Want to know one of my biggest regrets?
In high school, my boyfriend was a huge golfer. (That’s not the regret.) He loved golf. He wanted to play all the time, watch it on TV, and talk about it endlessly. He offered to teach me.
I said no.
That’s not the regret either, really. Instead of learning how to play, I would go with him to the golf course, and ride in the cart while he played. Not only did I NOT learn to play golf, I spent my time doing what one would do if they were learning, but I did not learn. That’s the regret.
Not so bad, but a symptom of a larger issue.
Fast forward to now. I married a huge golfer. He loves golf. He wants to play all the time, watch it on TV, and talk about it endlessly. He offered to teach me (and our boys).
I said yes.
Not sure why I attract competitive people with an affinity for an infuriating sport, but that’s not what matters here. What matters is WHY I didn’t learn. And why I get grumpy learning now. (It relates to parenting. I promise.)
Have you guessed it yet?
I didn’t want to look stupid. I didn’t want to be bad at someihing. So I didn’t do it. Looking back, I can see this as perfectionism that’s followed me like a hungry puppy. Then when you feed it kibble, it looks at you like:
Is this it? That’s all you got?
As parents, we talk about perfectionism in our kids. I’ve seen similar patterns in my boys where they stop doing things when they’re not good immediately. They have a hard time with messy mistakes. Perhaps they can SEE what could be, but their skills don’t match up yet. So they stop.
That’s the same dynamic I had growing up. Back then I only knew there was no way I was whiffing the club in the air and looking like an idiot. Wouldn’t it be great if kids could see the teachable moments?
How To #1: Give your kids problems to solve.
Perfectionism sounds helpful—Don’t you want to do things well?— but, it’s different from excellence. It’s been a reason for procrastination and avoidance long before I came along. There’s a certain flavor of perfectionism that tastes a lot like fear and anxiety. Maybe all flavors.
Ultimately, the fear is ridicule. Not being good enough.
That’s the kicker with perfectionism: Nothing is ever good enough. Even when you do great things, there’s always something more. Perfectionism means you’re never content, never worthy.
While perfectionism shows up in kids, it lives in us as adults too. Moms have an exclusive blend of perfectionism bestowed upon them whether they want it or not, particularly in families with gifted, twice-exceptional, or otherwise atypical children.
It shows up as needing to always make the right decision. Do the right thing.
That’s never 100% possible. And yet, guilt and rumination create a layer cake of anxiety. I see moms constantly wondering if their choices were “right” and endlessly reviewing alternatives. I’ve done it myself. What if this isn’t the right school for them? Did I say the right thing? Could I have handled that situation better?
Parenting is messy. Being human is messy. Both are amazing, fun, and ripe for learning along the way. But, let’s be honest, sometimes learning sucks. Sometimes you have to slog through being bad at things to get to the fun parts. (Kind of a lot actually.)
You don’t need to be the perfect mom. In fact, it’s better for you AND your kids if you allow yourself to be human. Whiff that golf ball! Let your kids see you trying, learning, making mistakes. Talking about decisions, emotions, and concepts like perfectionism lets your kids know that it’s normal to have fears. We all do the best with what we know at the time.
How To #2: Celebrate the learning journey. Even the sucky parts.
It’s not your job to be 100% perfect. I mean, you’re amazing, but that’s not possible. What you CAN do is set yourself up for the best response. That means thinking more about what YOU need more than what your child needs. (Gasp!) When you focus on creating time, space, and movement in your life, you grow. You feel better. You’ve got more patience, more reserve of love and humor. You’re less likely to shout at the sky and smash the club into the ground. So to speak.
When you wait till you’re depleted to renew, it sets up a yo-yo diet of energy.
Developing a system of renewal works better. Connecting to your own needs and desires on a regular basis sets up a foundation threshold, so you never enter that depleted exhaustion. Spending time appreciating what you’re doing, however messy and glorious, lets you celebrate life.
How To #3: Create a replenishing ecosystem.
There will be ups and downs, and that’s ok. You might upset some people, and that’s ok. You might look silly or even selfish, and that’s ok. Your focus is making life fabulous for you and your family. Build in activities and rest times that fuel you energy, love, and acceptance.
There’s one more thing that perfectionism says: You’ve got to manage it all on your own. If you can’t handle XYZ, you’re not good enough. Other people have it way worse, so why are you getting help? You can be Super Woman! You can do it all! You should be more disciplined.
People need connection and support from other people. It’s not a moral failing. It’s wise. Necessary. And frankly, it’s more fun. Plus, you know how much easier it is to progress when you have a coach?
(Tiger Woods has a coach, multiple coaches, in fact. He’s pretty good at golf.)
Hi, I'm Cara Maclean and I want to see you thrive. I coach (former) rule-following moms who've realized the rules don't work. You're smart (gifted even), maybe with neurodiverse kids, and simply too good at making life work for everyone else. Let's make it work well for you too. Fabulously well. Oh, and I've also got a book coming soon, through GHF Press! 🥳
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