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Parenting, Perfectionism, and Anxiety: How We Reward Something Toxic

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Perfectionism and anxiety create a torture chamber we don’t want to model for kids. When we reward excellence, how do we know when it becomes toxic? We explain how a parents can check their own behaviors as well as what to look for and say to their kids. Lynn answers a listener question from a mom whose daughter has extreme anxiety about shots and vaccines.

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Show Notes

1:09 

Lynn describes the connection of perfectionism and anxiety in adults and kids she treats and suggests parents start looking at themselves and the messages around perfectionism they are sending.

Robin references the book The Conscious Bride.

11:23 

Lynn mentions the episode when she refers to the marital snort.

13:52 

Lynn discusses the connection between perfectionism and procrastination and signs of perfectionism in children.

23:30

The Circle is what we use to manage our kids’ screen time. Our affiliate link will get you $20 off a circle device for your home.

23:37 

Robin reads a listener question for Lynn to answer about two girls who have anxiety of getting shots.

31:03 

Robin references the co-parenting episode in relation to loading the dishwasher.

32:03 

We talk about family silliness and the idea of embracing the messy

33:14 

We encourage you to join our Facebook group so that you can submit a question for a future episode with Lynn.

perfectionism and anxiety quote

Episode Transcript

Lynn Lyons  0:01 

Don’t we all just have fantasies about the perfect holiday card, the perfect holiday meal? The perfect thanksgiving turkey, the perfect Halloween costume?

We’re going to talk about perfectionism. And I know that many people ask me about perfectionism in their kids, the child who only wants to get 100% on their tests, the child who rips up their coloring when it’s not perfect.

Let’s talk about our perfectionism as parents. How does that tone get set in our families? And perhaps most importantly, what can we do to make sure that we catch and interrupt those patterns before they take hold?

Perfectionism. It’s a torture chamber. Let’s get out of it.

Hi, everybody. I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m a psychotherapist and expert in anxiety and author, speaker. And I’m here with my sister in law and producer, Robin.

Hi, Robin.

Robin Hutson  0:54 

Hi, Lynn.

Lynn Lyons  0:54 

So ironically, we’re going to talk about perfectionism today. And Robin and I have just spent about five minutes trying to make sure that our sound for the podcast is perfect.

Robin Hutson  1:07 

Guilty!

Perfectionism And Anxiety

Lynn Lyons  1:09 

It’s hard. Yeah, because this idea of perfectionism, it’s so rewarded. And it’s even expected. And there’s so much judgment wrapped up in it, right? How other people are viewing you, how they’re viewing your parenting, it really encompasses so much of what we have to deal with, in our families and in our parenting and in ourselves. And it’s certainly something that comes up a lot in my practice, dealing with anxious families and, and that kind of stuff.

Oftentimes I get asked, “Can you help me? My daughter suffers from perfectionism.” Or “My daughter needs her homework to be so perfect,” or “My son won’t do anything unless he thinks he can do it perfectly.”

Overcoming Perfectionism

But I think before we even venture into the kid world of perfectionism, I think it’s really helpful to talk about how hard it is for us as parents, how hard it is for us as adults, to cope with this in our world.

Robin Hutson  2:11 

When you talk about perfectionism, what just jumps to my mind is, like you said, we’re so rewarded for trying to create perfection or create the image of perfection. And just we’ve talked about this a lot of how an image doesn’t reveal the full truth. And there’s a lot of challenging energy and a lot of control and anxiety needs that come out that affect a child when a mom wants her house perfect. A mom wants everyone to look perfect.

I grew up in the South with a mom who never left the house without makeup on. She had perfection issues around her appearance. And I know a lot of women grow up with mothers who pass that restrictive sense of self and worth. Just in the simplicity of that—it pervades everything. I think there’s very few moms who can’t, if they’re honest with themselves, they recognize they’re going to have these patterns in certain parts of their lives.

Lynn Lyons  3:09 

It’s really hard to let go of, and, you know, when we step back from it, we recognize it. It’s funny during the pandemic, all of us not being able to go and get our hair colored as much as we normally would. And how uncomfortable that made us.

