Marilee, William, and Penny smile happily at the camera while they stand on a wood bridge with a forest hill in the background

Overcoming Perfectionism for Us and for Our Kids

Overcoming perfectionism is hard. Our kids all struggle with perfectionism of different kinds. I won’t go into all the details, but it’s hard for all of us to take risks, hard to put ourselves in positions where we think we might fail, hard to admit mistakes even when they happen.

Peter and I have tried what I call “Overcoming Perfectionism 101.” We’ve read parenting books and listened to lectures. We talk about the importance of their work process rather than their work product. We praise them for their efforts rather than their results. We tell them when we see that they’ve enjoyed something or seemed frustrated. We’ve told stories about our own mistakes and bad choices and how we learned from them. 

But when one child has a stomachache about going to school and another admits that they feel they have to do everything right all the time, Overcoming Perfectionism 101 doesn’t seem to be working.  

Then I remembered that learning is messy and painful and takes a long time.

When I first started nursing our kids, I thought it would be “second nature.” Something we were both built for. And, therefore, easy and beautiful and intimate. Instead, it was painful and messy and took a long time for us both to figure out. 

Parenting is still like being a nursing mother. Realizing that all sorts of things take a long time and involve some messiness and pain along the way. And then, one day, the stomachaches stop. The child decides to take a risk and try out for the team. The fear that was debilitating becomes an opportunity for prayer. The disappointment is expressed but doesn’t linger for days. 

Growing up, as a kid, as a parent, takes time. Even when we are doing things mostly right, it can be painful and take a lot of time and provoke a lot of confusion. We are learning, slowly, messily, imperfectly, about living in grace.

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