Perfectionism and Parenting Do Not Mix Well

I grew up as a perfectionist; I live my life as a perfectionist; but I need to try to give it up in order to be an effective mother.  This is especially important as my girls continue to grow and head into their teen years.  I was always pushed, even as a kid, to be the best.  When I was in 4th grade, if I did not understand a math concept, I would bring my math workbook home and have my dad teach me the next 4-5 lessons so I would always be ahead.

I guess birth order figures into my situation as well.  I have a younger brother, but the pressure was never great for him, just for me.  My dad lived a horrible life with parents who didn’t care whether or not he even finished high school.  My mother grew up very poor, living in a home with five siblings, a stay-at-home mother, and a father who was working on-again, off-again at the steel foundry.  So, as I journeyed through life, I understood my parents’ message to me:  they wanted a better and more prosperous life for me than they had for themselves.  It makes sense; all parents want good lives for their children.  However, the stress and pressure of it all caused some of the anxiety and worry I suffer today.

I was always very successful, but for some reason, it was never enough for my mom.  A report card with all “A’s” and one “B” was not acceptable.  Instead of focusing on the great grades, she focused on the “B,” which isn’t even horrible.  In college, I missed Dean’s List just ONE semester.  Man did I ever hear the disappointment speech of a lifetime from her.  Funny thing was, my brother received a “D” that year in one of his college courses, but excuses were made, and guys are just different.  So, I grew up with this belief that I had to be perfect no matter what, and that perfectionism was not only school-related; it transferred over into everything I did.  Even now that I am grown and have children, my mother will criticize small things that I do.

I decided that I would not be the same way with my own children; however, about two months ago, I realized that I was falling into the trap myself.  One night, I was brushing my teeth for bed, and I looked over into the trash can beside my counter.  I noticed a long strand of ash blonde hair.  Now, my hair falls out in clumps when I shower or comb it, so I know what that looks like.  I headed over to my oldest daughter’s room and asked her about the hair.  She told me it fell out when she was brushing her hair for bed.  I asked her over and over again if she were sure that her story was correct.  She said she was.  So, I headed for my shower.  As the water trickled over me, I knew something just was not right; it bugged me the entire time.

After my shower, I headed back to my daughter’s room.  She was half asleep and ready to be rid of me.  I asked again.  This time she said, “Mom, I could not figure out my math problem, so I ripped out my hair.”  She then rolled over and went to sleep.  I was stunned; I ran from her room crying and wondering what I was doing to my little girl.  She didn’t say it, but I was sure my pressure had caused this incident.

The next morning, I sat both girls down and had a very serious talk with them.  Now, granted, my girls are only 8 and almost 11, but they are very mature for their age and gifted intellectually and creatively.  My oldest skipped a grade last year due to her intellect.  So, I told myself, “You are out.  They know what they need to do.  If they don’t do it; that’s on them, and you will support them.”  Trust me, I do not want either of my girls to live the stressful life I grew up with or still struggle with today.  So, I told them that I trust them and know that they are on top of their school work.  Both girls’ schools distribute free agendas, and both of my girls make use of the books.  So, I said, “I am here for you if you need me, and you know where to find me.  But, I am no longer going to constantly nag and ask if something is finished.  However, if I notice you are not working well on your own, or a teacher contacts me, then I will step in.  But, if you two are doing fine on your own, I am here if and when you need me.”

They both seemed very appreciative, and both are doing extremely well in all aspects of their lives.  I truly do not worry about their school work, because they have proven to me that they are responsible and capable.  Do I worry about other aspects of their lives?  Sure, but that is for another blog entry.  I also bought each girl a very sturdy yet comfortable stress ball for her desk.  I told them that when school work or anything becomes overwhelming, reach for the stress ball, not their hair or anything else that could harm them.  All has been great since then, and I am trying to do better with my own anxieties and issues.  Again, topics for other blog entries!



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