By: Katrin Schumann
No mom really likes to admit she’s a perfectionist—but of the 500-plus women we spoke with over the years of researching our new book, Mothers Need Time-Outs Too, we discovered that perfectionism is the number one issue keeping modern mothers from enjoying the moment. We are all so busy trying to be everything to everyone—and doing a stellar job while we’re at it—that we don’t have a spare second to plug into our own needs or desires.
But beware: this will hurt us, and our families, in the long run!
Countless psychological studies point to links between perfectionism and dysfunction. “One of the most pernicious forms of self-generated stress stems from perfectionism,” explains Dr. Jon Allen in a 2003 Perspective Magazine article. A continuous cycle of striving, failure, and self-criticism creates stress which pumps our blood full of hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Both have been proven to harm the immune system, making people more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses—from the flu to cancer. Perfectionists often want and expect others to be perfect, too, perpetuating the cycle and leading to disagreements, wrecked relationships, and even more stress.
So what’s the solution? It’s easier than you think! Mothers say it’s important to:
- Accept imperfection, perhaps even revel in it. Joelle, mother of one from New York, loves going to her messy friend’s house. It reminds her that not everyone has to live with the same standards.
- Share responsibility, and let go of the need to always be in control. When your nine-year-old folds laundry, tell her you appreciate how hard he or she tried.
- Choose your priorities. You can cut down on your activities—and your children’s—to free up time for other things or for nothing. YOU are in the driver’s seat.
- Open your mind to alternative ways of running things. Elizabeth, raised in Germany and now living with her family of five in France, noticed how differently even those two neighboring cultures can be when it comes to mothers’ standards. “There’s no one way to do it correctly,” she said. “It really helps me to know that.”
- Trust yourself. Be comfortable with what works for your family: it doesn’t matter what other people think about how your kids are dressed, whether your kitchen is spotless, or if your son made the A-team.
Dr. Allen, a professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine adds: “The good news is, although perfectionism can be a relatively ingrained personality trait, it can be moderated over time.” Ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness, and if lowering your standards will help you carve out a some more “me-time,” then give it a try—your family will thank you for it!
First published July 2008