Brian and I went to the dentist for our semi-annual cleaning the other day and had a woman from church watch the boys in the office while we went in. The dentist popped in when the hygienist was done and told me I had perfectly behaved little boys out there, that they were just like me, always perfect, not like my brothers.
I have been thinking about perfectionism a lot lately. I am trying very hard not to bring that weakness of mine out in my children.
I don’t know where the pressure on myself of perfectionism came from, but it runs deep. It became part of my entire personality. And then the pressure from being the “good kid” or being “smart” meant that when I did mess up, it was a really big deal. Like I wasn’t allowed to act age appropriate because I was so tall and mature for my age (Someone literally asked me what year of college I was in when I was 12). Like because I was good a lot of the time I wasn’t allowed to mess up. Like I wasn’t allowed to have problems.
In reading about gentle parenting the “age-appropriate behavior” piece has been striking me and I am trying not to expect too much from my kids.
I always remember a story my Mom told me about her cousin’s kids when she went to visit them in the Southwest several years ago. The older one was a bright, healthy young girl, and the younger girl had many medical issues and Down Syndrome. The older girl exclaimed “I want a feeding tube!” in a desperate cry for the different kind of attention her sister was getting. Immediately I knew that was me. I could relate to that little girl I hadn’t ever met. I can remember being jealous of my brothers’ allergies, depression, grades etc. I can remember sneaking a bonnet to school in second grade and using it as a sling and saying I had a broken arm. I remember feeling jealous of a girl who used a wheelchair for a while in first grade.
I don’t know what form I was filling out, maybe in late high school, but it asked what my weaknesses were. I never know what to say for that! It was never for lack of knowing them or having them, but how to put them in words that didn’t make me sound like a horrible person but still sounded humble and real. I asked my dear friend Christa to offer some suggestions and she mentioned one might be that I don’t take criticism well. She is such an insightful and observant friend, and true to her statement I didn’t take it well that she said I don’t take criticism well! I wasn’t self-aware enough at that point to realize I just proved her right.
So what am I doing about it?
Well since having kids I’ve been forced to let go of some of my perfectionism and need for control. And with them, I try to let them be themselves. I don’t force them to play with toys in a certain way. I don’t overly guide their artwork. I try not to act or sound disappointed when they mess up. I try to remember they are little, and where they are developmentally. I try not to yell. I pray hard to be a good Mom. I try to remember that article I read about not telling them they are smart, but instead praising their efforts.
On our recent road trip, I chose a different way to drive than we usually do (with good reasons) but then the GPS had that adding 30 minutes to the trip! I was so frustrated and beating myself up for keeping the kids (and us) in the car longer than we had to – I was tired and grumpy about it . . . but then the GPS actually had us getting off the highway and winding around so we ignored that and I got those 30 minutes back off the ETA! As I was recounting the GPS story to my Aunt Denise, I said “So I was beating myself up for nothing” and my Husband said “the story of Emily’s life” (or something like that) and you know what? It’s true! I am so hard on myself – so I am going to work on that. Maybe I need to apply those Gentle Parenting principles to myself!
I’m not perfect yet at letting go of this perfectionism thing, but I’m glad I’m becoming more self-aware in this area.