Curb the perfectionism

I never saw myself as a perfectionist. I always thought I was perfectly fine with mediocre, but if there’s one thing that almost three years of parenthood has taught me, it’s that I am a perfectionist. And not just that. I’m hardcore perfectionist. And the feeling seems to only become stronger – or present with more activities – the older I get as a parent.

The first months of parenting were fine. Interactions between me and my baby son were pulling faces and making weird noises, in between the changing of diapers. It all went downhill when he started actively playing with stuff, around the age of seven months or so. Or well, actually it was really when he started enjoying it when I built stuff so that he could destroy it. And I wouldn’t just build any tower… I would build the perfect tower that the blocks I had would allow me to build. My son couldn’t care less. He always destroyed the tower before he could finish. He had no clue what he was doing but to the perfectionist in me, destroying an unfinished tower felt like a stab in the liver.

Over the two years that followed, my son developed many interesting skills, including the skill of building towers, and he no longer feels the urge to destroy my towers. Instead, he prefers to build things together – and so do I! We often build Duplo structures, but obviously I cannot just build a random Duplo structure. I build either the highest thing I can possibly build, or I build something challenging with perfect symmetry. How do I put this? My son – I love him to death – but he doesn’t care about height, or about symmetry for tht matter. He just likes the activity. Blocks go everywhere, and he doesn’t even click them on properly! All the voice in my head is whispering to me is ‘don’t you dare touch my perfect building, you little man’.

This weekend, my son got a little present. A coloring pad made of felt, and some markers to color the figures printed on the felt. A little picture served as a guideline for the drawing. My son wanted to draw with me. I started off coloring the giraffes in yellow, and the pig in pink. Of course I stayed perfectly within the lines. What did you expect? My son is of a different school of the more free and expressive arts. It’s not that he cannot stay within the lines. He cannot even get within the lines. There are no boundaries to his creativity. My soul hurts as I see him cross all the lines, but on the other hand, I applaud him for doing it, for I know that this kind of free thinking is important to preserve in life. I sometimes wish I could be as free as him. Too often we’re limiting – or even erasing – our creative spirits by always staying within the lines.

The great thing I learn from all this is how much perfectionism controls even the simplest things in life, like drawing or building something with my kid. Perhaps even more so, it teaches me how limiting perfectionism can be. It turns fun bonding activities into a struggle. It sucks the joy out of everything. It’s also pretty useless in most cases, as the above examples quite clearly illustrate.

Now, if you were hoping for some life advice here on how to curb perfectionism, I’m sorry to disappoint. Have some kids, maybe? But think about it for a bit first. Kids are great exposure therapy to help you lower your perfectionism levels. I still have a long way to go, but at least I no longer have issues with building less-than-perfect towers for my baby daughter who’s now entering the destructive age. I curbed some of my perfectionism, and we now destroy shitty half-finished towers together. Let’s hope she will destroy my perfectionism some more.

How do you stop your perfectionism from getting in the way? Let me know in the comments below!

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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