Anticipate Imperfection In Yourself And In Others

Data is a funny thing.

I think that’s a helpful thing to keep in mind as a parent.

You might want to give 100% or be the best or most perfect parent you can be.

That’s a tricky thing.

I once worked in a job where I was a vendor at a lot of workshops. I was in marketing for a software company and the company sponsored many lecture series with gurus. I would be there to sell the supporting software. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the material, but I heard the same thing about 50 times over a few years. There was one speaker who would routinely say, “If you beat up numbers long enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear.”

I listened to him say that probably 100 times.

I don’t think at the time I thought much about it. It was part of his “pitch.”

But I have thought about it hundreds of times over the years when I realize that I’m beating myself up trying to match a standard that isn’t relevant or possible.

In my opinion, each of us is always giving 100% all the time.

It’s just that 100% isn’t the same result everyday.

One day you get everything on your to do list done and you’re nice to everybody. Maybe that feels like 100%.

The next day you scream at your partner because they crunch their cereal too loudly in the morning.

Then you feel bad about yourself for not being better. Maybe you feel like on that day you only gave 40% and you should have been able to give 100% But it’s not a realistic standard. You did what you could and that’s always 100%

Nobody can be perfect all the time.

It’s not realistic.

Most days of the year I get up and exercise in the morning for 60 minutes – maybe more. But when I’m sick…like if I have the flu or something. I am in bed. Probably sleeping ALL day. And on those days that sleeping is 100% of what I’ve got to give.

This is my issue with the majority of parenting courses and gurus. What they teach relies on the caregiver taking on the emotional responsibility to get things right all the time. That’s not possible.

They teach things like when your kid is having a tantrum take a deep breath and try and determine what need isn’t being met at that moment. It’s excellent advice that in my experience is unbelievably hard to execute when your toddler is melting down in the produce department of the grocery store and you need to get the veggies and get home and make dinner.

I’ll say it again, it’s not possible to be perfect all the time.

When I was a new stepmom I didn’t know anything about age-appropriate child development goals. Which is a nice way to say that I had fairly unrealistic expectations of how the kids should behave. I didn’t know. I created a fair bit of unhappiness for myself and the kids… and my husband.

Later as a new parent I was given the advice, “embrace the chaos.”

I hated that advice. I wanted things to operate on a routine and a schedule that did not change every day. I did not want to embrace chaos. But I did because I didn’t really have a choice. New baby chaos is like a tsunami. It takes over and there’s no way to outrun it or avoid it.

In my experience the shift here is to switch from looking for perfection, or excellence or extraordinary and expect imperfection and unpredictability.

If there is going to be imperfection or chaos how do I want to experience that?

Here’s an oversimplified example. The experts all say that children develop at different times. Some kids walk at 10 months others walk at 16 months So why do we get stressed when kids miss milestones? Because it’s scary. And also because we have an expectation that everything should go on schedule. But it never does.

You may not use the word perfection, you might be saying something like high standards or my expectations.

Pretty much every week I will have a conversation with another mom who is stressed about something going wrong or not going well with their kids of different ages. A lot of these conversations will be about did the mom respond in the right way.

I often share stories of ways that I did things probably in deeply imperfect ways. Because here’s the thing…I’m not perfect. No matter how much I know about families and kids and development and communication I’m still going to mess it up a lot of the time.

I’m human.

My husband also messes things up. We’ve been married 20 years and the other day he got me something for lunch that he thought I would like. He presented it very sweetly like here is this thing you love so much and I was like …hmmm… I don’t like these things that you got me. He said, “what do you mean… Yes you do.” I wasn’t mad or upset because I expected him to be imperfect and he is particularly imperfect in this area. He means well but it’s not his zone of genius.

For me if I expect the imperfect then when it shows up I’m not alarmed I’m like oh there it is just like I knew it would be.

Sometimes it’s easier to do this than others. We are often very forgiving of pets and small children and very tough on teenagers and ourselves.

In a complicated parenting situation, sometimes this will sound like: we have a difference in parenting styles. That often means that one person is expecting another person to meet a standard that’s important to them and they aren’t. It can be very frustrating.

Where might you hold out an unreasonable standard that is causing grief in your life?

Here’s the really insanely hard thing in this conversation…we are doing this to ourselves. Ugh I hate it when I do that.

What would happen if you simply accepted that it will sometimes be imperfect?

Are the kids not coming to the dinner table as fast as you’d like?

Are their manners at the table imperfect?

Are they telling you that they brushed their teeth and yet you know that they didn’t.

Maybe they tell you they did homework and you know that’s not quite the case either.

Maybe your partner has forgotten to get milk or chicken nuggets for the 9 thousandth time.

Or the ex is once again changing the schedule at the last minute.

Could all of these people do better? Of course.

Are they going to? Maybe and maybe not.

Which is why perfection is such a terrible target.

It’s never going to happen and it’s more important that focusing on the lack of perfection distracts you from doing what needs to be actually done.

So I suggest letting that go. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.

I remember years ago my brother wrecked a car. He was a teenager, a fairly new driver. He put it in a ditch on a country road. He was not hurt but the car was in a ditch. He called our mom who was nearby and she lectured him about many things. How upsetting it was and how he needed to drive slower and pay more attention. It’s highly possible that all of those things were true.

Eventually they hung up and he called our dad. I was with my dad when this happened. I was listening to one side of the conversation. My dad said, I’d love to help but I’m pretty far away did you call your mom.. And my brother said he had called mom first but she just yelled at him. So my dad said, okay well I think we need to get the car out of the ditch and then they talked about what the steps might be to do that. Then he called my mom and I think my dad got to hear the lecture again. I remember, he said something like, “I get it he made a mistake but right now you need to go and get him, he needs a ride home.”

In this example, my mom was focused on the mistake, the imperfection and that may have prevented her from doing what needed to be done. Growing up in the same family, this is the reason why when I made mistakes I always called my dad first. He wasn’t always happy about what I had done and he would tell me at some point but he was also pretty good about okay well what do you want to do next?

Being prepared in advance for imperfection hopefully allows you to shift to okay, this happened and now what are we going to do next.

Of course, there are times where you will not be willing to accept what is happening. That’s where boundaries come into place. I consider boundaries to be a fairly advanced skill and one of the big struggles people have with boundaries is if you try to put them in a place where the real issue is that there is an unreasonable expectation.

For example, my husband’s ex-wife is often late. This is a part of her personality and it doesn’t bother her at all. It did bother me. I remember I wanted my husband to tell her she needed to be on time. He just shrugged and said, “she already knows that.” Which is true, she did. So telling her over and over wouldn’t do anything to change it.

What helped was planning for the inconsistency, preparing for the imperfection. Then it was no longer a problem for us. If it was something super important where we really really needed to be on time we took additional precautions or whatever and we always knew she might be a little late. So it wasn’t upsetting or at least less upsetting.

That’s what I mean when I say anticipate the imperfection.

I have a friend who had a child who got night terrors a few nights a month. It was massively disruptive for the entire family. But the kid was not doing this on purpose. They worked with a doctor and eventually it went away. In the meantime there were some days where the whole family was pretty tired from being awakened during the night suddenly. I remember once I had plans with this person and they just called to cancel. He said, I’ve learned that sometimes after one of these nights we all just kind of need to take the next day off. This is anticipating the imperfection and adjusting for it.

I hope this helps.

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