I’m hearing a word come out of my 6 year old’s mouth that really bothers me, I want to take it out of his vocabulary altogether, I wish he could unlearn it, but he can’t.
He says he wants his drawing, or lego or whatever he’s working on to be ‘perfect’ and he is so sad when it isn’t. I talk to him about perfect imperfections, how we learn from our mistakes, how nothing is ever perfect, how we all make mistakes. Eventually the sun comes out on his little face, he nods and tries again but still it is there, his drive for perfection.
He comes by it honestly. Stephen and I are both guilty of being perfectionists, with Stephen it is obvious, he is a high achiever and driven to get to the highest standard he can and he’ll work his socks off until he gets there. It’s me that says, ‘chill!’ and I know we balance well like that; he drives and I say slow down. But with me it is my frustration at always feeling that I fall short, always feeling that I can never, ever achieve what is, in my mind, perfection.
How can I teach my kids what I can’t seem to internalise? How can I pass on knowledge I don’t seem to possess?
When we moved into our house I was on such a high (still am really!) but after a few weeks the cracks started to show, one big meltdown later and I knew the problem. I wanted it all the be perfect. My notion on what is perfect was a little vague but it seemed to involve the children eating big piles of vegetables in an immaculate house after digesting a book on poetry whilst doing crafts. Tidily. Yep, that didn’t really pan out.
But I’ve yet to find my real vision, the one where things aren’t perfect but they are really great for a lot of the time. I’ve yet to sort out what matters to me and what doesn’t, because that is what the quest for perfectionism does to me, it stalls my thinking and makes me depressed. I think ‘I’ll never get there’ so I don’t even dream and then I’m all grumpy. And when I’m grumpy I really like to spread it around, yeah I rock like that.
When I apologise to Huwyl for losing my patience (as I do every day) he says something great like “Everyone overboils, don’t worry about it” or “You’re the best Mum, even when you’re angry”, and then I truly know that I suck. Because I don’t forgive so easily, I don’t have such a light heart and I don’t have the excuse of being 6, I should know better. But I’m tired and busy and I just can’t quite get to be that great Mum that I want to be, not at 4.30 when Neirin won’t sit still and Huwyl is complaining about dinner and they both want tv and the dog pees on the floor and there is still so. much. to. do.
Watching Huwyl being tripped up by that demon perfection really shows me what an undermining force it is. He will give up half way through a picture and I understand that impulse. Like him I’m afraid to see through my ambitions, convinced that I can’t really achieve it, that failure is inevitable. If we can’t achieve perfection what is the point? But I’m not willing to let him be hobbled by this, I want to help him look past the myth of perfection and have a clear vision of what it is that he wants and can do now.
But that means I’ve got some work to do. Because I can’t teach something that I can’t do. So I’m laying down my dreams for this coming winter season, I’m going to bravely state my goals (in public!) and defy perfection with my ambition.
– Make some of my own clothes, things that actually suit me! Get to know my brilliant sewing machine and get making! I’d love to take this course, the patterns look brilliant.
– Sleep, a lot. A refreshed Mummy is a happy Mummy. Bed by 9pm at least 4 times a week.
– Take time to learn about whole food nutrition and work on my eating and health. Losing weight would be great but feeling energetic is the most important. This e-course looks amazing.
– Write at least 3 blog posts a week.
– Start being kinder to myself over my appearance, head held high and a big smile. Take time to do nice things for myself so that I can feel good.
– Forgive myself for my imperfections, every day.
– Dream. Really spend time thinking about what I’d like to do with my life and believe I can.
– Speak up! Set aside time for my goals and be open about what I’m trying to do rather than keeping it all inside because it isn’t as important as what others want.
– Make a plan for organising and decorating our home, share it with Stephen and make it happen.
– Learn to use my camera, it’s ok if every photo isn’t perfect, the learning is more important.
