Once, in one of those crazy days in lockdown, I thought I had an opening for Little Girl C. to observe failure. Our desks were glued to each other and there was often tension in the air, especially around more difficult maths. This was when we found out that Little Girl C. really hated failing. And that, for some frustrating reason, she thought I didn’t fail and I probably loved her less for failing.
I am not perfect…
As a diagnosed perfectionist, I am no doubt the worst role model for a child that gets anxious with failure. Well, worst role model, and probably root cause you are thinking. Armed with the knowledge of being a potentially demanding Mum from the beginning, I always tried to demonstrate that failure was okay, and it was all about the learning. But when home for lockdown, trying to work with my seven year old feisty girl, I knew I was not doing a good enough job.
So I went from saying it to demonstrating it more. I showed her different versions of the same slide, she heard me ask questions and help from my team, she heard me say I am sorry or I don’t know. Over time, she got more comfortable having me as a teacher and correcting her schoolwork. It was quite a track, but life changing for us as a family. It was only the beginning though.
… But I still try
The problem is, my nature is to try to be Little Miss Perfect all the time. Even making mistakes all the time, and saying sorry often, I recognise trying hard is a double edged sword. In a conversation last week, someone (a child psychologist, so more knowledgeable than me in this matter), pointed out that by showing her 57 versions of the same slide, I was not only showing that I was not perfect (good), and that life requires effort (I guess also good), I was also demonstrating how I did not stop most likely until I was very close to perfection (bad). Bummer, and there I was thinking I was doing something right.
In a parenting workshop I attended recently, the speaker opened up the panel by saying that parents that are getting everything right (if there is such a thing) are not helping their children. Phew, I thought. But what about parents that are always trying to get it right?
There has rarely been a moment in my life where good enough had a positive connotation for me. So how can I strive to be a good enough parent? How can I show to my kids that there is a very large windy road between perfection and good enough? ai have tried to use the concept of excellence rather than perfection, but I also wonder now about excellence itself. Is it just a way to hide a quest for perfection? More importantly, the problem isn’t in trying to excel in an area of our lives, but rather all areas. Which is when it becomes untenable. The ‘having it all’ concept should rather be written as the ‘perfect at all’ concept.
It is funny in a weird kind of way. The reality is, I rationally do not believe in perfection, and neither do I think women can be perfect at everything they do at one point in time (or have to be). But do I live by my words? Lately, I started wondering about this again. Do I believe in good enough? Do I even know what it means?
Practice good enough
My conscious mind practises good enough, of that I’m sure. I draw a schedule and set goals that cover many areas, but I focus on baby steps in my pillar areas. And even in my key ones, such as being a loving parent, I set small goals and milestones that try to account for the fact the day has 24 hours. When I get to the end of the month, I do my monthly review focused on what I’ve accomplished rather than what I haven’t done. I fail a lot, say sorry a fair amount, and forgive myself often. At work, I now get comfortable every day in saying ‘no’, ‘I can’t’ or even ‘it’s good enough’.
I am eager to bring the 80:20 concept into my life. I read about it, write about it, plan around it and design much of my life to it. Do I feel it? I am not sure. There are many days where it’s hard to get out of the sorrow for what does not get done. There are many days where I promise myself I will do exercise, book a doctor or just have lunch outside my desk and there is never a good enough moment to do that. On the other extreme, I promise myself that I will take an hour for me on a Sunday, to write or get organised, but then guilt and the fear of not being a good enough (or maybe a perfect) parent gets the best of me and I play yet another board game.
A matter of assessment
One of the difficulties with the good enough concept is the assessment. How do we know that we are there? You may think perfection is quite subjective as well, but, in fact, it is the absence of fault or the completion of something. What does good enough mean?
On the workshop, the speaker said we are getting it right when we have that smile on our face, feeling joy in a moment. And that it comes and goes. We get it right multiple times a day but not all day, every day.
I am teaching myself this assessment. It has been a few years and I think I have gotten better about focusing on what I do. I’m not dwelling on what was wrong or could not be done. I started on a ‘fake it till you make it’ perspective, but I trust that one day I will make it. Because I wonder if my kids can see through it (probably). And I wonder if I can live through it unharmed (hardly).
Letting people down
I am not good at letting people down. I mean, no doubt I do it, but I react badly to it. I feel it with anxiety, I suffer through the let down and I spend hours of post-mortem trying to justify myself (mostly to myself). At this parenting workshop, they said it was important to let kids down sometimes, as that is the only way in which they will learn resilience.
Are we really that comfortable letting our kids down? I am certainly not. I mean, how can I be Little Miss Perfect if I let them down? Will they love me less? You see the circle right!
The truth is kids will love us likely more and be closer because we won’t be an unattainable superhuman. One that never fails, that never acts off track, that never misses promises, never let’s work unfinished and so on and so on. We will be human – closer to them, more lovable and honestly less scary.
I do let my kids down. Do I like it? Hell NO! Do I do it intentionally? Most of the times no, but it happens. Either way, when I fail, I do not miss out on an opportunity to say I’m sorry and that I failed. It is certainly heartfelt as I seek not to justify too much (or blame them). After all I don’t like to fail.
I wonder who Little Girl C comes after…