Progress over Perfection

With Kids, Focus On Progress Over Perfection

We want our kids to succeed in life. That seems reasonable and loving. But the way we encourage them to get to that success may be unreasonable and unrealistic and do more harm than good. We want our kids to have straight As in school, get accepted to best colleges, be on the teams that win and be popular. We want our kids to get noticed by their teachers, be the most valuable player or performer and be someone we can talk about to our friends about.

First, we have to ask, who do we really want this for – is it more about us than them? And, are our expectations so significant that we overwhelm our kids with activities, tutors, special training and practices, experts that fill their lives and make them think perfection and achievement is the only way ahead?

I hosted a career program for a class of students at an affluent private high school in my city. The reason for hosting this program is one of the professionals at the school saw how overwhelmed and pressured the students were to do what it took to get into prestigious colleges – it was all that their parents (and therefore they) talked about. These students were strung out on caffeine drinks, studying for 6 or more hours a night, enrolled in advanced placement courses, busy all weekend in community service projects, taking music lessons and playing sports – all to look amazing to their Ivy League college admissions departments.  They openly shared that they were panicking about whether their grades were high enough, were involved in enough activities and if they were living up to their parents’ expectations. “Be the best – it is the only way ahead,” I remember hearing one parent tell their son as he arrived to the program. Many of these kids were ready to explode.

Getting pushed to the brink

Are we pushing our kids so hard because of our fears and our expectations that we make their lives unhappy? Are we pushing them into our definition of a successful life and forget that there is more to life than what school you go to, what job you have and how much money you make?

It is important to remember that each of us, particularly our kids, are a work-in-progress. They are figuring themselves out and how they fit into life – this takes time and is loaded with starts and stops, mistakes and learning. Pushing harder and harder to achieve more and better just wears our kids. “Perfection,” as mindfulness author Rachel Remen shares, “is the boobie prize in life.” It has us focus on an unrealistic standard that burns our kids out and makes them feel pressured, unsuccessful and unhappy.

A better way is to watch and acknowledge progress – progress in self-awareness, progress in making quality decisions, progress in showing up responsibly to their lives, progress in learning to be happy. Small consistent reasonable steps can yield some terrific long term results without all the added pressure of being the best.

Are you a high pressure parent – a Tiger Mom?

Consider these questions:

  1. Do you script your kid’s life with activities and required achievements and get upset when they do not perform?
  2. Do you find more wrong with your kids than right with them – your commentary and feedback is more about what’s missing and lacking instead of what’s present?
  3. Do you use others’ perspectives guide you in to what your kids should be doing and achieving instead of connecting to what is meaningful and important for your kid?
  4. Are you more concerned with impressing others with your child’s accomplishments than by allowing your child to have input in making meaningful personal choices?

The solution to all of these is to first stop and notice. Do you do these? Then, notice the impact on your child. Does this raise the quality of their lives or lower it? Kids develop in their own time and in their own way. What if you pushed and directed less and questioned and communicated more? What might you fight out about who they are and what they want in their lives.

It is indeed a great thing to have goals – and some ‘reach’ goals are great. But if your son or daughter truly feels that life is terrible because of the pressure to constantly achieve, perform or be the best, tune in. This is a signal that things need to change, and you are the best one to help bring about this change. Care more about their happiness and health than awards and achievement.