I suppose there has almost always been something to perpetuate the myth of the perfect mom. The names Carol Brady, Clair Huxtable, and, of course, June Cleaver come to mind. These women did it all with style and grace. Social media has taken this myth to a whole new level, though. We knew the TV moms weren’t the real deal – they were merely acting the part. But now we get to compare ourselves daily to the highlight reels of all the mothers in our newsfeeds, real women we know, and some of them we see on a daily basis at work or as we drop our kids off at school.
Every single day that we log on to Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platform, we are likely to see women with immaculate homes, clean counters, organic dinners, gym selfies, perfectly coifed children, and dogs with matching vests. (Why do dogs even need vests?)
Some people go to great lengths to put their “perfection” on display while others genuinely (albeit selectively) share happy moments with friends and families, but don’t be fooled. Her kids fight. Her vested dog poops on her hardwoods. Behind the social media photos is a mom living real life, and it’s guaranteed not to be picture-perfect.
Looking back through my own posts, I see photos of my family gathered around the table playing a card game, memories from our vacation to Florida, my kids with their arms around each other, and even a photo of my dog in a Christmas sweater! (She did look adorable, so forget the dogs-in-vests joke I made.)
Not pictured are the many tears we’ve cried struggling through hours of homework, the Hamburger Helper I served on paper plates, the argument my boys had, or my LEGO-ridden living room floor. I never shared the cookies I burned, the dog pee on my rug, or the panic attack I had in the grocery store. You only get to see a happy sliver of my life on social media.
And that’s the thing - everybody is showing their happy slivers, and still, we hold the whole of our messy lives up in comparison.
There are lots of little ways social media attacks our self-image and self-esteem, but there are lots of reasons we become poisoned with perfectionistic ideas, including:
- Overly critical parents or caregivers
- Perfectionistic parents or other important adults who modeled this behavior
- Being highly praised for accomplishments
- Cultural standards
- Believing your achievements are tied to your self-worth
- Frequent fear of disapproval
- Mental health issues like OCD
- Inborn tendencies
Famed researcher Dr. Brené Brown explains that perfectionism is a shield from the pain of blame, shame, or judgment. She says, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we are all in this together.”
It’s a lovely sentiment, but stepping into the fullness of your being takes courage. It is a brave thing to love your messy, beautiful self. It’s remarkable to look in the mirror and approve of what you see, after being assaulted daily with messages of what you *should* be.
3 Ways to Overcome Your Perfectionism
Embracing your imperfect self, your imperfect children, and your imperfect life is an uncomfortable, vulnerable step to take. Here are some tips for making it happen. Keep reading, because, after this, I’ll tell you a few ways you can help your child not fall into the same trap.
1. Bring awareness. Simply becoming aware of your perfectionistic tendencies is the very first but oh-so-important step to overcoming it. Pay attention to your thought patterns. It may help to write them down. Once you become aware of your own critical inner voice and how it drives your perfectionism, you can begin to alter your self-talk.
2. Notice your strengths. Perfectionism often leaves us hyperfocused on what we need to change, fix, or improve. So, just the simple act of noticing what is good and positive about you now will help to calm your nervous system. Acknowledge the light and love that is within you.
3. Work on your self-talk. This is not a new suggestion, and undoubtedly you’ve heard it before. Heck, maybe you even gave it a good solid go for a few days. But it felt awkward and fake and a little foreign, didn’t it? It will, and that’s normal. Those thought patterns that run circles in your head now didn’t form in a day or a month. It’s likely they’ve been running for years, and they won’t go easily. Changing your self-talk isn’t a quick program that will get you results in a few days or even weeks. It’s a conscious choice, day after day after day, to be kind and loving to yourself. One day at a time.
3 Ways to Help Your Child Avoid Becoming a Perfectionist
We don’t want our children to struggle with self-worth, of course. We want them to love themselves, flaws and all. And while we do not have all the power in this regard (our children are influenced and shaped by many things throughout life), there are steps we can take to ensure that we, as parents, do not drive them to perfectionism.
1. Don’t tie your love to strings.
Listen, I know this is so much easier said than done, and guess what? This doesn’t require you to be perfect at it! But when you think about it, a lot of traditional discipline techniques do just that - tie our love to strings. Time-outs say, “I don’t want you in my presence until you come into line.” Spanking says, “I will hurt you physically to make you compliant.” Taking away things and privileges is literally a carrot and stick. And while we love our children even when we are doling out these punishments, that is not how they read it. Especially the little ones!
It’s not just discipline techniques though, it’s pushing them to get straight A’s or earn that trophy. It’s only praising them when they accomplish something. It’s criticizing them. It’s holding them to unrealistic standards. Anything that says, “I’d like you more if you …” has the potential to lower self-esteem and put them at risk for developing perfectionism.
2. Acknowledge and validate their feelings without judgment.
If perfectionism is the result of trying to escape judgment and shame, then removing judgment and shame from our homes will go a long way in preventing it from developing. Yet, so often children are shamed for their feelings because they seem so silly and trivial to adults. Upset over the blue cup? Life gets way tougher than that little buddy!
But when you’ve only been alive for 16 months and the wrong cup is the worst thing you’ve experienced, it feels really hard. We don’t always have to go out of our way to fix things. Most times, all they want is some empathy. Notice that this is hard for me regardless of what you think about it.
3. Encourage high standards
Encourage high standards but explain that there is a difference between being perfect and trying your best. I tried my best at math and still wasn’t very good at it. Did I get an A? No. Did I feel bad about it? Also no, because I’m not a perfectionist myself, but the point is I tried, and my best was good enough. That’s the message our children need. Your best is good enough. They won’t be strong in every area, and that’s perfectly okay.
If there is one message we could all give our children to take with them into adulthood, I hope that it would be this one - you are enough. The best way I know to accomplish it is to tell them this often, and let our actions back up our words.
*Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother.