Written by: Jessica Jenkins, http://jessiejournal.com
"I know I'm not the only one that this bugs to death!"
Bear with me as I set the stage... I have to tell you. I used to be very proud of my perfectionism. It made me feel productive... like I could do anything I put my mind to. And I was the best at everything (in my mind anyway). When I did something, my way was the best way because I had planned the most efficient process. No one else really knew what they were doing. I was the expert and you couldn't tell me any differently. This started when I was a kid, mind you. I believe it stemmed from my OCD which allowed me to blossom in my perfectionism. My favorite weekend activity was removing everything from my closet and reorganizing it. I did this every available weekend!
Fast forward three kids (ages 9, 4, and 2) and a husband. Being perfect was my goal and these other humans in my house were not living up to that expectation! This caused a huge amount of stress for me. And naturally, this trickled down to the rest of the household. I was impossible to please. My children were always worried that something they did would set me off. The oldest got the worst of it.
Finally, one sad day when my daughter was so distraught that she just couldn't take anymore, she asked me very calmly (yet in tears), "Momma, why are you always angry with me?"
That day... I'm not sure why it was different than any other day when I expected everyone to be perfect... but that day, I heard her. It cut me to the core. I apologized to her and spent the rest of the day thinking about how I could change the way I related to my family. I guess you just have to reach a point. A point that makes you want something different. I was miserable, and my family was even more miserable than me. There had to be a shift in thinking for things to get better. In MY thinking, not theirs!
"Perfectionism has no place in art and teaching... especially when you combine the two. Read more about what this experience taught me at the end of the article."
So, I made a decision to no longer enforce perfectionism... not even on myself. I like to think we strive for excellence. That word adds a little more grace to the mix. Excellence has the idea of being amazing even if it isn't perfect, the term itself feels open to interpretation... more of a theory in ones own mind. Perfection leaves no room for flaws or individual flair... it is more of a numeric term, not open for discussion or other ideas.
5 steps to moving the focus away from perfectionism
How did this look in the "everyday" of life? What changes did I make that made the kids feel something was different; that they weren't failing?
- Notice the Good: I began to look for what they were doing right. Simple! Kids do amazing things. Their minds are constantly soaking in new information and processing it. I began to find these things and point them out. Instead of noticing that they didn't properly put the crayons away, I pointed out the details in their drawing and they way they made happy faces on everyone. Accomplishment and desire to do more are results of seeing the good in someone.
- Decide what is important: I had to remind myself every day (even every moment), what was going to really matter for eternity (in the end, when your life is done and you want something to show for it). Will it matter that all the clothes are perfectly in place and that the dishwasher is loaded correctly? Or will it matter that you sat down on the floor and engaged in meaningful interaction with your children? I chose to do what counted most in the lives of these little ones. (Tip for the truly OCD: keep one thing... what helped me focus was to keep one thing that made me "feel" in control. For me, it was towels! I kept control of towel folding. I have a certain way I like to do it that makes the best sense, and I keep that one quirky OCD method in my pocket to keep me "in control".)
- Look for other angles: What I mean is to understand that your way isn't always the best way. Even if it is, it isn't the only way. Allow others (not just your kids) to figure out their best way. In the long run, more gets done and they feel they can take on more responsibility if they are able to figure out what works without being shot down for not doing it "right". This breeds experimentation and ingenuity. These qualities will give your kids tools to succeed in life and the confidence to learn from their failures.
- Love in the shortfalls: Back to the word "grace". This word has made such a change in my life that I now have a tattoo with the word grace in it. When grace is given to you and you are loved in spite of your failings, grace is easier to give. Taking this concept to heart allowed me the freedom to pour grace out on my children (and to myself). When that milk is spilled (who hasn't done that!), give hugs and understanding words. They know they messed up... don't rub it in. Show them how to clean it up and even discuss what could have prevented it for future incidents. But keep your cool. Know it will happen again and life goes on. Love those kiddos while you can. If all they see is how upset you get over spilled milk (or whatever happens), the less likely it is that they will bring the big problems to you when they get older. They will fear rejection and judgment from you. You have the power to make a safe place for teen interaction while your kids are little. Start now!
- Stop competing: Example: Pinterest. I love it! It is so fun to get ideas and file away recipes. Facebook and Instagram are fun too. But to tell you the truth, I am so glad these weren't around when I was raising kids. Birthday parties, room decor, date nights! All areas that (if you are being truthful) we compete in with our peers. Just stop! It hurts everyone, especially the kids. I'm not against throwing creative and cute parties. I'm not against posting fun stuff on social media (you will notice that if you ever visit any of my pages). I am against overdoing and continuing to raise expectations of these celebrations until the kids (and you) want the moon. When you do things, imagine and create with your family in mind... not what you will post about it on social media. Take a few photos for keepsakes, and then put the phone away and enjoy the event. Post later. Really, this "competing" is a form of perfectionism that can take the joy out of life.
Take it from a mom who has been there and survived it... it is a process. Don't beat yourself up when you revert back to perfectionism. Apologize, hug (lots) and move forward. Keep grace before you and you will create an atmosphere of excellence.
About the Photo...
I served in Mexico City for a year at a community center. I taught art classes (and English). I am so glad I learned the difference between perfectionism and excellence before doing this. Art is certainly subjective. And when you are teaching it to people in classes that are just for fun, you can't be critical. You want to develop a safe place for experimentation. And, doing this in a different culture... one that is more relational than achievement oriented... criticism will kill a relationship in an instant! I saw some beautiful work in these classes. All of it different, and all of it beautiful. I could see the joy and accomplishment in their faces. That was my success. The smiles and the hugs. Let that be your measure of success as well.