Plague of the perfectionist: Part 1

I’ve been participating in a virtual book club hosted by Kristen over at Motherese. We’re reading and discussing the book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Christine Carter. I can’t speak highly enough about how much I am enjoying it. Perhaps it’s because I’m ripe for better awareness of the issues she explores in the book, but I’m finding it to be full of powerful revelations and helpful guidance for my parenting style, but also for my own self awareness. It’s truly a gift to write a book that appeals on both levels.

Chapter 3: Expect Effort and Enjoyment, Not Perfection, seriously knocked my socks off. Though the title implies it to be about not expecting to be a perfect parent, it’s actually all about the dangers of perfectionism, in ourselves and our children.

Yes, I am a perfectionist. This, I freely admit, is not a good quality.

Of course, this is no surprise to me. Yet, I had no idea just how profound the label,  how perfectly it describes me. Carter defines perfectionism as “not about setting high expectations or being successful in our endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and worrying what others think.”

After reading, I realize how close I was to instilling the same qualities in my own children. I’m relieved–yes relieved–to have learned what I’ve learned in reading this book. To understand what it really means. My socks are knocked off my feet because, not only will what I’ve learned help me avoid making the same mistakes as a parent, it will help me improve as an individual.

I’ve always known myself to be a casualty of they education system. I’ve mentioned before that I was an honours student, my goals have always been to achieve and be successful. In the school system success is measured in grades, in evaluation of a final outcome,  not necessarily the learning. We spend 20 years, sometimes longer, measuring our self worth based on the end, not the means. It’s crystal clear how this has affected me as an adult. I need validation. I want to hear that I’m doing a good job, and often. I am entirely focused on some random goal defined as success, on being the best at what I do.

But Carter talks in the chapter about the “profound consequences” of rewarding accomplishment rather than believing in the value of the process, of the actual learning, of the effort.  She calls it growth-mind set, the belief “that success is a result of effort as much or more than aptitude.” But society isn’t very good at this is it? I see it in my own parenting everyday. It’s startling actually. I’m always telling my son how smart he is, how good he is at something, how impressed I am with him. It’s just natural to do that. Why?

Because that’s what I would want to hear.

My experience has a parent has show me that it’s hard to separate my own perceptions and emotions from my children’s. How we parent is obviously a reflection of what we think our children feel and need. But that is inherantly based on our own lived experiences. Not theirs. When they are young, they have no expectations. We teach them to expect by how we react to situations, in what we reward, or how and for what we discipline. They are not us, and yet we parent them like they are. Because that is what we know. And so I parent my children based on praise. I want them to feel good. I want them to be confident. Ironically, precisely what I thought I was doing right, is actually causing the exact opposite of what I’d hoped.

According to Carter it’s about creating an environment where “effort and engagement [are] the key to success, [helping] kids enjoy their activities more than they do when they are worried about proving their special talent to the world.” What a wise, life altering realization. If we make life all about the achievement, then yes, the focus is entirely on constant validation. This is how I life my life. I’m always trying to prove myself. It’s exhausting and debilitating. I see now how ridiculous the hold it has over me is.

I do not want my children to live like this.

I want them to find contentment in the challenge. I want them to know that the living comes in the process. As Carter says “kids who are free from the fear of failure don’t need the good opinions of others to get through life.” Why didn’t anybody teach me that?

There is so much to discuss on this topic. It’s so much a part of the fabric that is me that I can’t offer all my thoughts in this one post. So I’ll do it over a couple of posts in the next few days. I’m very interested in what you think. Is this how you have lived your life? Do you see yourself instilling the same values in your children?  I’ll leave you with this quote from the book as food for thought and discussion:

We can praise our kids all day long – as long as we are attributing success to things such as effort, commitment, resourcefulness, hard work and practice.

In the meantime, if you are enjoying this discussion, please join in over at Motherese. Kristen will be hosting an ongoing book club about Raising Happiness over the next few weeks.

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One thought on “Plague of the perfectionist: Part 1

  1. […] was part of Kristen at Motherese’s online book club. I wrote a couple of posts about it, here and here.  I was ripe for a better understanding of the issues Carter explores in the […]

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