Are you a perfectionist? I think I might be. Recently a friend pointed out to me that mums with perfectionism tendencies must get quite easily stressed, frazzled, and overwhelmed. I thought that was a good point, actually. So I did some research, just to see if I fit the stereotype. And it turns out I’m a pretty good match.
Thankfully, I think once you become aware of and mindful about something, you’re already halfway through addressing it. So here are some strategies I’ve decided to implement to help myself overcome my perfectionism (and therefore stress and overwhelm) when I have too much on. Do you think any of these would work for you?
1. Let yourself off the hook… at least some of the time.
Perfectionists tend to think in all-or-nothing terms and have demanding standards for themselves and for others. If you’re not mindful or careful, when something isn’t done to the ‘right standard’ (a standard that you created for yourself, mind you), it can feel like a disaster. We start catastrophising. Because we ‘failed’ to meet these unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves.
Like when I was out of the house 10 hours a day (between commuting and going to work), and yet I expected to get home, cook us a nice family meal, have a relaxed, peaceful (early) bedtime for the children, a spotless kitchen, chores done, and a tidy house. And maybe then, only then, I’d have some time to finish off some work too. Yeah, right.
You can’t always do everything. You can’t always be ‘perfect’. Children aren’t robots, they’re human beings with moods and needs that sometimes don’t agree with any agenda or schedule you may have. And you’re not a robot either. So have an honest chat with yourself.
Are you putting yourself under unnecessary pressure? Are you making your life harder by creating all these standards for yourself? Could you do with some things not being done every day, for example? All these expectations you put on yourself, are they realistic?
2. With your children, just be yourself.
Perfectionists tend to use the word ‘should’ a lot. Because of all these standards and ‘rules’ we live by, we have this vision of the type of parent we should be. And sometimes we’re not being true to who we are.
Think about it – do you ever find yourself doing things with your children that you don’t particularly enjoy all that much, just because you see other parents doing them (or you’re under the impression they do them)? Or because you think you should?
I’ll tell you this. One thing I’ve learnt over time and over almost 9 years of being a mum is that I don’t always enjoy playing with my children. (Yes, yes, I know, you’re all gasping in horror. But there, I’ve said it). It’s true though. I can only sit on the floor and do pretend play for 10-15 minutes, and then I might start zoning out. My eyes start scanning the room, and I find things to tidy up. Or I start to think about other things that need doing, and like a yo-yo, I’m up and down, explaining to my child that I’ve got to do something quickly, but I’ll be back in a minute. But I should enjoy playing with my children, right? I should be willing and happy to play with them all day long, shouldn’t I?
It took me a long time to come to terms with this, but whilst some of my friends would play with their children all day if they could, there are things I don’t enjoy playing with. And my children know this. Not in a sad ‘Mamma-doesn’t-want-to-play-with-me’ kind of way. They just know I prefer some things over others, and when they want to play with me, they’ll ask me to do some colouring together, or play cards, or a board game, for example. The point is, you don’t need to be someone you’re not because you think that that’s how you should be. Everyone’s different. And there’s nothing wrong with showing your child who you are, and what you like. Don’t hide from them. Be yourself. Just put the should’s to the side, at least some of the time.
3. Start delegating.
Perfectionists tend to think that others can’t do a task right, so they hardly delegate. At home, I’m totally rubbish at this. Growing up, that’s how my mum handled things. Everything had to be done in a certain way and at a certain time. Otherwise, she’d rather just do stuff herself. And although things definitely aren’t always perfect in my house, I can relate to this, to a certain extent.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that wanting things done ‘my way’ and ‘to my own standards’ (and doing them myself) is probably the main reason for my frequent state of overwhelm, especially when too much is happening at the same time. But it’s not just the amount of housework and all that’s required to manage a family, it’s also about sharing childcare.
Do you share childcare ‘duties’ enough? With your partner, or a relative or babysitter that you can trust? We tend to forget that other adults can be beneficial for our children, too. If you choose the right people, they can be a great, positive influence for your children. Think about the things they can teach them or the (nice) stories they can tell them.
And this can be great for you too, because when you know your children are in safe hands, you get a little break. Even if it’s just a few hours on an afternoon, you get to lay off the pressure. (Pressure that you put on yourself as a perfectionist, remember?) You can enjoy a break from all the responsibilities and do something that lights you up. Perhaps even spend some quality time with your partner. It wouldn’t be a bad thing, right? Because once you feel refreshed and re-energised, you’ll feel much better and you can go back to your super-efficient you (if you have to) with a bit more energy than before.
4. Focus on what you want to teach your children.
Remember when we talked about standards that perfectionists put on themselves and others? If you have perfectionist tendencies, you don’t just believe that you have to be and give your best every single day. Subconsciously, you tend to expect that from others as well. And what are you really teaching your children here? What kind of message are we passing on to them when we always expect everything to be perfect? Or when we push ourselves to do everything and then become stressed, snappy, and resentful as a consequence?
Admitting that you need a break is fine. Dropping some self-imposed standards is also fine. Show your children that you are real, not perfect. They need to know that you need a break or take a breather. That you need some help around the house sometimes. Or that sometimes things are forgotten, people are late, and it’s ok to get a takeaway once in a while when all the grown up’s in the house are too tired to cook. Because that’s real life. You’d be sad if your child turned out to be someone who doesn’t look after themselves, expects the impossible from themselves or their partner, or burns out. So make sure that’s not what you model. Model behaviours and values that can help your children when they grow up.
5. Drop the front. No one is judging you.
You may think they are. But people are busy with their own lives. Perfectionists strive for excellence and need validation from others to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. And that’s especially true in a world where everything seems to revolve on social media. Again, if you’re not careful, sometimes you may end up wishing you’d meet the ‘Instagram or Pinterest standards’. Perfect homes, perfect food… Except that we all know that none of it is the full story. Not many people post about their messy houses, tantruming children, or anything that may appear less than perfect. We all choose the right photo, the right words, the right moment.
So just be honest. Let’s just be honest. If you’re struggling or having a bad day, say it. It’s ok. It’s really ok. Embrace it, because everyone else had bad days too. And there’s no point in getting sucked into the comparison and competitiveness trap! If you’re struggling with anything, take a breather. And ask for help, if you can. There’s no point in hiding your struggles. You’re not helping yourself, and you’re not helping other mums either. Just be real, because, at the end of the day, we like and relate to the people who are just like us. Let other mums be. Let them do their thing, and carry on doing yours. With a smile, if you can.
But remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect…
What about you? Do you think you could be a perfectionist? Would you be willing to try any of these strategies out? Or are you a ‘recovering perfectionist’ who’s already changed their ways and can show us how? Let us know!