– Write. Articles, letters, blog posts, stories. All those crazy thoughts in my head, put them down on paper and worry if they make sense later!
– Laugh at myself, I want to be less serious with the boys, laugh more with them and help them see that I know when I get things wrong and it’s ok. I’d also actually like it to be ok.
That’ll do for now I think, not a bad list I’d say. So when Huwyl gets upset over something not being perfect I can look him in the eye and say “No one is perfect, all we can do is try our best” and know that I’m sticking to that too.
My friend sent me a great quote by Salvador Dali “Don’t be afraid of perfection, you’ll never achieve it.”
Words to live by.
3 thoughts on “Perfection Impossible”
Hi there Emma! Oh you made me laugh (especially the bit about kids digesting poetry in an immaculate living room) because, ahem, that’s…that’s me! 😉
I realize now that this thirst for perfection did hold me down sometimes, but I also realize that it’s been my main force. So it must be with you, and your little boy? Once you realize that perfection is the target you aim at, that it is maybe the support that attracts and gathers your energy, you also see that it’s just that: a target. You need it to get a good shot and aim efficiently. Whether you hit the target right in the center does not really matter. You have it, it is there, and by using it, you might end up with achieving something great, something fun, something awesome, something new, and who cares if it’s not perfect at all? As a perfectionist who needs to control her perfectionism, I’ve started writing down, every now and then, what I have achieved over the week (small things or bigger things, whatever), instead of making a daily mental list of what isn’t finished, what is missed and so on…And I see how my perfectionism pushes me to do a lot. Same with you I guess: if you didn’t have this drive to do great, maybe you wouldn’t be where you are now? Maybe this is, deep inside, an urge to do well and to create, rather than a need to do perfect things. We people with perfect issues, just have to remember that ultimately, the imperfect things we achieve might turn out to be better than perfect. When my daughter starts criticizing her own work, I now urge her to give it a try, because we don’t know yet what the result may be. I think perfection is just that, a target, not a reality, a tool, not an end. Mhh, do I make sense? 😉 I love your list by the way, and I already know you’ll do great!! 🙂
Ok – so full disclaimer, I do not have a child. So for whatever it’s worth – here are my two cents given what I’ve learned as someone driven by perfection. I agree with ‘poeticchronicles’ in that a drive for perfection is a really positive force to have within and can be the impetus of many positive things. I believe the skill to focus on cultivating or nurturing, is how one handles life’s situations or events when they do not achieve their internalized vision of ‘perfection’. It is how one responds in the face of ‘less than satisfactory’. Overall, I feel that it is one’s resiliency in the face of what they cannot control that will have the greatest affect on happiness and balance in life; in the context of today’s society, pressures and multitude of opportunities. I suspect you’ve got an inner voice that chimes in when you need to talk yourself down from feeling wound up about a ‘less than perfect scenario’ – help him find his ☺
It helps me to focus on the journey instead of the destination. I try to focus on learning how to put together a quilt block well, not on making 214 perfect blocks. I take active enjoyment in the mastery, which means I anticipate difficulty, and am determined to persevere through it in a good frame of mind. Learning by doing is an important part of being human, and being imperfect in the doing is part of it. Parenting is an excellent example.
Sleep and self-care are critical “Mommy” skills. And think what a good example you are setting for your children! Not to mention, no one wants their kids to remember them as a grumpy sleep-deprived wild woman.
Prioritizing is critical. If no one is dying, or in immediate danger of bodily harm, it’s probably not worth getting upset. Ironically, if someone is in danger, getting upset is not indicated there either! Makes one wonder why we get upset at all, but our species seemed wired to do so.
And I would recommend starting with the sleep resolution, and then working on one at a time. If you do one, say 3 blog entries a week (not to be self-serving here!) for 6 weeks, then add another. I have found trying too much at once is difficult, and I cannot remember the number of times one must repeat something to establish a habit, but I think it’s around 6 weeks. Good luck! Go easy on yourself.