Problematic Perfectionistic Parenting

Have you ever had a conversation with an adult about something you are struggling with only to have your child call you out on it the very next morning? Or, a conversation with your child that leaves you desperately wishing that they would do as you say, but not as you do? I was there this morning, with a silent answer to Turkey-Man’s question.

Yesterday, my therapist and I were discussing motherhood and the kids. I am growing somewhat concerned about some obsessiveness and perfectionistic behaviors that Turkey-Man is beginning to display. He has always been a little particular and the older he gets the more I am seeing these characteristics.

Our current popular activity is coloring the adult coloring books. He and I have two copies of the same book. We sit down, he picks out the colors for my page, and I pick the ones out for him. He is obsessed with coloring in the lines. It is not necessarily a bad thing to want to do, but the intense, cautious, deliberate nature in which he goes about it is a little too mirror-like for me.

On a literal and symbolic scale, I live my life trying to always color in the lines. I need boundaries outlined in black so I know exactly how to apply each stroke. It gives me objective standards that I can measure my worth by.

Perfectionism has haunted and taunted me for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I had grades that could tell me my worth. By college, grades no longer mattered. I was only perfect if the teacher asked to keep my project as an example for future students. Anything less meant that I had not done a good enough job. Nursing became a checklist I could apply of how to treat each disease.

In motherhood, there is nothing. I find myself on a relentless search as to how to be a perfect mother. I crave black and white boundaries to tell me how to do it right, but there are none. I know I am a bit obsessive about it; I know it is not healthy; but, I don’t know how to make it stop. This isn’t a test grade I am searching for. It’s a human being that I am trying to be perfect at raising. There is no room for failure. Failure as a mother could have a catastrophic effect on my child’s ability to function in the world I am trying to prepare them for.

But, now I am starting to see a mirror. I see my son trying to get things perfect. I so desperately want to shake him and make it stop. I know what it is like to be anxious about making sure I always stay in the lines. It is not the way I want him to live his life.

My therapist challenged me to teach my son that it is okay to not always be in the lines. I may have to fake it, but he needs to see that it is okay to not be perfect. I don’t know how to do this. I cannot fake things. I am too transparent.

Then, this morning Turkey-Man and I had a little discussion with a 7 word question that has played in my mind like a tape recorder on repeat all day. We were coloring together at the kitchen table. He accidently colored outside the lines and drew attention to his mistake. Seeing a teaching opportunity, I explained to him that it was okay. He turned to me and asked, “Mommy, do you color outside the lines?”

My answer was silence. I have an almost pathological inability to lie, even with the littlest of things. I could not tell him that I think it okay to color outside of the lines when I am meticulous about it myself. On the other hand, I could not admit to him that I don’t do it, perpetuating the perfectionistic pursuit.

How do I teach my son this? It is an honest question. Given my nature, I want to be perfect at teaching my son that it is okay to not be perfect, but, actions speak so much louder than words. So, I need to be perfect at modeling imperfection, which just becomes a spiral of nonsense. There is no winning. At 4, he already perceives my obsessive nature. There is no way to perfectly model imperfection.

I hate blogs that have no end points or answers. I always want to tie them up in a neat bow before they become public for all to read. There is no end point here, no answers. I am caught in a relentless search for how to be the best mother possible. It is a subject that I have written about before, one that I know is not actually best for my children, but my brain does not stop. Just when I feel like I may have had success at handling a situation, the next arises and I find myself back in pursuit for the perfect answer.

My hope is that my awareness of the problem with lessen the impact it has on my children. Isn’t half the battle simply recognizing that there is a problem? I can teach them from experience how maddening it is to be on a never-ending quest. I can show them in their mistakes that good can come from it. I can help them to get unstuck when they are caught in the quicksand of trying to do everything right. Maybe it is a thought pattern that I will always have difficulty breaking, but, maybe, just maybe, I can curtail it for them. (If I do it perfectly…!)

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