How Working Parents Can Let Go of Perfectionism
An article by: HBR
When you’re juggling work and parenting, it’s inevitable that you’ll drop a ball periodically. You’ll chase someone down for information they already gave you. You’ll lose your child’s sun hat at the playground (or forget to bring it at all). Your child will ask you to make banana cupcakes for three months before you finally get around to it. Or you’ll read an email you need to reply to but promptly forget — and only remember when you’re awake at 3 am.
While these slip-ups happen for everyone, for perfectionists, these instances feel like an emotional bee sting. Mistakes provoke anxiety for perfectionists and shake their sense of identity. Memories of past mistakes can pop back into mind long after the fact, and this can leave the person feeling like they’re doing a terrible job in all their roles — at home and at work.
There are legitimate reasons working parents strive for perfection. When it comes to raising kids, the stakes feel very high, and perfection is culturally expected of parents. In the workplace, parents often feel pressure to demonstrate that they’re just as career driven as they were before they had kids. Those who’ve used perfectionism as a strategy for high performance and to feel in control can start to feel like their standards are impossible to maintain once they become parents, and this can cause tremendous anxiety.
While it’s commendable to want to excel to the highest extent possible (and show your boss and coworkers that you can), obsessing over mistakes can do more harm than good.
Mistakes have two types of consequences. First, there are the actual consequences. In reality, many mistakes have no consequences at all. For instance, you put your child in their car seat and forget to buckle them in. When you arrive home, you’re horrified to find the buckle unfastened. While this is certainly not a mistake you should repeat, ultimately you got home safely, and there were no immediate repercussions. The same might go for missing a deadline by a day or calling a fellow parent by the wrong name. When a mistake does have an objective consequence, it’s more likely it’ll be mild or moderate, like when you put off booking a flight and the price goes up. Major repercussions to common mistakes are few and far between.