Why are we so intrigued, you know, you see the cover of the People magazine that says, “Stars Without Makeup,” or pictures of stars, or famous Hollywood people caught in bathing suits when they don’t look good.

We’re so craving this idea that we both want to be perfect; we want to look perfect, but at the same time, it’s so comforting when you walk into somebody’s house, and it’s messy. You run into somebody, and they don’t have you know, their roots are showing it’s sort of like, “Oh, thank God, you too.”

So, we really have this internal struggle, don’t we? We want to be connected in our imperfection. And perfection really puts up kind of a barrier, doesn’t it? Because if you are parenting in a perfect way, or you think you’re parenting in a perfect way that your house has to look perfect, that your children have to look perfect.

It’s sort of like opening the closet door and everything falls out. You’ve got to be really careful that you keep the closet door closed, which means that you’re really careful about what you let people know about you, what you let them know about your family, this whole idea of sort of showing all of what’s going on.

That’s what connects us. Perfection really puts a distance between people. And I see that a lot.

Robin Hutson  4:36 

If you’re talking about the home and then when someone allows you to come home when the house isn’t perfect. And you walk in, and you recognize oh, I’m a closer friend. They’re letting me see their normal, daily life. It’s a compliment in a way. Yet we torture ourselves in order to create good impressions that are sometimes false impressions of projecting an image for someone to get to know instead of ourselves.

Lynn Lyons

If you are with a close friend or say you’re having people over for dinner, I remember seeing an article recently about sort of the casual, have friends over for dinner, which, you know, remember when we used to be able to have friends over for dinner?

But it was this idea that planning a dinner party and making sure that your house is perfect, and that your menu is perfect. I’m not going to do that. I don’t have the time to do that, nor the desire to do that. My schedule is pretty busy. The times when I’ve had people over for dinner, because I’m not so great at that anyway. It’s like a full day of me figuring out how to pull this thing off. Where is this idea that you can just gather with people and everybody brings something to eat and share?

I think that’s when we think of our social interactions, when we think of our relationships, I think that this needing everything to be a certain way, I just can’t do the perfect dinner. I can’t do the perfect birthday party. I’m just not going to do it. And being able to be more open and real and vulnerable, I think allows us to connect to people.

Robin Hutson

I remember reading a book before I got married, and it was talking about I think was called The Conscious Bride. But the one thing that the book said that stuck with me that proved to be absolutely true, is that what you didn’t plan and what you didn’t expect at your wedding will be one of your most cherished memories and moments.

And so, I think that that’s why if we all had more of a comfort with embracing the imperfection and allowing, they call them un-dinner parties. And so, I throw a lot of un-dinner parties. So, it’s just like you don’t even cook, you’re like we’re gonna order pizza. And you know, and I’m going to toss a salad that comes as a premade bag. But the point is, I care about connecting with you so much this Friday night with your family that come as you are, right? It’s the ultimate compliment to be a part of someone’s un-dinner party circuit.

Perfectionism Definition

Lynn Lyons  7:45 

When we’re talking about perfection, I want to make a distinction between having to be perfect, and also knowing where your strengths and your skills are. Because I think that that there’s a fine line between doing the things you do really well and sharing them with others, and then stepping over into that perfection place. Because like, if I take my mom, for example, like we can show up at our house, she can make a meal that is unbelievably delicious, and that she didn’t really have a menu planned a lot of the times, but she’s just so good at creatively cooking, and I don’t get the sense from her that she has to create things perfectly. She’s just really, really good at it.

When we think about perfectionism, it’s the need to be perfect. It’s that rigidity, it’s the way other people will judge us. But you’re allowed to share your skills, like if you’re really good at throwing a great birthday party, and you don’t venture into that perfectionistic place because that’s where the anxiety is. That’s where the that’s where the struggle is. But you just say I’m really good at doing this. And I love to I love to bake cakes, or I love to decorate for Christmas or whatever, then go ahead and do it. It’s not like you can’t show off your skills in an amazing way.

Perfectionism is not about you being successful and skilled and enjoying your talents. Perfectionism steps in to say, “never good enough.”

I think that’s the important thing about perfectionism is that its standard is higher than you can possibly achieve. And it’s always waiting to be critical. It’s always waiting to say “Well, I mean, okay, but you could have done that.” That’s the perfectionism part.

