Parenting Through Perfectionism

As any perfectionist will tell you, advice to just “know when good enough is good enough” or “take it easy” fall on deaf ears. Asking a perfectionist to quit being a perfectionist is like asking a bird to quit flying; it’ll never work.

Between career, family, friends and romance, the parenting years are the most time stretched years of a human’s life. Perfectionists have a tendency to do something flawlessly or not at all. You know, it’s either perfectly perfect or awfully awful. There’s no in between. The problem is that as a parent, perfectionist thinking will demand that you do every single thing, from laundry-doing to dinner-making, in the best, most caring, most thorough way – which, of course, is impossible. It’ll eventually leave you feeling paralyzed, unhappy and with the unsettling notion that you are giving everything in life the short shrift.

You don’t have to stick with that all-black-and-white thinking.

Instead of telling yourself “I just need to let it go” or “not everything needs to be perfect” think about effort level, and right-size for the moment. Think, Max/Mod/Min:  Maximum/Moderate/Minimum. What’s the max I could do -- the airtight, fairytale version of this task? What’s the absolute minimum I could do -- just to be able to check this off my list? And what’s something in the middle?

Here’s an example. Your child’s birthday falls on a school day and it’s the tradition in your child’s school to bring in a treat for the class. What’s the Max/Mod/Min?

Max: You bake, frost and decorate cupcakes, all from scratch.

Mod: You rely on your friend Betty Crocker, and make cupcakes with store-bought mix.

Min: You buy cupcakes at the grocery store.

Each of these actions achieves the task – bring in a treat to celebrate your child’s birthday – but with varying levels of effort. You complete the task, but with so much more flexibility.

Max/Mod/Min can be useful in nearly every situation for most people and especially for perfectionists. At the office. In social situations. At home. And yes, as a parent – whether it’s deciding how to spend a couple of free hours on a Saturday afternoon, where to go on vacation or what to make for dinner.

Sometimes the Min will be the best option for everyone. Other times, you’ll have the time and resources necessary to dedicate to the Max option, and that will feel good, too. The point is: there are multiple adequate ways to check things off of your to-do list, and you needn’t do everything at the same high level of ability.

Having a system in place to right-size for the moment is liberating instead of paralyzing.