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It's time to stop trying to be a perfect parent

By Lynne Cazaly 2 min read

We all need to stop trying to be perfect.

Here’s a question: Are you trying to make the things you do for your children and family better because you think what you’ve done isn’t good enough? 

We need to talk about the increasing problem of the pursuit for perfection, because those “not good enough” thoughts are connected to perfectionism.

We’ve been brought up with cultural and social expectations that place value on achievement and excellence. Yet we’re experiencing some of the highest ever levels of stress, depression, anxiety and other mental ailments than ever before. As researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill discovered, perfectionism is increasing at alarming levels.

There is actually more than one kind of perfectionism, but they’re all increasing:

  1. Self-oriented: We set unrealistically high standards for ourselves.
  2. Societal: We perceive that society expects us to reach certain standards.
  3. Other-oriented: We have high standards for others.

Arguably, the pressure to be the perfect mother is increasing thanks to the rise of social media—all the “Instaworthy” shots of beautifully designed school lunchboxes are just one example. But why put more pressure on ourselves based on someone else’s standards? We’re only getting dragged into a competitive game.

Rather than perfection—with no clear standard or positive return—go for “good enough”.

Author and women’s career coach, Kathy Caprino, says perfectionism is a “learned, adaptive behaviour in our (own) childhood”. Parenting is tough at the best of times, but we also need to keep in mind how our behaviour—pursuing perfection, being unhappy with outcomes—influences our child’s values. The college admissions bribery scandal earlier this year in the United States shows how far parents will go to try to create perfect outcomes for children, rather than letting them learn, develop and make decisions for themselves.

Dr Harriet Braiker, clinical psychologist and author of the book The Disease to Please, says, “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralising.”

And this is the thing: We need to see when we’re going for something that is good enough, will do, is practical and will work, versus the tiring, endless push for perfection. 

We can reward our own and our children’s efforts and attitudes, instead of striving for the unreachable perfection.

Overcoming being perfect

  1. Notice when perfectionism crops up. It’s a habit built on a lifetime of automatic responses.
  2. Be kinder to yourself, choosing a path of progress—getting things done that are “good enough”—over a path of pursuing perfection, which ends in stress and mental health issues.
  3. Help your children identify and achieve “good enough” rather than perfection. What they learn now will impact them later in life. 
  4. If you’re thinking that something isn’t good enough yet, check yourself. Pause and think what the standard is you’re going for. What you’ve already done is likely good enough!                                                                

Lynne Cazaly is a keynote speaker and adviser on new ways of working. She is the author of ish: The problem with our pursuit for perfection and the life-changing practice of good enough ($24.95). Lynnecazaly.com