Perfect Is As Perfect Does.
Perfectionism...it's real alright. I know, because I've suffered from it all my life. My mother says the signs were there when I was just a small child. But she never understood how this would burgeon into such a consuming and pervasive force in my life. Once it became clear, she didn't know how to fix it. Nobody did.
But what, you might ask, could be wrong with wanting to be perfect?
Because perfect is impossible.
People have a misconception of what being a perfectionist means. It's not OCD and it's not phobia. It's not about being bugged when pictures don't hang straight or floor tiles aren't properly aligned. Because seriously...who DOESN'T that bug?? It's not about checking and re-checking doors, windows, lights, appliances. I certainly do that, occasionally, because nobody wants to be robbed blind or have their house burned to the ground. But it's a not compulsion. It's not about cleanliness or germs. As the mother of boys, I have an amazingly high tolerance for filth and pestilence. It's not about matching, although to be fair, I do like matching. The synchronicity is appealing to my perfectionist nature, but not essential.
It's about never taking on a challenge because you fear the failure. It's about being far too rigid and unyielding when you do take on a challenge, because you fear that apathy that nearly kept you from even getting started. It's about never being able to enjoy the victories when they do come because you didn't achieve them the right way. It's about not being able to accept or even believe a compliment, because you feel that people don't understand how flawed you really are; if only they knew. It's about being afraid to express a thought or an idea or an opinion because you know, deep down, it's not as good as someone else's thought, idea, or opinion. It's about always knowing your best isn't good enough.
It took a very long time for me to understand what it was about myself that kept me from reaching the potential I was purported to have. Yes, I was that kid. My mother heard it constantly at conferences and evaluations. It was scrawled on my papers; the few I bothered to hand in. She knew it was a thing, and she knew it was astonishingly destructive, but she didn't know what to call it, how to quantify it, or what do to about it. She tried. So hard. But it was just no use.
And then I became a mother, and teachers started saying it to me. Because my own kid....((sigh)). If there is any legacy I would have declined to pass on given a choice, it would be that. Take my fat knees, my freckles, my flat feet, my nearsightedness...anything but that. Not the life long struggle to be perfect. It's so goddamned exhausting.
He's struggling now and he doesn't know why. I didn't either. I had no idea why I didn't just write that paper, complete that project, or for God's sake, raise my hand in class and answer a question. I was smart and capable and I had no idea. Now that I'm 45...I know better. I know I'm smart, I know I'm capable. I have achieved things, hard things, and that gives me the impetus and the confidence to achieve more. Life has been my best teacher.
But so many years were lost; years I do not want stolen from my son. And yet, I have no idea how to stop the thief.
I tell him. I prostrate myself on the dais of parental martyrdom. Which means, I admit to not being perfect, if there is any chance of saving him. I catalogue my regrets, my failures, my shame. I suggest a lot of things; things I should have done and had and known. Therapy, medication, HELP in whatever guise it is offered. It doesn't matter. It's a force that can't be reasoned with. He knows, but he doesn't know and he's utterly powerless, as was I.
So I have to sit back and let life teach him as it did me. And hope he learns those hard lessons a lot faster than I did.
Those of you pushing your kids to be perfect?