Perfectionism in Parenthood: Imperfectly Perfect

This article is for all the mothers, fathers, single-parent and same sex parents that experience the exhausting side effects of perfectionism in parenthood with the aim of helping you to spot the warning signs of perfectionism to prevent burnout and ways of navigating through it into a healthy, happy, balanced and nurtured parent.

The strive for perfectionism in parenthood is an epidemic. Many of us, myself included – embark on the journey of parenthood with the aim of being the perfect parent. The strive for this ideal is often driven by the anxiety of not wanting to make mistakes and to provide the best care to our children, We want to do it all, and to be like the parent down the road that seems to have it all together! We want to be supermum or superdad!

Unfortunately it comes at a grave cost to our health. This pressure is unrealistic which often lead parents to feel vulnerable, highly self-critical and very frustrated. We are quick to label ourselves as ‘not good enough’ when we can’t live up to our high standards. This self-criticism serves to trigger strong emotions and sometimes a tsunami of emotions.

It is often hard to avoid the internal and external pressures to be the perfect parent. Mums have often spoken of their struggles with the pressure to breastfeed or not! How to loose the baby weight quickly!! And most parents describe the crazy race of getting their children into the best schools, to have the perfect meals for their children, to have all their children happy, to be the perfect partner, friend, employee and parent… the list is endless….

The reality is that trying to be the perfect parent often leads to neglecting our needs and burnout.

So how can parents break through the perfectionism cycle to enjoy the messiness of parenthood? Here are some tips to support you in finding the best version of parent life:

1. Increase your awareness of the warning signs: Notice how you talk to yourself, notice your standards and notice your emotions. Ask yourself if you are putting unrealistic pressure on yourself? Are these expectations healthy, achievable and sustainable?

  1. Letting go of control: Everyday brings change and uncertainty, which can often bring with it anxiety and the need to control what we can. However life as we know with children is unpredictable and we don’t need to hold on too much to control and things being a certain way. The holding onto control can often trigger anxiety or even panic attacks. Try to let go of having your own cognitive rules around control and perfectionism i.e. ‘things have to be a certain way’; ‘I should be able to do it all’; or sometimes this can extend to a partner ‘they are not doing it perfectly’. Think about what an alternative and healthier way of thinking would look like bringing the aim of self-compassion and what is realistic and sustainable.
  2. Ride the wave of emotions: Life as a parent can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. Emotions are safe and natural. Allow yourself to experience your emotions. If you are frustrated, validate this emotion and then ask yourself what do you need, what is realistic and what is healthy and helpful for you. Most importantly take a breath to regulate emotions and to get a wider perspective. Therefore we shape the skill of responding rather than reacting to stress.
  3. Self-Compassion and Forgiveness: Notice how you talk to yourself and ask yourself is it kind and nurturing? Does it help you or hold you back? What would you say to a friend going through the same experience? Forgive yourself when mistakes happen, you are human and as such fallible.
  4. Let go of comparisons: We all can fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to other parents, which often fuels self-criticism and inevitably we undermine ourselves. Theodore Roosevelt once said ‘comparison is the thief of joy’… so wisely said! Again, back to self-forgiveness and looking out for your own great strengths as a parent rather than zooming into what needs to improve or what you feel isn’t good enough.
  5. Find your village! All parents need a village of support. You are not alone, reach out to close friends, family and other parents for support. You also can’t do it all…. it is just not possible and not sustainable. Being able to nurture yourself and ask for help often brings harmony, happiness and strength.

There are a number of excellent resources and groups aimed to support parents including the below but not limited:

• Parentline.ie
• Family Friendly HQ: https://www.familyfriendlyhq.ie

Or if you feel you are struggling to cope with perfectionism as a parent or with life in general which is leading to increased anxiety, panic attacks or depression speak with your GP and reach out for therapy.

The Consulting Clinic offers therapy for perfectionism.

You can contact the clinic by telephone or email:

Telephone: 01 6859261
Email: admin@theconsultingclinic.ie

© The Consulting Clinic, 2019

This article was written by Dr Louise Clarke, Director of The Consulting Clinic