Thursday, September 3, 2009

Flaunting My Failures

In Dr. Kevin Leman's excellent book (which I heartily recommend, by the way) The New Birth Order Book, he addresses the idea that most first-born children are perfectionists. Then he says that he gets a lot of first-borns who say, "You're WRONG! I'm a first-born and just LOOK at how messy my house/car/office is! I do a terrible job at everything I try. There's no way I'm a perfectionist."

In that case, Dr. Leman says, the person is usually a discouraged perfectionist. What he means by that term is that the person still has the all-or-nothing thinking of a perfectionist, and they've chosen "nothing." A discouraged perfectionist knows he or she can't do everything perfectly, so they decide not to try. (Often this happens because the parents are nit-pickers themselves, and the first-born tends to take the parents' criticisms more seriously. Plus, parents are more determined to be "perfect" when raising first-borns. The more children they have, the more they relax.)

Anyway, not to get into the birth-order psychology--although if anyone wants to discuss it further I would be happy to--but I am a discouraged perfectionist. Sort of. There are certain things (like proofreading) that I CAN control and make perfect so I do. Other things, like housework, I am still struggling to remember that "something is better than nothing" and that I am not a failure if I cleaned the bathrooms, did four loads of laundry and folded and put them away, read a lift-the-flap alphabet book 87 times, provided and cleaned up after every meal and snack, etc. etc. but I didn't get around to the vacuuming. Think how much worse it would look if I didn't do all those things! (In fact, I know how much worse it would look because on the weekends when I haven't done those things, it looks like a bomb went off in the house. So now I still do some of it on weekends.)

As a recovering perfectionist, I naturally wanted to know how NOT to parent my first-born. (It shocks me how many perfectionistic tendencies Miss Pink has, and that's with me SPECIFICALLY TRYING not to be too hard on her.) Dr. Leman's most important advice was, "Flaunt your failures. When you mess up, be open about it. Show your kids that nobody's perfect and that it's not the end of the world to fail." (That's in my words.)

So I try to do this, when it comes up. I mean, I don't bring up all the ways in which I fail as a parent daily. ("No, really, sweetheart, Mommy SUCKS!") But as Dr. Leman advised, when I fail, I try to own it.

The latest example: Yesterday my husband pointed out a deep scratch below our (new) car's trunk. "Honey? Do you remember how this happened?"

God bless the man. He's used to me ruining a car's paint job--oh, around every six months on average. We should probably make body work a regular part of the budget. I know the body shop owner is probably going to Hawaii this year because of me.

For a second I couldn't remember, then it came back to me. "Oh! The other day I didn't pull into the garage far enough and the garage door hit the car and went back up. Could that have caused it?"

Speechless, he just nodded slowly.

I remembered that the kids were listening. "I don't think the kids are going to have any problems thinking I'm perfect," I said. "Sometimes it's pretty obvious."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go clean a bathroom imperfectly.


1 comment:

  1. I've done that with the car, but it hit the towbar, which is harder to damage. I always get out and check I've parked correctly now!

    Surely you can have the discouraged perfectionist personality without being born first?