I don’t know about you, but I have always strived to give 100%. When I was in school, I would study and work hard and attempt to get all A’s. In college and graduate school my goal was a 4.0. That was certainly a lot of pressure that I put on myself! I understand that I am a first born who has perfectionistic tendencies. I had self awareness in regards to how serious and hard working I was. As I got older, I became even more aware of this.
Having my first child Max didn’t impact my desire to achieve perfection. I wouldn’t go to sleep until everything was cleaned up and I felt the house looked perfect. I would put him in an adorable outfit and Max would spit up all over it and I would have to change him. My husband Seth learned that he needed to prep me with comments like, “Don’t get attached to his outfit.” Looking back at this it may sound ridiculous but that is who I was at the time. 14 years later I am a completely different parent. I am happy to say that I have grown from the person who wanted her son dressed perfectly.
I had this wonderful next-door neighbor who was the youngest child in her big family. I saw how she would just throw together a party in an hour and have her family and neighbors over. Do you know how long I would have planned for that? I saw how she knew how to have fun. She seemed so much more relaxed than me and she was the perfect person to live right next-door to me. We were in and out of each other’s houses constantly and my street was a family. She would encourage me to let my neat child get dirty. She laughed at me when I told Max not to eat off the floor. All I can say to that is, “First child!” I’m sad to say that we outgrew our first house and have moved five minutes away, but I still stay in contact with my wonderful friend/neighbor. She had a good impact on my life as I became a new mother and I hope she knows that. I hope she reads this!
Child number two arrived and my perfectionistic tendencies started to wane. I was exhausted and would go to sleep without the house being perfect. By child number three, I no longer even tried to achieve the perfect home that I so badly wanted. My third child to this day walks around making messes. I really do need to work on this with her. We also have three fur children who add to the mess. Our golden retriever Tanner is the toddler of the home leaving his toys all over the floor. I think I need to teach him to clean up after himself. Don’t get me started on his dog hair all over the house.
For survival, I have learned to lower my standards. I have learned to lower my standards of how clean my house needs to be. I have learned to lower my expectations of what I can accomplish in a day. I am not alone in that my children are usually home. School looks very differently, and my expectations had to shift. I had a lot of plans for what I was going to accomplish when my kids went to school in September. That whole plan changed when I saw what this year would look like.
I realized that I could no longer strive for the A. I didn’t need to get 100%. I used to shop around town to find people the perfect gift. Now I scroll the internet, but I no longer feel the need to buy the most perfect gift. What about just a nice gift that I think someone will enjoy? Isn’t that good enough? We are good enough! What is with the word perfect? Can we take it out of our vocabulary? Can we lower our expectations of ourselves? I think we all need to if we haven’t already.
My high standards were not only impacting myself. It was having an impact on everyone around me too. I was setting everyone up for failure. How was that fair? If I am expecting straight A’s from myself, that means I was also expecting it from my husband, my children, my parents, my friends…. If I was hard on myself, it was spilling over to my loved ones too. I didn’t want this for them. I didn’t want this for myself either. What if I set us all up for success? I needed to give room for us all to make mistakes.
Adjusting our expectations and our perspective opens up a whole new world for us. We are creating the story of our life. We are in charge of our mind. Let us all take hold of our thoughts and make them better. What were realistic expectations? What was good enough? What makes us happy? What was great about our day? What can we add to our day? What can we take away from our day? Who can help us? What do we want to stay the same? Let us all ask ourselves good questions and look at our days with a different perspective with lower expectations.
My son Max is about to turn 14. He is such an intelligent kid. He gives me a hard time because he feels like I expect him to get very high grades. The issue is that I know what he is capable of. I want to teach him to be a hard worker. I don’t want him to take the easy way out. I know that he can easily achieve a 95. I don’t want him to think that his worth is connected to his grade. I don’t want him to think that my love is conditional on his good grades. I just want him to learn and grow. I want him to try. If he puts in the effort, that is what I ask for as his mother. I don’t need him to achieve perfection. I know he gets frustrated because I don’t blink if Ella or Lillie achieve an 85. The issue is, I know that all three of them are working really hard. I know that working really hard doesn’t tend to mean an 85 for Max. I know he thinks that I am unfair. I think all three of my children couldn’t be more different and that he shouldn’t be comparing himself to my parenting of Ella and Lillie. I have to parent them all very differently.
