Recently I spoke with a young mother who wanted to address some concerns she was having with her young children. As I listened to her detail all the issues she was having, I thought about how demanding her expectations were.
When she paused, I told her, “It seems to me that you hold yourself to a very high standard that will make it impossible to ever feel good about your parenting.” She admitted that she’s a perfectionist.
Sometimes it’s not your children and their behavior that is the issue; it’s your unrealistic expectations of yourself. Those high expectations can masquerade as something positive – for example, in the case of this mother, it sounded like wanting to be the very best mother possible. That sounds admirable, doesn’t it?
Right. It sounds good, but if there’s so much tension and inner pressure about it, clearly it’s not healthy. Saying she wanted to be a good mother was just prettying up a huge sledgehammer in her mind that she was constantly using to beat herself up since she never lived up to her perfect ideal.
While some people think perfectionism is a positive quality, I couldn’t disagree more. Perfectionism is deeply damaging and it guarantees that a person will never feel enough, no matter how hard they try.
Not only does perfectionism affect you negatively, it harms your children as well, because they need to look perfect in order for you prove to yourself and the world that you’re a good enough parent. They’ll never feel good enough, either – not for you and not for them. And then they’ll internalize that perpetual inadequacy within themselves.
Parents, step back and reevaluate your expectations of yourself and your children, to have a realistic idea of what to strive for. You will probably benefit from checking in with someone from the outside who has an objective perspective. This isn’t about lowering the bar and saying that anything goes. Not at all. It’s being nurturing and compassionate of yourself and your children to let go of unrealistic ideas that only bring feelings of pain and inadequacy to you all.
We all need to have space to just be, to move at a pace that is appropriate for us. That’s a critical component that allows the natural developmental process to unfold. We can’t move forward in a healthy way when the inner voice is a driving taskmaster, saying, “More, more, better, better, don’t stop because if you do you’ll never be good enough!”
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – again and again and again.
You are enough as you are right now. Really.
And when you can let yourself feel that, ironically you’ll then free up some emotional energy that can applied to being more of who you want to be – from a place of self-love, not self-shaming.