By Rachel Norman, A Mother Far from Home
I think many of us mothers are doers. If something needs to be done then we do it. If a decision needs to be made then we make it. Often Type A Babywise mothers (not all Babywise mothers are Type A, of course) are driven to achievement and are quite goal-oriented. While I think this is an excellent quality – it is very hard to drum this up if you don’t already have it – it can also be a risk factor in raising perfectionists.
According to the Birth Order Book, firstborn children tend towards perfectionism. Their first and primary role models are adults who do things perfectly to their inexperienced eye. Parents are often a lot harder and more demanding of a first child as well, and this contributes.
I think it’s important and our duty as parents to teach our children to strive for excellence, however, we want to be sure we aren’t expecting perfection or helping them to become perfectionists which will cause them difficulties later on in life.
1. They are accepted based on their position not their performance.
I talk about this in my “How to keep your kids out of counseling” series, but children need to know they are loved simply because they belong to you. Whether or not they color in the lines perfectly or know their numbers in Spanish has nothing to do with how you treat them. If they are unsure of your unwavering love then they will feel the need to perform well to earn it, and this will lead them to becoming fearful perfectionists.
2. Require completion not perfection.
I don’t know about you, but with small children I find it hard to get them to finish a task completely, much less do it perfectly. When aiming to instil the value of hard work and excellence in children we need to make sure we are teaching them to be starter finishers, but not requiring them to do it perfectly. My husband struggles with perfectionism, and can feel paralyzed by fears, worries and apprehensions on an issue before he even gets off the starting block. He absolutely doesn’t want to pass this on to our children so we encourage them to start – just start – the matter at hand, and then to finish it.
3. Don’t redo things for them.
I used to think I’d want to go behind my children and redo their work so that it’d be up to my “standard.” Now, with 3 children 2 years and under, I am just so grateful they do things to help me that I’d never dream of it. I’m sure the temptation will return later, but I am going to work on it. My daughter’s daily chore is folding towels and sheets. After only watching me a few times she really picked up the basics well, but of course they are a bit untidy and don’t stack well. I leave them as is and put them away. When at all possible, I don’t redo their work or add unnecessarily to it. As they get older they will take this as a sign that you think their effort wasn’t enough. At best this will make them not want to contribute, at worst they’ll feel they aren’t up to snuff. Note: this is not to be confused with purposefully doing shoddy work.
4. Evaluate your own personality.
If you are like me (and life will be so much easier for you if you aren’t) then you are ambitious, driven and slightly neurotic. I know this and therefore assume I probably require a little too much of my children. If you are easy-going, carefree and more go with the flow, you probably require too little. This is a generalization, but one I think generally true. Those who aren’t required to push through and complete often get paralyzed before beginning or mid way through a project because they’ve never learned the joy of completion. If you’re carefree you’ll need to make sure you don’t err on this side. Those who are pushed through to a standard of unattainable excellence will become driven to prove they are worthy. Mothers who are pushers need to avoid this extreme.
We want our children to work hard, do their best, and enjoy the feeling of success. However, we don’t want to push them in a way that makes them feel they need to earn our love and approval by how perfect their performance is. If your children are old enough, ask them if you are guilty of this. If they are still young, be careful to help them complete tasks with care, but don’t require perfection.
My boss is a career mentor and is very fond of saying that, most of the time, 80% is good enough. Not all the time, no. But most of the time, yes. Now I’m not encouraging us to tell our children to aim for 80%, but when they reach it, let’s let that be okay most of the time.
Rachel blogs at A Mother Far from Home where she seeks to help other mothers raise wise children of strong character without losing their minds in the process.