My kids love blankets.
It’s cute when I wander down in the morning and find them snuggled on the couch, watching hockey highlights from the night before. Or when they carefully drape them over their chairs at the dinner table so they’re nice and cozy for meals.
What’s not so cute?
Picking piles of blankets off the floor — off every floor — multiple times a day.
While my kids aren’t especially concerned with the mess, they recognize that tidying up makes it easier to find their blankets the next time they want a cuddle.
So we’re teaching them to fold and stack the blankets themselves.
And it’s making me itchy.
Because while I am not a neat freak by any means, I’m having a hard time with the haphazard, lopsided, mess of a blanket stack.
So I’ll have them do it again. Re-folding adequately (but not perfectly) folded blankets until I’m satisfied with the result.
We’d repeat this cycle daily. Until one day, as they begrudgingly refolded their blankets one of them blurted out, “I don’t see why we even bother doing this. No matter how careful we are it’s never good enough.”
• • •
After removing the dagger from my heart I realized my kids were right.
I wasn’t teaching them to fold blankets. There was nothing wrong with the job they had done. They just hadn’t done it how I would have done it.
Rather than encouraging my kids and recognizing their initiative (not to mention their creative blanket-folding patterns), I was discouraging their independence and creating conflict.
I was essentially picking a fight with my kids over something as ridiculous as the “correct” way to fold a blanket.
Once I realized all the ways I was undermining my kids’ independence and creating unnecessary stress by demanding things go a certain way, it became clear that my perfectionistic tendencies were making parenting a million times harder than it needed to be.
How Perfectionism Makes Parenting Harder Than It Needs to Be
1. Perfectionism is exhausting
A perfectionist’s job is never finished. With sky-high standards and only one “right” way to do anything, the perfectionist is on constant red-alert, scanning their surroundings for what needs tweaking.
It’s hard work, making sure everything is done “properly.”
Because sure, the kitchen is clean(ish) — but it could be cleaner. And yeah, the kids’ science experiment is finished — but it could use a little polish.
And those blankets could use a little straightening…
Leaving you little time for anything that doesn’t involve fixing, straightening, correcting, or re-doing.
Talk about exhausting.
2. Perfection picks fights
When our kids are young it’s easy to let perfectionism run the show — you can carefully curate outfits (in the name of “fashion”), room decor (gotta keep up with the trends!), and birthday party agendas (magicians are totally in right now) to meet your idealized version of “normal.”
But before you know it, your kids start getting their own ideas about how to dress, decorate their rooms, and throw a killer birthday party.
Promptly sending you into a tailspin because what they want is just. not. right.
I mean — they can’t cut their hair like that!
And there’s NO WAY they can wear that Monster Jam t-shirt for picture day!
Next thing you know, you’re in a cage match over something as trivial as tights vs jeans or putting a John Cena poster on their bedroom wall.
3. Perfectionism wastes your time
Upping the exhaustion factor further, perfectionists can’t delegate. Subscribing to the “If you want something done right, do it yourself” school of thought, perfectionists over-burden themselves with tasks that could easily be done by others.
Kids’ rooms too messy?
The perfectionist will take care of it.
Kids too slow getting out the door in the morning?
The perfectionist will get those kids dressed, their backpacks ready, and their shoes and coats on lickety-split.
Science fair project due tomorrow and your daughter hasn’t started?
Perfectionist to the rescue!
Wasting countless hours while simultaneously training your kids to think of you as their personal butler. It’s the time suck to end all time sucks.
4. Perfectionism breeds resentment
Think of the last time you felt micromanaged.
Did it make you feel:
- That you were valued and trusted?
- That the other person respected you?
Or did it make you think they were a massive jerk trying to control you?
5. Perfectionism undermines relationships
We think we’re “helping, “teaching,” or “making memories,” but in reality, we’re driving everyone around us crazy.
Our partners and children start to feel like they can’t live up to our standards. They start to wonder why we get so wrapped up in details that don’t matter.
