Are you the perfect parent? Chances are probably not. But possibly, secretly, do you really want to be the perfect parent? I know I do.
Most adults (my children included) can tell you all the things their parents did wrong. Some parents definitely qualified as Toxic Parents (a term coined by therapist and author Susan Forward). Other parents, well, they were somewhere on the scale between tolerable and pretty good—all things considered.
No matter where our own parents fell on that scale, many of us want to do better than them. That’s a good thing. But in wanting to do better some of us fall into the perils of perfectionism:
- We have unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.
- We focus on what we did wrong—not on what we did right.
- We self-criticize and may be highly critical of others.
- Criticism from others (or even helpful suggestions) may increase our feelings of inadequacy. We may respond with defensiveness and hostility. We may be unwilling to admit being wrong.
Full disclosure: I’m a recovering perfectionist. But I’m also an educator. I believe in improvement. I believe people can learn new skills and change their behavior.
As an educator, I also know that learning takes having access to accurate information and getting encouragement from others. It takes time and practice. It takes making mistakes and then learning from those mistakes. For some reason, when it comes to parenting we think we ought to know how to do it just because we want to. After all, we can identify all those things our parents did wrong.
Here are some ideas that have helped me focus on improvement and step back from perfectionism:
Asking myself: is the issue one of health and safety?
Are the goals my goals or those that others think are important? One study found that parents with “self-oriented parenting perfectionism” had higher parenting satisfaction, whereas those with “societal-oriented parenting perfectionism” were more stressed. Parenting Perfection and Parental Adjustment
Noticing what is working well and what got done. Being specific. Praising myself and others.
Admitting to messing up, apologizing, making amends if possible, thinking about how to do it better next time.
Asking myself, what do I need to do this—information, encouragement, practice?
Perhaps what is most helpful is accurate and honest information about how other people have succeeded in doing what I would like to do. No one is exactly like me, of course, but parents share many things in common. Realizing that others struggle with challenges and hearing how others dealt with similar situations can spur me in problem-solving, even if their solutions are not the same as mine.