then let it go.
  • Take Responsibility without blame or shame.
  • Reconcile by apologizing when others are involved.
  • Resolve by focusing on solutions.

Following this framework releases me and my family from the chains of perfectionism. When we don’t fear making mistakes, we can be open and transparent with each other, and we invite forgiveness and encouragement. When we have that with each other — when we do that for each other — our life together is pretty near perfect!

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