Parenthood Is the Cure for Perfectionism

by Abby on March 25, 2013

Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. - Annette FunicelloWhen I’m not reading novels or essays, I read a lot of celebrity interviews. (That Jennifer Lawrence is a breath of fresh air, isn’t she?) One question that always cracks me up is when the interviewer asks an actress — and it’s only women who get asked this question — some variation of, how do you stay grounded when you’re so awesome and talented and beautiful and perfect in every way?

I laugh, because if the actress is a mother, I know the answer: her kids. Kids keep it real for you, even if you’re Julia Roberts or JLo.

They have no qualms about telling you that your coffee breath stinks, your stomach is squishy, and you have cracks on your forehead. They tell you to stop singing, stop dancing, and stick to the script, lady. (So much for your creative attempts to change the words of a story or read it in clever voices.) They tell you your makeup looks silly and they don’t like your outfit. They tell you – often and loudly – that they hate your cooking.

These judgments aren’t just reserved for Mom, BTW; Dad gets his share. My husband is a good cook, but sometimes he gets a little too creative in the kitchen. One night he tampered with the tried-and-true tilapia recipe and ended up filling the house with the acrid stench of burnt curry. It lingered for DAYS. And the boys didn’t let him forget it.

“Ugh, Dad! What’s that AWFUL smell?”

“Why did you MAKE that? It’s so gross!”

A similar scenario occurred when he tried to jazz up the pancakes with sour cream. What were you THINKING, Daddy?!

The good thing about kids, though, is that while they’re murder on the old ego, they have a way of forcing you to confront your imperfections and maybe even be a better person for it. Case in point: before I had kids, I leaned hard toward perfectionism. I still hold a grudge towards the college philosophy professor who gave me a B-, and “constructive” criticism or a negative blog comment can irk me for days.

The thing I’m not sure I realized, though, is that my perfectionism was keeping me from doing certain things, and trying new things. If I couldn’t be the best, or at least above-average, I didn’t want to do it. Then I had kids and had no choice. I HAD to wade into the murky waters of maternity fashion, childbirth classes, hosting playdates, and bowling birthday parties. And I sucked at a lot of it. At one formal event I looked like a sparkly beach ball in heels, and I STILL can’t bowl a spare even though my son could as a TODDLER!

But as rock-star vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly:

If we struggle with being, living, and looking absolutely perfect, we might as well line our children up and slip those little perfection straightjackets right over their heads. …Perfectionism is not teaching them how to strive for excellence or be their best selves. Perfectionism is teaching them to value what other people think over what they think or how they feel. It’s teaching them to perform, please, and prove.

Interesting, right? I’m only about 7 years into this parenthood stuff, but if I were to judge by my older son’s “creative” handwriting and spelling, my younger son’s “interesting” fashion choices, and both of their uninhibited dance-party moves, I’d say I haven’t infected them with my perfectionism yet. Now if only we could work on, say, dialing down their feedback to the cook at dinnertime.

Brene Brown and OprahLINK O’ THE DAY: If you’re a Brené Brown groupie like me, you can catch her 2-part appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday here. Also, check out her Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Hetterick March 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Thank you so much for sharing the Oprah link. I love Oprah and Brene. That is just the segment I needed to watch today.

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Abby March 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi, Heather! We saw Brene together at Blissdom, right? What a great talk that was. Great to hear from you!

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Neena March 26, 2013 at 7:00 am

I am such a Brene Brown groupie, too!

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Abby March 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

I’m telling you, she is the best speaker. She had the audience laughing, crying, relating to everything she was saying.

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jetts31 March 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm

My kids enjoy telling me how bald I am and how my head is shaped like a potato. There is no time for perfectionism with parenting. Perfect is hard enough to achieve when you aren’t cleaning up vomit at 2am and have to go to work at 6am. I do my best. As best as I can. It ain’t perfect but every time my kids tell me they love me or hug me for no reason, I don’t care if I’m perfect or not.

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Corey Feldman March 27, 2013 at 1:06 pm

So true. Kids call it as they see it.

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