Confession Time: I can be a bit of a perfectionist. I once had a friend refuse to let me into her home because it was a mess. She insisted on talking with me outside. I never realized the pressure my perfectionist qualities could put upon other people. For whatever reason, she assumed that because I was a bit of a perfectionist… that I required it of those who befriended me. Let me assure you, that is far from the truth.
Confession Time #2: Right now, my house is a complete and total disaster. I don’t want to say that I am totally ok with it, because I am not. At the same time, I am not as neurotic about it as I once was … many, many years ago.
People who are perfectionists, or who have OCD tendencies, can often live on a pendulum. Either everything is 100% to their liking (no room for error) or they can swing the opposite way and not care at all. It is the epitome of “my way or no way”.
We can also expect these same tendencies from our spouse or children. Which is funny to me, because we extend a lot more grace to those not related to us. Perhaps it is because we have an expectation that those who share our DNA also share in our crazy. Those expectations can cause us to be helicopter parents who are hovering over our children constantly expecting them to be just like us. Organized. On time. Working ahead of schedule. Clean/Tidy. We tend to excel at so much that failure is just not part of our vocabulary.
However, children will challenge every bit of that thinking.
Mom just cleaned the house? Awesome, let’s bring every toy we own out into the livingroom.
Project due for school? No worries, I can tell mom about it at 9pm the night before it is due.
Failing Math? It’s no big deal that I will get kicked from the team. I’ll just run to mom in a panic three days before report cards come out.
These kids live in a whole other plane of thought. As perfectionists we can’t deal in this plane… not at all. We hollar at the kids to return the toys to their room. We stay up working on the project for them because we can’t let their grade get docked for tardiness, nor can we let them turn in a project that is less than acceptable just to be on time. We will implore the teacher to allow them to make up the missed work, spending ridiculous amounts of money on tutors to ensure the ace the exam.
Why? Because deep down the perfectionist believes that their child’s choices reflect on us as their parent. If they fail, we fail. If they are late, we are late. If they make a mess, we are a mess. We try to control their behaviors because frankly we don’t want people to think less of us as parents. Preventing their failure is more about saving our own face, than ensuring their success.
Let that sink in for just a second.
The thing is… we need to let them fail. We need them to understand what accountability and consequence are BEFORE they are adults and the wages of those poor choices are much higher. We need to teach them how to fail, how to process that, and how to get back on that horse. Not only do WE need to do that for them, THEY need to learn it for themselves. If we want our children to be successful as adults, we cannot come to their rescue.
We also have to accept that their choices belong to them, and are in no way a reflection on us as parents…. assuming we have done our best. Plenty of children were raised in the “perfect home” and yet walked away and lived a contrary life. Plenty of children were raised in less than idea environments and rose to the occasion, choosing to live a better life and being a positive contribution to society.
They are not us.
So mom, in the words of Elsa… LET IT GO.
I spoke to a friend who is older than I, and she shared about her perfectionist mother. Every weekend, the entire family was cleaning the house. Her mom was a collector of many different things, and it became the responsibility of the kids to help her maintain the cleanliness of her collection.
I wonder, how often I have burdened the kids with the responsibility of caring or tending to the unnecessary things I have chosen to bring into the house? It reminded me of the turtle my husband brought home to the kids, that they didn’t ask for, but then he expected them to care for it’s needs. Unfair responsibility.
I wonder, how often have I expected my children to have the same love of learning that I have? Expecting their grades to be high, their projects to be done with excellence, and for them to have the same drive to start early as I have always had. Then I reflect on the fact that I never actually TAUGHT my kids to be organized from an early age, I just assumed it would come naturally to them. It did to me. I wasn’t taught to be that way by my parents. I just was. Unfair expectation.
I wonder how many times my kids have missed out on fun or being children, because my priorities were different? I wonder why I am not ok with a “passing grade” in a subject they hate. I wonder how many times I pushed my own ideas on them, instead of allowing them to explore their own? I wonder how many times I was controlling a child who wanted to be free to be there own selves?
It was time to stop. It was time to let it go.
I’m not suggesting to throw caution to the wind and be a hands off parent. Instead, I am suggesting that we stop trying to mold them into clones of ourselves. Let them live, let them learn, let them grown.
So, I stopped hassling the kids about keeping their room to perfection. They know the consequence is that no one comes over to play unless it is picked up. That’s the consequence, and I stick to it. I have found a compromise between what they think is clean, and what I think is clean. I don’t get upset that they bring the toys out all over the house to play. The consequence is that they know they need to clean it up, so don’t bring out more than you are willing to carry back. I’m not helping you.
I don’t hover over their grades online every single day… but I check in. They know the consequences of getting poor grades. I no longer loose my mind over a “C” on the report card. We reward good grades. Consequences for poor ones. I allow them to make the choice of how much effort they are willing to put in, and they know they will contend with the consequences if they drop the ball. I have learned to accept their best, even when that best is a C- in math.
Doing their best is not being perfect.
My middle schooler is a very limited excelled program for Middle School. If her grades drop, not only will she be removed from the program… she will have to go to another school. She chose to be in the program and she’s knows that her longevity in that program is entirely up to her. She can lose that spot, and I’m not going to rescue her if she drops the ball. She knows that her ADHD is not an excuse either.
What I want is a child that grows into an adulthood who:
- understands that her choices will impact her future, no one else is to blame.
- is not an excuse maker. there are no excuses in life, except the ones you make for yourself.
- understands they choose their consequences, becuase every choice has a consequence, good or bad.
- believes doing your best is always good enough, even if it isn’t perfect, but who never underestimates their ability & is willing to be challenged.
- can make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward. there is always time to become more, become better.
- will let go of the things that don’t really matter, and focus on what is important.
I do this by being an example of this for them. Which means that today, when my 8 year old asks me to play with her at the dining room table… the dishes can wait. When my 16 year old wants to watch a movie with me tonight, the mopping can wait. When my 12 year old wants to go to the book store, my errands can wait.
My house will not look like a museum, but a home with a family of people who live there instead of existing there. It will be clean and pest free, but you may find a pile of toys in the foyer. I will happily spend an hour snuggling on the couch over scrubbing the kitchen. My children will see me put friends and family above chores and to-do lists.
When you come over, things won’t look perfect anymore. But, the cups are clean and the coffee is hot.
Being a perfectionist comes with a cost, and it is one I do not want my children to pay.