Why perfectionism is just too low a standard

“Most of us judge ourselves harshly. We’re so far from perfect. We overslept, ate that cake, forgot to return a phone call, snapped at our partner, yelled at our kid, didn’t feed him a hot breakfast, hustled him out the door so fast he forgot his homework. And while we’re judging ourselves, how’s the kid turning out? Not so perfect either? 

Nothing makes us more anxious than whether our children are turning out okay.

But perfection is too low a standard. Why not use love as your yardstick? Can you create more love in the world today? Can you forgive yourself for all those inevitable human missteps – and just keep turning yourself around so you’re on the right track again? Can you remind yourself that your child isn’t perfect because he or she is human, and an immature, still developing human at that?

What kids need from us is the space to be imperfect, to be loved and accepted exactly as they are. That’s the only place any of us can start from to grow.”

Dr Laura Markham (Read Dr Laura Markham original article here).

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Sometimes I’m puzzled by the intensity of how cross or annoyed I am about something someone close to me has done because it feels out of proportion to the ‘thing’ they’ve done. Maybe they didn’t wipe the bench the way I’d asked or they’re taking their good time to put away some stuff I’m sick of looking at. My standards can get in the way of noticing the good stuff they do and I find myself being more critical and growly than I want to be.

What’s going on?

If I investigate what’s going on, I’ve already been tough with myself – way before I’ve unleashed it on them. It’s subtle, but the thoughts may have been tracking this way. “You should have made this decision and that is why this isn’t working.” “It’s up to you to get this right.” “You should know how to do this by now.” “You’re not a very nice person to be around.”

Quite simply, beating myself up for failing makes me more likely to find fault with others and say and do things that are snappy, critical or unnecessary.

Kindness is key

The good thing is that I’m on to this now and I’ve gotten better at catching myself with those bossy mean thoughts before they take me down. It’s taken me a while but I have become kinder and more loving towards myself and that has meant I don’t notice the failings of others nearly as much. I’m learning to become more accepting of myself – and have found the kindness I bring my way is the key.

Unconditional love

Unconditional love begins with ourselves. I’m learning slowly that mistakes are normal, even when some are on repeat. The more I can be gentle and kind to myself, the more I can enjoy others. It helps too, when I replace a critical thought with a kinder one – “Everyone makes mistakes – it is part of life.”

Unconditional love is something most of us have not had the privilege of been given. I grew up being loved but also aware that the conditions on love were that you worked hard, did as you were told and didn’t make work for anyone. It has been hard to shake.

The love we all deserve

The sort of love we all deserve is the love that says, “You are my delight – as you are, here and now.” This love says it understands the journey I’m on, and is giving me as much time as I need. It says that it won’t back out and stop loving me if I don’t perform. It’s truly a fierce love that says, “No matter what, you are loved.”

We need to see it

Our children do well with this kind of love. They need to hear it spoken out loud and they need to see it in black and white.

I worked with a family who struggled with the behaviour of their seven-year-old son. He appeared bent on getting into trouble and proving to his parents that he was unlovable. The shift they made began with a written statement of love on his whiteboard in his bedroom. “We love you, Tom, and we’re so glad you are in this family.”

They had always felt this but had probably missed conveying it to him. This was the start of Tom feeling loved and accepted in the family and for there to be a whole lot less of the tricky behaviour.

It gives permission

This love also gives our children permission to make mistakes and to see that we make them and own them too. It shows them that we can say sorry without conditions and that we are also able to forgive ourselves for the daily mistakes we make. Unconditional love enables us to be conscious of the things we do well and to keep them in mind rather than dismiss them.

Our children can handle our mistakes. Let’s trade in perfection for love and acceptance and let’s start with ourselves and see where it goes.

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