Robin Hutson  9:32 

Is there also an element of control where it has to be just so that’s also perfectionism, isn’t it? Or would you call that something else?

Lynn Lyons  9:41 

No, perfectionism, but it’s sort of you know it when it ventures into that world of obsessive-compulsive disorder of OCD there’s symmetry going on. There’s cleanliness; there’s organization. there is “Things need to be perfect in appearance.”

So anything from the throw that you throw over the couch, has to be symmetrically laid over the back of the couch, that there can never be a speck of anything in the kitchen sink, it always has to be shiny that no matter how much you clean, you have to clean more, that’s when it gets to that place where it becomes really a problem.

And think about that if you live in a house like that, if you live in a house where the standard is, everything has to be perfect, then you’ve got no room to do much of anything at all. It becomes really hard to be a child in that house;  it becomes hard to be a spouse in that house. And for the person who’s sort of held hostage by this, this is why it’s so helpful to externalize it, right?

So, you know how I talk about anxiety being the cult leader? If we externalize that that perfection part of you, you yourself are being held hostage by that. For somebody who has an eating disorder, for somebody who has to keep their house immaculate at all times, for somebody who can’t start a project because they can’t do it unless they know it’s going to be perfect. They’re being held hostage as well,

Robin Hutson  11:04 

How many parents come to see you, but their perfectionism prevents them from admitting that they have issues around anxiety or depression in their family, right? Like they’re there. They know they need help. And yet there’s still that struggle that they don’t want to admit it. Do you see that?

Lynn Lyons  11:23 

Yes, for sure. But because I require parents to come, particularly at the beginning, and as I’ve said with older kids and teenagers, kids, they often can come a little bit by themselves. So, I require both parents to come, if at all possible, even if they’re no longer married. And so, there’s a lot of blaming that goes on, as you can imagine, particularly if the parents are no longer married.

But there might be one parent who sees it much more clearly than the other. And that’s, you know, we talked about the marital snort. But that’s, that’s where there can be some conflict of sort of, I’m not gonna, I don’t want to show you the imperfection here. But I would probably say honestly, more often than not, by the time people get to see me, there is sort of a sense of relief is that they can, they can in my office, kind of let it all hang out. And I really try and support an environment in which, you know, we can talk about what’s really going on.

Perfectionism Disorder is Exhausting

And many times, for families that are trapped in this perfectionism, and they’ve been really trying to hide things or, you know, they’re not letting their neighbors know they’re not even letting their own family members know they’re not talking to the school about what’s going on. Sometimes it comes out in a torrent once they get in here, because it is so exhausting to keep up this front. That happens more often, actually.

Robin Hutson  12:48 

People are starting to think about staging their Christmas card, and I do send out a Christmas card Lynn has probably has never sent out a Christmas card.

Lynn Lyons  12:58 

That is not true. When my son was first born, we sent out a few Christmas cards when he was a little tiny baby. After I had my second son, then we were done with it.

But the Christmas card thing is there is such a game around it. I think it’s funny.

One of my very best friends, they have three children that are now grown, they’re all college age or above. And they always capture a moment in which one of them is just giving the dirtiest look to another one of the siblings. And it’s not a posed picture. So, it might be like in the back of a cab, or they’re sitting at a dinner table. And it’s just the best every year I look forward to it. There’s just like pure sort of like, oh, anger and disgust at their sibling, they’ve got it down to a science.

Robin Hutson  13:22 

I think that’s so healthy.

Lynn Lyons  13:52 

It is healthy. I think we have to be aware of the fact that our culture rewards excellence. It rewards perfection. We talk a good game. And I find this a lot with families, and I find it a lot in schools is that we talk a good game of “whatever makes you happy.”

Here’s the phrase that is so tricky. “As long as you know you’ve done your best.” Right? So that sounds pretty good. And it seems like we’re giving them all this room. That is a really provocative thing to say particularly if you are a family of perfectionists, if you are a family of people who achieve at high levels to say to your child, as long as you know you’ve done your best, absolutely throws them into a tailspin.

