Thursday, August 27, 2009

Too Perfect

I try to remember how important it is that our children know we make mistakes and that we aren't perfect. When they are teenagers this is no problem, we can't do anything right at that stage. :) When they are younger, though, we parents seem infallible and that can be pretty intimidating.

One evening my oldest son was lamenting about how he never does anything right and that he is always making mistakes. (He definitely inherited the perfectionist gene.) I gave him my line about expecting kids to make mistakes because that is how they learn and that everyone makes mistakes. This night he wasn't buying it and exclaimed that I never make mistakes. Overcoming the urge to burst into hysterical laughter, I thought to myself, "If he only knew." Then I realized he didn't know.

I asked him if he knew how many mistakes I had made that day. He replied, "None!" I proceeded to begin at my waking moments and list off every tiny little mistake I had made that day. Not getting out of bed right away, so I had to rush; not remembering if I put conditioner on my hair, so I had to redo it to make sure; forgetting my shoes upstairs; leaving my phone in the house, etc., etc. I went through the whole day describing all the small mistakes I had made and things I had forgotten. He was truly amazed and so was I!

We went on to talk about learning from those mistakes and taking steps to prevent them from happening again. We also focused on the importance of being gentle with ourselves when we do make mistakes. Calling ourselves names and expecting the worst only makes us feel worse. Learning from our mistakes, making changes, and apologizing when necessary help us to change those patterns.

It is critical for me to let my children know when I have made mistakes, to admit when I am wrong, and to apologize to them. They won't know how to do this if I don't show them and they'll continue to expect themselves to be perfect. High expectations are important, but the expectation of perfection can be destructive and paralyzing.

Many of us put on a really good show of having it all together and being perfect. It's easy to assume by just casually observing that we never make mistakes. I think we've learned to compensate and adjust, not making a big deal about our mistakes, and moving on.

My son and I came up with a little saying that we use now and again to remind us to be gentle with ourselves and others, "I am perfectly imperfect and that's perfectly fine." It helps on those hard days when nothing seems to be going right and is an important reminder to keep it all in perspective.

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