Pursuing perfection

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By Lynne Cazaly

Two parents were chatting about the endless time spent, creating costumes for their daughters for a school event. One said, ‘That’s how I show her I love her; it’s what my mum did for me.’ So here’s the question: are you trying to make the things you do for your children and family better, because you think what you’ve done isn’t ‘good enough’ yet?

We need to talk about the increasing problem of the pursuit of perfect, because ‘not good enough yet’ thoughts have a connection to perfectionism. We’ve been brought up with cultural and social expectations that place value on achievement and excellence. Yet we’re experiencing some of the highest levels of stress, depression, anxiety and other ailments than ever before. What’s the danger with perfectionism? As PhD researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill say, perfectionism is ‘an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.’ They gathered data from over 41,000 people and found that perfectionism is increasing, at alarming levels.

Three types of perfectionism

There’s more than one kind of perfectionism:

Self-oriented: we set unrealistically high standards for ourselves
Societal: we perceive that society expects us to reach certain standards
Other oriented: we have high standards for others.

All three are increasing, with the second, societal, increasing by 33%.

Don’t get dragged into the expectation game

As Alex, mum of two said, ‘We already feel guilt for things we haven’t done the way we’d like, so why put more pressure on ourselves from someone else’s standards? I need to make sure my children enjoy, say, a healthy school lunch box. But does it need to include organic carrots grown in our own backyard? Or home-fermented kombucha? Come on, that’s crazy; it’s too much pressure and we’re getting dragged into a competitive game of expectations. You’ve got to live, create your own life, and parent in your own way.’

What is our behaviour teaching our children?

Rather than perfect – with no clear standard or positive return – go for ‘good enough’.

Author and women’s career coach, Kathy Caprino says perfectionism is a ‘learned, adaptive behaviour in our (own) childhood.’ Parenting is tough at the best of times but we also need to keep in mind how our behaviour – pursuing perfect, not happy with outcomes – influences our child’s values. The recent college admissions scandal in the United States shows how far parents will go to try to create perfect outcomes for children, rather than letting them learn, develop and make decisions for themselves.

Go for good enough

Polly, a mum of teenagers says, ‘Being a good enough parent works for me. I had post-natal depression after my second child, who didn’t sleep through the night for years and I was also struck with an autoimmune condition, restricting my abilities to walk, lift and carry things.

‘The idea of being ‘good enough’ served me well at this time. And I’ve continued it as a way of parenting.’

Dr Harriet Braiker, clinical psychologist and author of the book ‘The Disease to Please’ said, ‘Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralising.’ And this is the thing; we need to see when we’re going for something that’s good enough – that will do, practical, it will work – versus the tiring, endless push for perfect. Polly learned, ‘Letting go of perfection helped me achieve more in a manageable way. My children are more self-sufficient too which helps them do well in life.’

What to look out for:

  • Notice when perfectionism crops up. It’s a habit built on a lifetime of automatic responses.
  • Be kinder to yourself, choosing a path of progress – getting things done that are ‘good enough’ – over a path of pursuing perfection which ends in stress and mental health issues.
  • Help your children identify and achieve ‘good enough’ rather than perfection. What they learn now will have impacts later on in their lives.
  • If you’re thinking that something isn’t ‘good enough’ yet, check yourself; pause and think what the standard is you’re going for. It likely is already good enough!

We can reward our own and our children’s efforts and attitudes over striving for the unreachable perfection. While we know that perfectionism can develop in our childhoods, it can cause more issues later on that we weren’t ever intending. Let’s go for being ‘good enough’ parents right now, rather than the pain of perfection felt later.


Lynne Cazaly is a keynote speaker and adviser on new ways of working. She helps businesses think and work in ways that are more productive, collaborative, creative and effective. She is the author of ‘ish: The Problem with our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough’ ($24.95).

Find out more at www.lynnecazaly.com

Peninsula Kids – Spring 2019

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