Betcha they're young
Betcha they're smart
Bet they collect things
Like ashtrays, and art.
("Maybe" from the musical Annie)
I've been thinking about perfectionism in parenting, and wondering how perfectly to express what I want to say. So much so, that I got stuck, and couldn't say anything for 2 and a half weeks.
Then I realised: forget perfect. Just do your best.
I tell my kids: it's ok to make mistakes, that's how you learn.
But we say so much more by what we do and who we are than the lectures we give, and here is an example of a lesson in self-criticism I've given recently.
I have to take (and pass) a numeracy test before I can train as a teacher. So I found some practice tests online and started having a go. The first part is mental arithmetic: a voice reads out a question, then you have 18 seconds to come up with the answer before the next question is read out, and so on for 20 minutes.
By around question 3 or 4, I realised, sh*t, I am going to fail this numeracy test without some serious study/ revision!
And what was my internal response to that? Was it, that's ok, Elizabeth, no worries, you'll do this. You haven't done maths for 20 years, not surprising you're a bit rusty. It's ok to make mistakes - that's how you learn! What an exciting learning challenge!
More like: you stupid woman! Why didn't you pay more attention in maths at school? How can you have forgotten all this? You're never going to pass this test! You're not good enough! Why don't you know this already???
And so on. You know that voice? The critical, self-damning, catastrophizing, why-aren't-you-perfect, why-don't-you-already-know-everything voice? The It's No Good Trying If You Can't Do It Perfectly First Time critic?
Do you have her (or him) too?
It got me thinking: does what I say to my kids match up to who I am as a parent? And what are the effects of perfectionism on our kids?
Seems there are 2 schools of thought on this one.
There are the tiger parents, who set high aspirations and expectations in order to set their children up for success.
And there are the laisser-faire parents who think their kids should be free to be who they want to be, do activities they want to do, not be 'pushed' one way or the other.
The first group would equate 'striving for perfect' with love; the second group says perfectionism is the ultimate love-killer.
What do you think?
I want my children to be intellectually developed, creatively curious, socially agile, physically strong, and emotionally resilient.
I want them to behave well, be polite at other people's houses, interact well with other children, and mind their Ps and Qs. And write thank you cards of their own volition, ideally.
And I want all this, you understand, because I want them to be HAPPY.
I want them to have CHOICES. Because choices make you happy - don't they?
And I want them to be SUCCESSFUL. Because success makes you happy - doesn't it?
And I want all of this because I love them more than anything else in the world, and when I know they are HAPPY it makes me... happy.
I know I have been a good parent when... my child grows up to be.... Successful. Productive. Not a serial killer.
It's ok to make mistakes, because mistakes are how we learn.
But I am angry at myself for not knowing the correct answer first time round, for having forgotten how to multiply a decimal by a fraction. How can I be so OLD? How can I be so STUPID? Stupid, stupid me.
I don't want to have to learn. I want to KNOW. I want to be... perfect.
My son asked me. "Why do parents want children to be perfect?"
"Because we want to be PERFECT PARENTS, my son."
We went to watch 'Annie' at the theatre.
At the start of her song 'Maybe', Annie imagines her long-lost parents as 'young', 'smart' and collectors of 'art'. By the end of her song, she concludes:
"Maybe they're strict
As straight as a line...
don't really care
As long as they're mine!"
'The best thing about you,' my daughter said to me the other day at bedtime, 'is that you're my mum.'
Well, if that is good enough for her, I can't ask for 'better'.
Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent
"The perfect is the enemy of the good." Voltaire