If you say that to a kid who doesn’t really care, they’re like, “yeah, sure, whatever.” You say that to a child who tends to be perfectionistic, who has doubts about whether or not they’re doing a good enough job. It is really setting them up for an enormous amount of struggle.

Perfectionism and Procrastination

And one of the things that people don’t know about perfectionism is perfectionism and procrastination hang out together all the time. You’re not going to take something on if your perfectionistic part is sitting there guiding what’s going to happen next, you’re not going to start, it’s going to be so exhausting.

If you have to clean your closet and have to be perfect if you have to write a paper, and it has to be perfect, if you have to read a book, and it has to be perfect, you have to read every word perfectly, you’re just not going to do it.

So, a lot of times, people don’t recognize that. I talked to families where they say, “She just won’t get started,” or “She’s such a procrastinator,” or “We can never get her to do anything.” And then I dig a little bit more, and it’s a highly perfectionistic family, and that child is just afraid to venture in, because the task just seems impossible. And the goal just seems unachievable.

Signs of Perfectionism in Children

Robin Hutson

If you have a child who starts showing that “I’m just not quite done. Let me just go back and tweak this drawing. or the story needs another edit,” what’s the right language to use around them when you see habits of wanting to make things just so? What do you say?

Lynn Lyons

The earlier you see that and the earlier you address that the better. So, it may it often comes up with even when they’re little and they’re coloring, or they’re trying to draw a bird, and they’ll rip it up and throw it out or it’s not good enough. And like you say you see him starting over? Say they’re doing their math, and it’s four plus four, will they get the number eight, but they keep erasing it and making the eight again, so it’s not really the answer, it’s that the circles have to be symmetrical. That’s a pretty good warning sign for you that you want to address this.

And the language you want to use is you want to say it looks like there’s a part of you, that doesn’t feel comfortable unless this is perfect. It’s really important for us to know the difference between times when it really is okay for it to be good enough. And times when we have to pay more attention to it, you start giving examples.

So, you say for example, I like you to make your bed in the morning. But there are a lot of different ways to make the bed. And some days, it’s going to be made a little bit like this way. And some days, it’s going to be made a little bit that way. But nobody really is going to be judging you and how perfectly you make your bed.

And remember Mom and Dad, if you are showing them and telling them that they have to make their bed perfectly. You got to do a little self-examination there. Because that’s modeling this perfectionistic behavior.

But then you might say, well, when is it time when we really do want to pay extra attention to something? You know, so you know, the example I often give, which not going to be applicable to little kids. But if you’re trying to address a fancy wedding invitation, say that’s even your job. You’re a calligrapher that does wedding invitations, you can’t make a mistake and cross it out with your pen and start over.

There’s a lot of gradations. Right? So, when something really can be messy, we’ve talked about that, right? Like if you’re baking and you get flour on the floor, when you’re doing your math homework, the circles of your eight don’t have to be symmetrical. When you’re you show your kids look, I’m making a to-do list today. So, I’m just writing things down and my handwriting doesn’t have to be perfect. Or when I’m going to the grocery store, you know, my hair doesn’t have to be perfect; my makeup doesn’t have to be perfect.

And then there are times when it’s important to pay attention to the details. And even having a conversation with your kids about what are some jobs in which in parts of the job in which the details are really important. What are some situations in which the specifics or the details are less important?

Begin to show them that there is a range, and that even in jobs where we think of people needing to be perfect that there is flexibility. Because there are so many ways where you can get trapped in thinking that things have to be one certain way. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to miss things and send an email with a typo in it. Everybody understands that happens.

Embracing Imperfection

One time we made this is memorable. You know, you said you’re having a wedding and what goes wrong is memorable, Robin? We made a chocolate cake. My husband actually made the chocolate cake, and we were out of regular milk. So, he just used almond milk. It’s now what’s referred to as the fart cake because for some reason when he when he baked the cake the way that almond milk cooked, it had like this really Sulphur smell.

So, we all sat down to have cake, and everybody was being very polite and not wondering who was farting at the table. And then we realized the cake smelled like farts. We will always remember that. It was certainly not the perfect cake. But you know, it’s a fart cake. So, we’ve got that story too.

