One of the perils of parenthood is believing we’re in charge.
I’m talking about how we can overestimate the influence we have on our kids. They look like blank slates when they come out, right? Gunky, wrinkly blank slates. Ready for us to clean up and write the story of their lives on.
But of course they aren’t. Between genetics (nature) and the pre-natal environment (the beginning of nurture’s influence), they’re already their own people.
This is a huge topic, but here’s just a bite of it for today. How does this blank slate fallacy contribute to perfectionist parents setting themselves up for heartache?
I found that the newness of my son made perfectionism seductive. He seemed perfect at the beginning, so all I needed to do was Not Mess Anything Up and he’d stay perfect, right?
Here’s what I mean. For one thing, I got into using soapnuts for laundry while I was pregnant. They’re awesome for reasons of thrift and environmental impact, but the most significant advantage for me was the reduction in daily chemical load.
It’s not well understood (by me, for sure) just what the story is with the vast number of different chemical compounds we encounter every day in ‘modern’ life, and I’m not generally scared of synthetics or science. But the steep increase in number and volume concerns me, and there’s some robust research that suggests we should be thinking more about it.
Add up the number of ingredients in your shampoo, conditioner, kitchen spray cleaner, toilet cleaner, dishwashing liquid, deodorant, soap, laundry detergent and toothpaste and compare it to an estimate of your great-grandma’s exposure. Then add in all the different plastics that we and our food have contact with.
Those are the things I regularly, knowingly expose myself to. You may also want to add the ingredients of any makeup, toiletries or workplace products you use regularly. Do a count of all the different ingredients you can identify in those things, if you’re interested. It’ll be in the hundreds.
So (now that I’ve freaked you out – sorry!): soapnuts. I’m not obsessed with this chemical issue, but conscious of it. I’m just trying to simplify a bit. And having a baby is a good catalyst for all sorts of changes in the household.
So the day I ran out of my New-Plymouth-bought soapnuts, and couldn’t find any in shops in Wellington, and felt paralysed by the delivery time of online options and saw the washing piling up… well, that was a bad day.
You see, SBJ had never been washed in anything other than water, and his clothes, nappies and wipes had only ever been washed in soapnuts. The first time I had to wash his clothes in normal (eco, sensitive) washing powder was a dark day for this perfectionist mother.
Did you see those dangerous words there? Never. Ever. First. All spoiling my perfect record! Here’s how I thought of my perfect, blank slate baby. The only way is down!
Things are a lot easier now. He’s almost a year old, and I don’t have many nevers or evers left. So just like with my own life, I have to ditch perfect as my standard or aspiration for him. As good as I reasonably can is what I’m working on accepting instead.
I try to do my best. I do know that SBJ is a really lucky little boy, and he’s got everything going for him, synthetic washing powder or not.
Hopefully that’s one big perfectionist pitfall behind me (with this baby, anyway). There will be more ahead, presumably.
I’d be interested to hear how your own experience of perfectionism has shown up in your parenting, for good and for ill.
Today I’m focusing on the challenges, but I do think there are some great things it contributes, especially to the extent we’re aware of it and trying to parent our kids to accept their mistakes and failures. More on that next time, perhaps.
What do you reckon?
This is part of an occasional series. You might like to catch up on the other posts here:
Imperfect is the New Perfect #1
Imperfect is the New Perfect #3: Vulnerability, Shame and Courage, featuring the work of Brené Brown
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