A few days ago, I was having a conversation with my son and we were talking about some problems that he was facing in school. As we were chatting, he casually turned to me and said, “Of course, you would have had no problem dealing with any of this. You’re perfect.” And while every mom wants her son to think that she’s God’s gift from heaven, this casually made statement troubled me. Somehow, inadvertently, I had communicated to my son that I was infallible and capable of doing no wrong. And the truth is that it’s the last thing that I would want my child to think about me.
Perfection as a concept does not exist. The problem with perfection is that it is inherently linked to a fear of failure. When our children see us as perfect, they put us on a pedestal, as someone who will never fail. They end up putting unnecessary pressure on themselves as they strive to attain perfection. But, they will never be perfect, because they’re human. And it’s our job as parents to ensure that they realise we can be good at some things, great at others, even excel in a few but none of us are perfect. So, what can we do?
Share your own childhood experiences and struggles with your child
For a child, it’s hard to picture their parents as children. Sharing anecdotes from your childhood encourages him to take you off the pedestal. He realises that it’s okay to make mistakes or not be good in sports or to not like math because of the math teacher. Talking about your childhood friends and the fights or conversations that you may have had will help normalise their own childhood experiences.
Be aware of how you talk to them
If you berate them saying, “You should have done this” or “You should have known better”, you’re blaming them for past actions. They get the message that they should also always know what is the right thing to do. This accentuates their fear of getting it wrong. Instead, focus on the fact that every day is a new day. And what’s done can’t be undone. What they can do is use the new day as an opportunity for change.
Ensure they know that they are loved, unconditionally
Sometimes, when we praise our children or berate them, they link our love to their success or failure. Separate your display of love and affection from their achievements.
Remove the word ‘perfect’ from your vocabulary as a benchmark
Instead focus on the word ‘excellence’. It allows your child to set a high benchmark or high standards but doesn’t set unattainable goals for him.
Acknowledge that you miss the mark sometimes, too
By talking openly to your child and acknowledging your mistakes or faults, it allows him to see you as human. Focus on the process of reparation. Your child needs to see that not everybody gets it right all the time. It’s what you do after that matters.
Share your emotions with them
It’s okay for them to know that you were angry or annoyed by someone’s actions. By sharing your emotions, you provide a safe zone for them to talk about how they’re feeling. They don’t feel like they have to hide their emotions. Reiterate that it’s okay to feel angry or sad. It’s important that we acknowledge our emotions.
Role model acceptance of yourself
Truly love yourself, flaws and all. Show them how to be kind to themselves by being kinder to yourself. They need to see you accept yourself as you are. We all wish that there were some things that we could be better at or do better. And that’s okay. As long as we approach things from a growth mindset, knowing that there is scope for improvement but without putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the time. Teach them to look at their faults as an opportunity to grow rather than something to beat themselves up about.
When children see us as imperfect, they learn some very important lessons about life and themselves. They learn that it’s okay to not be perfect. They learn that they can strive to excel without believing that they need to be perfect all the time. They learn to take failure in their stride and bounce back when the chips are down. They learn to accept and love themselves as well as others around them. They learn not to have unrealistic expectations of themselves or people around them. It allows them to have more authentic relationships in the future. So yes, while I want my child to think I’m God’s gift from heaven, I definitely don’t want him to think I’m perfect.