I've been aware of the perfectionist in Zoe for a long time now. She has been hard on herself since preschool and it's become more obvious to me as I watch Owen grow in his laid back way. Even more so now that she is in 1st grade and school is more structured. She is an excellent student, tackling assignments so fearlessly and successfully that even her teacher is at a loss sometimes. Trying to find ways to challenge her in class has become so commonplace in that room, her teacher and I have started talking about whether we think she might be more comfortable in 2nd grade this year instead of 1st. I'm not sure if we will all decide it's the best decision or not, but it's a valid question to be exploring. Despite her excelling in the classroom though, Zoe often comes home worried she is a "bad student" or that she is not "doing it all perfectly".
I'm sure I don't need to explain how hard it is for me to watch and hear her going through this. I know what the perfectionist tendency can lead to in the long run. I know she has me and Nathan to guide her through life but perfectionism is a powerful force, fighting against logical thought so hard it's almost no contest at times. When I get to thinking about it, I inevitably come back to the realization that the reason I know the dangers of perfectionism so well is because it runs deep in my own being. I bury, deny and mask it as much as I can but it rules my world.
Here's a window into my inner monologue:
"5 minutes late to school and barked at the kids the whole way. You're a horrible mom."
"The first draft of your book wasn't perfect. You can't write, you should quit before you embarrass yourself."
"The clutter around this house is out of control. You're such a lazy wife."
"You forgot to call your friend when her son got his tonsils out. You're a shitty friend."
"You've aged about 20 years in 5 years. You're tired and worn out and can't hide it anymore. You're old."
That's just the tip of the iceberg and I know many people think these thoughts but for me, the weight of them is so heavy and constant, I often get tired of keeping them at bay and let go for a bit. Those are the times you won't see or hear much from me. I want to be clear, I'm not looking for a pity party. I've done a lot of work learning how to trust and listen to my logical thought more than my critic and am a million times stronger than I used to be. I've also accepted I can't silence the critic so must live with it while finding more ways to tell it to shut up sooner rather than later. My hope is I can share what I'm learning with Zoe now so she will have a jump on these skills instead of finding herself in her late 30's, grappling with decades worth of poor self esteem and the habits that go along with it.
So, today I did something huge for us.
For the last 5 years or so, I've kept a cleaning schedule for the house. I'm not super uptight about it but it's always there and if I let us off the hook on a given week (Nathan and I split the work) you can guess what my critic has to say about it. I write it up on the dry erase calendar in our kitchen so none of us can dare forget it's there looming. I don't have this schedule because I'm a neat freak. My house is a shambles in many ways, but I have a constant fear that if I let the basic cleaning duties go at least a little bit, I will immediately revert back to my disgusting college days and my kids will be traumatized and mocked.
Today, I was reading an article about things parents can do to help their perfectionist kids accept the inevitable chaos in life. One of the ideas was to ask your child what they think would happen if one of their fears came to be. Do they think the world would end? I just happened to be sitting near my kitchen calendar in that moment so gathered my courage and erased the cleaning schedule. I said to myself "Fuck it, let's see what happens."
I'm not convinced it will last. Maybe I'll find I'm more relaxed with the schedule but I'm hoping the attempt will at least teach me something or give me some fresh perspective.
Fuck it, let's see what happens.