When my sister in law on the other side of the family got married two of the shoes arrived on wedding day that were dyed to match the bridesmaid’s dress and it was two left shoes for one of the bridesmaids. She had to left shoes. Yeah, so I remember that, too. And we had to figure it out.

And so being able to collect those stories, being able to show your kids and I am saying show with particular emphasis. Show your kids that it’s okay to back off sometimes. There are times when you need to do things in a more specific way. But that perfection is a myth. It’s a trap. And it’s a torture chamber if you get locked up in it.

overcoming perfectionism

The Danger of the “Perfect Holiday”

Let me give you two examples of how in this holiday realm, perfectionism is in the way of connection. I was talking to a family. But one of the things that we were talking about perfectionism, and I was asking them. Can you think of a time where perfectionism has showed up in your family? And the goal was to make something really wonderful, and it turned into something really awful?

And they were telling me a story about decorating the Christmas tree. The mom had a very specific way that she wanted to decorate the Christmas tree. Everything had to be symmetrical. The children were to sit and watch the mom decorate the Christmas tree. And these kids were telling me, we know that there are other families. And they would see, you know, like Norman Rockwell pictures where kids were putting up ornaments on the tree. Or they would make an ornament at school, but it wasn’t allowed to be put on the tree, because mom had a very perfectionistic view of how the tree was supposed to be decorated.

It wasn’t just about the tree. But this is the example that they remember. And it really became tense, and it was not fun at all for them. The other story that I have is my father in law was very rigid about a lot of things, particularly around his cooking, which was his skill. And everybody loved his cooking. But at Thanksgiving, he had a particular menu that was to be served. And it was based on his mother’s menu. And I totally appreciated the tradition and the ritual of that.

But when we got married, and I joined them for Thanksgiving, I brought something to serve, because that was what I thought was the right thing to do. And he refused to serve what I brought to share at the Thanksgiving table, which I thought which you know, Red Flag Warning, Warning Warning, but I thought to myself, okay, so this is a way in which his rigidity will get in the way of us being able to connect,

But those are just ways when you think about wanting to celebrate something, but remember that perfectionism is disconnecting. Just as we say, when you’re worrying, it’s really hard to be present for your children. When you’re in that mode of perfectionism, it is also really hard to be present for the other people that are in your life.

So many people are concerned about perfectionism in their children. They’re seeing them, you know, being worried about getting straight A’s or seeing them being worried and ripping up their picture when the when it’s not quite right, or not playing soccer because they can’t be the best. Let’s talk about how perfectionism in a family and how perfectionism in parenting really can set the tone in your family and what you can do to get ahead of that.

The Circle Can Manage Your Kid’s Screentime

Daughter  23:11 

Mom, can I have time?

Robin Hutson  23:13 

This is what you’ll hear when you use a circle to manage your kids screen time. What do you think of the circle?

Daughter  23:17 

I hate it.

Robin Hutson  23:18 

Why do you hate it?

Daughter  23:19 

Well, I don’t actually hate it. But I feel like it’s good that I’m not spending as much time on the internet.

Robin Hutson  23:23 

It lets you set daily limits for different apps and social media. It also controls your kid’s Wi Fi schedules. And you can adjust age-appropriate filters for searches from little kids to teens. Our affiliate link will get you $20 off a circle. I love it.

Daughter 

It’s still annoying in the moment.

Robin Hutson 

I’m sure it is.

Listener Question

Robin Hutson  23:37 

OK, Lynn, I have a question for you that I think is very topical.

Lynn Lyons  23:42 

Okay, I’m ready.

Anxiety over shots

Robin Hutson  23:43 

My 10-year-old has a medical phobia and a specific fear of shots. She shows physical signs of panic, even when talking about going to the doctor. Her previously brave seven-year-old sister is now expressing similar fears about vaccines after a negative experience with her last flu shot.

She’s repeatedly asking about when she will need to get her COVID vaccine and crying at the thought of it. I think my older daughter needs more intensive help. And I’m working on that. But I would like advice on talking to my younger daughter.

They’re both anxious kids overall, and the older one has a high need for control. For some reason, it seems challenging for me to apply your approach to an experience that is more objectively negative.