First and foremost, I don’t want my children to think that their worth is tied to their achievements. Max having a shut out and not letting in any goals as a soccer goalkeeper is fabulous, but that is not why I love him. Ella performing in a musical and doing a fantastic job is fabulous, but that is not why I love her. Lillie singing a song in her beautiful bravado voice is fantastic, but that is not why I love her. “Watch me, watch me,” Lillie exclaims as she does cartwheels and round offs across the floor. I love that she is practicing. I love that Max plays soccer. It gets him off the computer and doing something physical. I love that Ella finds so much joy in theater. I love that Lillie is always singing and dancing. This is not why I love my children. I love them for who they are. My love is not based on their achievements. This is probably one of the greatest lessons that we can teach our children. I don’t know if they own this, so I have to continue to work on this important message. I tell them all the time how beautiful their hearts are and that is what matters most. I love them for who they are not what they do.
I want my children to know that it’s okay to cry, be anxious, be scared, be angry, and have emotions that they would label as negative feelings. We are not always going to be happy and smiling. We don’t want our children to be robots walking around with a smile thinking we expect that of them. I want them to become comfortable with all emotions. I want them to learn to identify what they are feeling and allow themselves to feel it. They are going to have these emotions their whole lives. If they see me feeling ALL the emotions and see how I handle them they are going to model and learn from me. That really stinks because I really screwed up this morning. They are also seeing that I apologize for when I screw up. They know that I work on doing a better job every day. They see that even as an adult I am still working on goals every day.
Our children are watching us. As I fought with Lillie this morning I thought of this fact. This is one of the most motivating things to me. They see how hard I am on myself. They see how much I DO all day. They see me fight with Lillie. They are watching me closely and learning how to treat themselves and others. This is a lot of pressure. We have a lot of responsibility to teach our kids how to treat themselves and how to treat others around them.
What do I want for my kids:
- I want them to learn more about the word, “Be!” We are human beings not human doings. I want them to see me meditating, walking, relaxing, reading, and enjoying life. I want them to learn how to enjoy the day and find the being part. We are not supposed to do things all day. I want them to find joy in every day. I named my cat Joy to remind me to have a lot of it. Max actually named our cats, but he picked the exact names that I planned on and he didn’t know that.
- I want them to have realistic expectations for themselves. They don’t have to achieve an A in their day. They are going to make mistakes and that is ok. Brush it off, learn from it, and move on with your day.
- I want them to take the word perfect out of their vocabulary. That word doesn’t exist, and it isn’t possible. Embrace imperfection and that things are good enough.
- Realize the power of perspective. How we look at things changes everything. Adjust how we see things to increase our happiness.
- Be aware of what makes you happy and do more of that. Be aware of what is causing you stress and find a way to problem solve so that it is less stressful. Ask for help.
- Feel all the feelings.
A very smart lady said to aim for a B-. That opened up a whole new way to look at things for me. I realized that I was the person who wanted the A in life. The A in life looks very differently for different people. If I spend hours cleaning my house and ignoring my children does that mean I achieve an A for cleaning and a F for parenting and ignoring my kids? Isn’t it more important to enjoy my children than to spend endless hours cleaning? I used to look into the dining room at Seth playing a board game with our children as I did the dishes and feel sadness. Now I know to put the dishes down and go play. We have to find a balance and we have to stop trying to achieve the A.
I used to read my blogs over and over and edit and edit for hours and hours. Seth would tell me it was good enough and I needed to stop. I used to think that he was crazy for saying that to me. I think we have rubbed off on each other. I think we balance each other out. I’m embracing that there is no perfect. I am good enough. You are good enough. We are imperfect beings and I have finally grasped that.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R