How Parenting Perfectionism Can Harm Kids

Parenting may look flawless on Instagram, but research shows that striving perfectionistic parenting can take a toll on parents’ and kids’ well-being. Psychologist, Dr. Juli Fraga, discusses.

Motherhood perfection

Before our babies enter the world; we take classes, listen to podcasts, download apps, and read books, hoping to crack the code of motherhood. Why? Because giving our children the best seems to be the gold standard of modern child-rearing. And while preparing for parenting can be positive, pressure that turns into perfectionism can also hurt our children.

Common statements and worries shared by mothers include: “I’m a top performer at work, and I want to excel at motherhood, too,” “I never feel like I can take a break from parenting, if I do, I feel lazy,” and “I’m worried if I don’t read tons of books, my kid will fall behind the curve.”


Where does our perfectionism stem from?

Certainly, mothering in the age of social media can paint a false illusion of parenthood. For instance, scrolling through our Instagram feeds, we’re inundated with glossy images of infants eating homemade baby food, beautiful nurseries, and spotless Pinterest-inspired playrooms, all of which reinforce the joyful mommy trope.

However, constantly tending to our children, especially when it means continually sacrificing our own needs, comes at a cost. As a psychologist who’s worked with moms for over a decade, I’ve witnessed how the quest for superhero parenting can cause women to feel inadequate, which only pushes them to do more for their kids.

According to experts, this type of relentless parenting can result in burnout, a stress condition that causes emotional exhaustion, fatigue, and feelings of disdain for one’s job. Psychologists have also found that mothers who are overly critical of themselves may withdraw from their kids as a way to avoid the unsettling anxiety that perfect parenting evokes.

What’s the solution? Learning how perfectionism sends our kids harmful messages can be an excellent place to begin. Not only can it teach us how to raise resilient children; it can give us permission to ease up on ourselves, too.

Perfectionism takes us away from the moment

Striving for perfection takes us to the future. The downside: focusing on the future pulls us away from moment-to-moment interactions with our children.

Instead of noticing our baby’s smile or listening to our kids tell silly stories, we’re focused on cleaning the kitchen, preparing dinner and doing laundry. Stressed out by these never-ending tasks can cause us to feel overly-burdened by motherhood, which can ignite feelings of resentment and irritability.

The solution: try sprinkling some mindfulness into your day. You don’t have to be a Zen master to benefit from the life skills of mindfulness. Meditation apps like Calm, Headpsace and Expectful can be a great way to start, helping us anchor into the right now moments of parenting. Doing so can reassure us that stress is temporary, and that strong parent/child relationships last a lifetime.

Mistakes are part of the learning process

Kids learn from observation, and perfectionistic parenting can convey that mistakes aren’t okay. Unfortunately, this mindset may cause worries and anxiety to percolate. This is especially concerning since studies show that anxiety, especially among adolescent girls is rising.

Whether a child is drawing a picture or taking their first test, trying to do things perfectly sets the focus on the outcome, which pulls them away from the process. Not only can this affect how children learn, it may also impact their ability to identify their own interests.

A more helpful tactic: be mindful of self-talk when pointing out your own errors. Instead of calling yourself a bad mom, mention that everyone makes mistakes and share what you’ve learned from the experience. When your children make mistakes, help them understand what went wrong and remind them that missteps are a normal part of life’s learning process.


Begin a daily gratitude practice

Racing towards perfection catapults us into a space of deprivation, triggering thoughts like, “I’ll never be an organized mom like so-and-so,” or “I’ll never make fancy birthday party decorations like my neighbor.” Because perfectionism rewires our thinking, the glass is always half-empty and things are never good enough.

Unfortunately, parenting from this vantage point can be the breeding ground for insecurity.

And since kids are sensitive to our emotions, they take on our worries and may even try to take care of our feelings by offering reassurance.

If you want to break free from this endless cycle, try starting a daily gratitude practice.

Each day, share something you’re grateful for. If your kids are older, ask them to do the same. Focusing on what’s going well cultivates feelings of abundance and appreciation. It’s also an excellent way to extend compassion to ourselves and those around us.

And if there’s anything that can make perfectionism shrink, it’s empathy.


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