Lynn Lyons  24:26 

This is a really great question. And let me just sort of take it from the beginning to the end. Because the first thing that the mom says is that she’s having a hard time applying my approach to something that’s objectively negative.

Well, most of the things that people worry about or that are afraid of are objectively negative, right? So, people worry about dying, and throwing up, and getting a root canal, and getting bit by a dog, and embarrassing themselves, and having diarrhea during the middle of their talk.

Most of the time when I’m talking to kids about things that they’re worried about it’s subjectively negative and I think maybe one of the things, Mom, that you’re trying to do is you’re trying to do what’s called content-based reassurance. So, you’re trying to say, “Well, it’s not that bad,” or “You shouldn’t worry about that,” or “It’s okay if that happens.” So, get out of that.

The content really doesn’t matter. That’s a really important thing for everybody to remember. It’s a hard concept to grab a hold of, but it’s so important. What we really want to talk about when we’re dealing with this is that because you can give all the reassurance you want, right? And probably what you’re finding is that it doesn’t matter. Because shots do kind of hurt, and they are kind of gross.

What you really want to do is you want to talk about how worry creates this story and how your daughter is using her wonderful imagination. Because worriers have really good imaginations to create a scenario to do a little psycho education about the fact that as she thinks about and worries about and imagines this vaccine, this shot that she’s going to have, she’s creating this little movie that then goes and fires off her poor little amygdala.

Remember, the imagination is the smoke maker, and the amygdala is the smoke detector. And that’s why your older daughter is having those panicky feelings. Because she’s firing off her fight her flight system as she’s imagining this. You want to really talk about how worry works, the connection between the body and the mind, how the imagination gets it going.

And now we want to talk about how do we disconnect a little bit. Because when somebody is worrying about a physical symptom, or worrying about getting a shot, they’re very, very connected to their imagination into the story. First thing is I would talk about the worry. And then the second thing I would do is I would teach your child how to disconnect a little bit in kind of a fun and playful way.

And this is where my hypnotic techniques come in handy. Although, you know, again, there’s nothing fancy about doing hypnosis, it’s really just using your imagination in a lot of ways. And what I’ve done with many kids who have dealt with this, including other medical procedures, so kids that are going through chemo, kids that are diagnosed with Type One Diabetes that have to have insulin shots, kids that have to have a lot of dental work, for whatever reason, is how do we teach a child to go into a situation and to allow their imagination to take them somewhere else.

Because what her imagination is doing is it’s over connecting her to her arm or to the idea of a needle and to a vaccine. And we want to disconnect it. So, I’ve done so I might say okay, so when you go into get your shot, and let’s practice this ahead of time. You’re going to go in, we’ll take a few deep breaths, we’re just going to relax. And we’re gonna go, we’re going to leave your arm here for a few seconds it’s going to take and you get to go to a really cool place. So maybe it’s Disney World, maybe it’s Hawaii, maybe it’s in the swimming pool, maybe it’s on the chairlift at the ski slope, maybe it’s in your favorite restaurant, maybe it’s eating an ice cream cone.

Allow her to disconnect to use that imagination to take her farther away rather than closer. And that can be a really great technique to use. Downplay this. Don’t overtalk it; and don’t over prepare. Don’t overthink; and don’t over reassure. Make it very matter of fact.

And talk to her about the power of her imagination, as if it’s a tool that she uses all the time, which it is, by the way, and so she can just employ it to her benefit. Explain this to her and make it a little bit playful. Make it a little bit interesting. Don’t avoid talking about it.

So, one of the things that happens when kids are afraid of getting a shot or going to the doctor is that nobody will talk about it. And your 10-year-old is actually showing your seven-year-old how to do this. These kinds of fears the particular of what somebody is afraid of it’s very contagious from parent to child, and it’s very contagious from sibling to sibling. Be matter of fact about it, talk about it just as you need to in terms of your arrangements of it, I wouldn’t get into a lot of conversation about it. But teacher this skill. It can be really, really helpful.

Robin Hutson  29:11 

Would you advise the mom to speak to her older child to not talk about it in front of her younger child?

