Letting go of perfection during the pandemic

Reading my daily dose of “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again,” a book on igniting the creative spirit by Julia Cameron, I learned that perfectionism blocks creativity. The need to be perfect is counter to being messily creative. I struggle with perfectionism and it leads to writing blocks. I can’t get started or continue with a project because it doesn’t seem good enough.

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I read several parenting articles that shared this same philosophy of letting go of perfectionism. The pandemic is making parents let their parenting ideals go. Just surviving through the day, working from home, home schooling, and going on month seven of being cooped up in their homes gives them a fresh perspective on what “good” parenting looks like.

Here’s an excerpt from CNN.com It’s time to give up perfectionist parenting — forever. Here’s how by Elissa Strauss, CNN contributor. Click here to read the entire article.

Before the pandemic, many of us found ourselves doing a little more parenting than we knew we ought to be doing. Maybe we weren’t full-on “helicopters” or “snow plows,” and, no, we would never have done something illegal to try to ensure our kids’ success.

Still, many of our parenting decisions — especially those of us privileged enough to be making lots of choices about our children’s lives — were informed by more “shoulds” than “coulds.”

The diagnosis? Never-enough-itis. The symptoms? Busyness, guilt and deluding ourselves into thinking we could pull this off.

Our kids, the magical thinking went, would be wildly successful, self-motivated and down-to-earth, and we parents would remain balanced and happy. Rising income inequality, a lack of community and the increasingly winner-takes-all atmosphere in which we live didn’t help.

But now, the chaos and suffering brought on by Covid-19 have laid bare just how impossible our parenting standards are.

It has never been clearer how much is expected of parents, mostly moms, with little support from our workplaces and public institutions. Contrary to popular belief, moms are also subject to the time constraints created by the rotation of the planet. We too, only have 24 hours in a day.

Then there is the impact on our kids, our poor kids, who saw what little agency they had over their time and life choices go down the drain. Our children don’t need us pushing them to be shinier, more brag-worthy versions of themselves in this moment.

Two new books consider what perfectionist parenting does to the human brain, and what a relaxed, more compassionate parenting can look like for parents and kids. While both titles were written pre-Covid, their messages about privileging connection over perfection are more urgent than ever.

It’s hard to avoid perfectionism

Judith Warner, author of the recently published “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me: Making Sense of Middle School” had never intended to be a parent that pushed her kids too far.

“It was always my very conscious intent — my most precious hope as a parent, in fact — that my daughters would feel loved and valued for who they were and not what they accomplished,” Warner said of her daughters, now 20 and 23.

But even with the best of intentions, her kids got the wrong message anyway. This was partly from the world around them, which defined success in somewhat narrow terms: good grades, fancy college degree, followed by professional success. It was also because no matter how hard we try to say the right things, our children tend to be keen observers of our true, sometimes even unconscious, desires.

The second article I read, Leaning Into ‘Free-Range Parenting’ Has Helped Us Manage Our Pandemic Stress by I found at Scary Mommy. She talked about how the pandemic has allowed her to view life with her family in a different light. She’s letting go of her standards and surviving and connecting more with her kids.

Somehow, powered mostly by microwaved coffee and dirty sweatpants, we’ve managed to create a largely relaxed, playful, and even hopeful environment for our kids during this lockdown, more than I ever expected that we could. It hasn’t been easy most days, but we’re doing it. I don’t know exactly how we’ve managed to make this work more than not, but I think it boils down to becoming the kind of parents who learned early on to embrace the giant ass dumpster fire that was new parenthood, especially since it almost ate us alive a couple years ago. We moved from the West coast to New Hampshire in 2019 for my failing mental health and to finally have some family nearby to support us. We never planned on also hunkering down here during a global pandemic.

So what’s been our secret to getting through the endless season of coronavirus without our kids always feeling like it’s the literal end of times? We’ve lowered our standards of living even more, let our children really lead us for once, and kicked perfection out the door. We’ve also turned mask-wearing into a semi-fun game (who knew that was even possible?), navigated our children’s reactions to social distancing with a lot of hugs and empathy, and let go of needing everything to be okay right now. 

Have you found that you are letting go of perfectionism during the pandemic? If so, in what ways?

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