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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Curse of the Perfectionist

Case #1

The other day as I took took Cole to school, I posed this question, "Remember when you were little, and how you would never draw on a piece of paper that was slightly wrinkled?"

He didn't say anything for a moment. Then he smiled politely and said under his breath, "I still don't really like to draw on paper that's wrinkled."

I was actually testing the kid, with the hopes that he'd grown out of this particular tendency. He also won't draw on the back of a paper as long as anything is written on it. Consequently, my little artist isn't very eco-sensitive when comes to killing trees.

Case #2:

The girl–whom I assumed could calmly read a novel or watch a movie while a tornado hit–had an emotional breakdown the other night. She was feeling pressure over what college to pick and what major to choose. Well, she is a sophomore you know.

Holy chow. What am I doing to my kids? While they have perfectly messy rooms and have no propensity to bring their dirty cups to the kitchen, they obviously have some issues when it comes to achievement, or drawing a tidy picture.

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal last week titled "Inside the Minds of the Perfectionists." These types tend to be a little compulsive over anything they particularly care about. If they care about a lot of things, this can be grueling. (The other night I was desperately trying to not obsess over a can on the end table. I really wanted my husband to put it away himself. But when I saw it sitting there the next morning, I couldn't take it any longer. I decided to let the lesson in responsibility go and took care of the empty can myself.)The perfectionist's trait tends to be passed down through genes and expectations. The problem with these types? There is a high likelihood for unhappiness. The last thing in the world I want for my kids is unhappiness.

A few years ago, I went through one of those management assessment tests. I was told that my perfectionist tendencies border-lined on neurotic. Basically, this means that I never quite feel like I'm good enough at anything. I'll just keep working, working, working–sometimes into a frenzy. (My husband will verify this.) The problem is that I will never quite be satisfied because I'm probably trying to attain some unrealistic result. (Yes, I can't help but think major writing award even though I'm not even PUBLISHED...)  I suspect my condition resulted from being an only child, and was exacerbated by my perfectionist parents as well–whom, like myself, only wanted the best for me.

But now that I am acutely aware that I'm rubbing off on my kids, I would like to change the behavior. I need to inform Alex that it's okay for her not to have her life planned out. And perhaps Cole should start drawing on some sullied paper–merely as therapy. It might be good for him.

And as for me? I'm going to stop trying to do everything and pay closer attention to my ensure they know I love them no matter what...mistakes, imperfections and all.

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