Lynn Lyons  29:18 

Yeah, I would say to the 10-year-old “Look, so you’re dealing with this fear, but we’re having a lot of conversations about this. And really, we’re just engaging worry. We’re just getting everybody going. And it’s contagious.”

“So, we’re going to be matter of fact about this. I’m not going to have conversation after conversation about this with worry. We’re just going to treat it matter of factly. Just as if you are going to a dentist appointment just as if you’re going to get new sneakers.”

And we’re not going to get sucked into the content. Because the more you talk about this in this anxious way, the more you try and get rid of this anxiety. The stronger it’s going to get. It becomes sort of this topic that we don’t want to discuss. And then, of course, you’re going to discuss it because you don’t want to discuss it. Stop focusing on it so much. What we focus on, we amplify, and teach them this skill of disconnection, really, really helpful.

So, our school year, however strangely it started, and we’ve got the holidays coming up, which are going to be challenging to deal with, of course. Here’s what I’d like you to do, parents.

I’d like you to just think about where it is in your life that maybe that perfectionism shows up. And think about it in terms of how you model that for your children. But also, just think about how you’re hard on yourself. Think about how it is that you set some standards for yourself. Is there any area in your life where maybe you can just let that go? A little bit. Any place where you can maybe say, you know what, I’m allowed to give myself a little bit of room.

I talk about the big sweet spot of parenting. It’s not about doing things in a rigid, exact way. And see if there’s some place where maybe you can let your kids load the dishwasher. I’ve talked about before, how many fights people have about loading the dishwasher and unloading the dishwasher?

Robin Hutson  31:03 

Yeah, you know, you’re right, that’s actually this contentious thing. And we had a listener write to us, after the co-parenting episode, saying, “I will never think about loading the dishwasher in the same way.” I didn’t know that that was such a thing.

Lynn Lyons  31:16 

Yeah, it really is a thing, the whole dishwasher thing. Think about where it is that maybe, maybe you’re gonna just loosen up a little bit and do it for the benefit of your kids. You know, if they set the table and they put the forks on the wrong side, you don’t have to walk over and put it on the other side. Just see if you can let them have more room and let you have more room internally as well.

Perfectionism is a trap. It’s a torture chamber. It makes you internally focused often, or when it makes you externally focused, it gets in the way of you connecting.

As the sergeant says in the classic movie, Stripes. “Lighten up, Francis,” It’s okay. Just give yourself a little bit of room. It’s gonna be okay.

Robin Hutson  32:03 

Between today and last week, we were talking about family silliness, you know, in the idea of like just having ice cream sundaes for dinner. It’s really on a meta level, embracing the messy and looking at messy in a different way. And maybe we have been programmed to really reject messiness. I guess embracing messiness is all about embracing flexibility as well.

Lynn Lyons  32:28 

If we look at the meta of messiness, maybe that should be the title of my next book is that we’re really just talking about all of the messiness that comes in relationships and figuring things out and learning and growing.

Perfectionism and Anxiety Keep Us From Connecting

It’s just a bumpy ride. Being able to allow ourselves to be okay with that, you know, it really, it really does help, especially during a time which we so, so desperately need to stay connected to one another. The more we try and get rid of something, the more that we get on this rigid path of elimination, and not allowing things to happen and keeping things in and hiding things and stuffing the closet full of all of our crap so that nobody sees what’s going on. And the more our mental health suffers. This I know.

Robin Hutson  33:14 

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1 Response
  • Mom
    October 16, 2020

    I am so excited and relieved to have stumbled onto this podcast. My son is a freshman in high school and at the last semester of 8th grade he became suicidal about his social anxiety and stress. Counseling and meds have not yet helped.. I even just enrolled him in homeschool to relieve that stress, but one week in and he feels no different, just a different stress how to navigate this new endeavor. He has pushed away all of his friends and though he has no physical issues, he has a terrible body image and poor self worth. He feels even weaker about himself as he states he has no reason to feel this way, “I can’t even handle a privileged life”. It was very enlightening to connect his “OCD” perfectionism with his anxiety and resulting depression. I will continue to look for insight in helping me as well tp see how I might be contributing to this and how to help him realize what he is doing to himself and helping him let go.

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