How I tackled my perfectionism and became a better parent
OPINION: If you're a perfectionist, you probably hear the phrase "just relax" frequently. The more people tell you this, though, the more frustrated you get.
Research says there are three ways of being a perfectionist: inflicting high standards on yourself, having unrealistic standards of those around you, and believing everyone in your life expects your perfection. Fun fact: I fit all three of those categories.
My high perfectionism was difficult enough to manage in work and life, but it evolved to more painful levels when I became a parent.
I isolated myself so people couldn't see that I didn't know how to settle my own baby, yet skipped into the health check-ups she was passing with, well, perfection. It gets harder as the kids get older. My daughters are now aged four and eight and, no matter how hard I try, my ridiculously high standards are slipping out of my grasp.
Yet I can't stop myself from aiming for the stars. This sense of striving is innate; perfectionism is as much a part of my genetic make-up as having brown eyes. So I can either fight it in vain or I can learn to use it to my advantage. Practical Perfection, a book written by my friend Kelly Exeter, provides a framework for using this tricky trait in a positive way.
I decided to trial her advice in one area of my life – parenting – where my perfectionism was causing me angst.
MAKE TIME FOR YOUR PASSIONS
This sounds easy enough – maybe too simple for those of us striving for more, more, more – but perfectionists need this advice more than anyone. Perfectionist parenting can make us put too much focus on child-rearing, often at the expense of all else, which is a recipe for something completely imperfect: burnout.
So, what is it that recharges you? For me, it's the simple stuff: writing, seeing friends, looking after my health, going for a walk on a sunny day, reading a favourite book by the fire.
Make time for such things and you will be able to offer your family your best self more often than not.
SET YOUR PRIORITIES
Perfectionists are familiar with the feeling of being overwhelmed. Exeter says this is nothing more than a very bad habit caused by trying to please everyone all the time.
She advises that we should instead shift our sights to establishing priorities that fit with our personal values. I hit this particular hurdle when my daughter wanted to take part in a new after-school commitment. I hesitated. My perfectionism was at loggerheads with itself: if I said yes, then my child would have less free play time; if I said no, she might miss out on something.
In the end, I heeded Exeter's advice to take the option that fitted best with our family's values. (A solid "no", in case you're wondering.)
Perfectionists love to be productive. If someone asks how our day was, we're likely to answer with a list of achievements – the more, the better. So, how do you get productive in parenting? The answer might be in developing routines and rhythms that work for your family.
I have to admit, I'm not great with routine. But reading Exeter's book, I found I was not focusing on how routines can produce great outcomes. Understanding this was enough to convince me of the benefits of settling into regular behaviour patterns. So I came up with some rhythms around bedtime (outcome: one less tantrum opportunity for the little one), the jobs the kids are expected to take on (outcome: a few less things for me to do), and a Sunday session that prepares us for the week ahead (outcome: more productive weekdays).
Does all of this create perfect parents or perfect kids? Of course not. What it does, though, is help us channel those perfectionist traits towards the things we can control.
This framework can help us deal with the moments when things are decidedly imperfect or, at the very least, give us a starting point from which to ease those feelings of not having direct influence over a situation.
* Get curious about the impact of perfectionism on your life.
* Take small steps; perfectionists will get overwhelmed by trying to do too much (and to a very high standard).
* Practise self-compassion and be kind to yourself.
- Sydney Morning Herald