They can even start to second-guess how we feel about them. It’s hard to feel loved when the focus is always on the output, end product or whether something is “right.”
6. Perfectionism makes you sweat the small stuff
Since nothing is good enough, everything is a problem. There’s always something to worry about, fix, control, or contain.
When your focus is on finding mistakes or room for improvement *everything* starts bugging you. Which makes sense, because you’ve essentially trained yourself to notice errors and what’s wrong or out of place. You’ve become a superstar at pointing out faults and criticizing anything that isn’t “just so.”
7. Perfectionism sucks the joy out of life
When you’re constantly focused on what’s wrong it’s easy to get distracted from all that is good in your life.
Rather than laughing when your daughter accidentally gets a grass stain chasing after your new puppy during your family photo shoot, you’re distraught that your idealized pictures are ruined.
Instead of embracing your child’s creativity and ingenuity for their creative take on a homework assignment, you’re furious and make them to it over again — following the directions to the letter.
It’s hard to have fun when nothing is ever good enough.
8. Perfectionism destroys your self-worth
With impossibly high standards and only one “right” way to do anything, you’re guaranteed to come short of your expectations. A lot.
And when you spend that much time, effort, and energy meticulously controlling everything around you, it’s easy to doubt yourself.
Because if you’re trying so hard shouldn’t things be easier by now?
You start to wonder:
What am I doing wrong?
Why is this so hard?
Why am I always failing?
You’ve just tricked yourself into thinking you are.
HOW TO DEAL
1) Get real with yourself
Perfectionism isn’t about having high standards, caring about your kids, or wanting to be the best version of yourself.
It’s about control.
And where does the compulsion to control come from?
- The fear of not being good enough
- The fear of appearing inadequate or ill-prepared
- The fear of being perceived as stupid, unequipped or negligent
- The fear of our kids not measuring up
It’s the fear of “What will people think…” and “I’d be so embarrassed if…” that drives us to drop $2K we don’t have on a three-year-old’s birthday party, freak out if our kids get a B- in math, and have an aneurysm when they get cut from the soccer team.
Giving ourselves an ulcer over haircuts, math grades, or playdates has zero to do with how much you love your kids and EVERYTHING to do with your own insecurities.
Perfectionism is just the pretty sounding name we give it so it’s easier to stomach. So we can carry on pretending we’re not anxious, unsure, or feeling inadequate. Tying a bow on our discomfort under the guise of “caring” or “effort.”
But pretending your compulsion to make everything “perfect” is because you care about your kids or like paying attention to detail — when in reality the weight of the pressure you’re under is unbearable — isn’t going to help you turn things around.
2) Stop ”shoulding” on yourself
Pay attention to every time you catch yourself saying the word “should.”
This is a dead giveaway you’re about to make your next decision based out of fear or a desire to cover up your feelings of inadequacy.
Feel like you should put more effort into your kid’s birthday party?
Because party planning brings you joy?
Or because you think other parents will judge you if you don’t?
Feel like you should make more elaborate dinners?
Because you’re genuinely interested in learning to cook?
Or because you think that’s what a “good” mom would do?
3) Make “good enough” your gold standard
Rather than obsessing about how something could be better, consider “Is this good enough?”
Because honestly, how much “better” can a school lunch be?
Is it adequate?
Are the kids going to eat at least some of it?
Your toddler delights in feeding himself (even though it makes a giant mess)?
Your 4-year-old gets dressed independently (even if their socks don’t always match)?
Your partner does bedtime duty so you can take a shower (even though they skip some pages and don’t do the voices like you do)?
You might get a bit itchy, but that’s ok. Go with it. Take it as a sign that you’re letting go of expectations that were weighing you down and disrupting your relationships.
And if you get stuck, just remember that perfection isn’t a fancy way of saying “I care” or “I work hard.”
Perfectionism is “I’m worried what people will think,” “What will they say?!”, and “Failure is not an option.”
It’s all about control. It’s born out of fear.
And it’s making your life way harder than it needs to be.
Isn’t it about time you let it go?