For my birthday I wanted to go to the beach with Dave and Charlie, one of the less crowded beaches in a state park, untarnished by condos and beach bars.I thought that for once I had everything pretty well planned. I had a beach bag packed from the last time we went to the beach and I planned to keep things simple, no fancy picnic and just the bare minimum of what we’d need to have a good time.
I had things under control until we were ten minutes away from heading out the door. I couldn’t find our beach pass. I looked everywhere and with each minute that went by without finding it, I became more and more miserable.
The self-belittling refrain began – the one that tells me how I’m a mess, how I’m never going to raise a happy, competent kid if my own life isn’t in order. I try and try and it always ends up like this – me running around trying to find things at the last minute, stressed out and miserable.
I know that the solution to this problem is to put systems in place and stick with them and I’ll probably blog about that later, but this post is about the insidious danger of chronic perfectionism.
When I was a kid in elementary school, I compulsively checked my school bag in the morning at the house, in the car on the way to school, and then at school up until the homework assignment finally got turned in. I would check my bag it twenty or more times in a morning. Even so, I would occasionally forget things, and when I did, I was emotionally devastated.
I am on constant lookout for this behavior in Charlie, and if I see it I’ll head it off the best I can. I’m already a little worried about how quickly he gets frustrated when things don’t work for him. He’ll try some new mechanism such as buckling a belt and if it doesn’t do what he wants the first time, he reacts by screaming and throwing himself down on the ground to lie there flat with his red cheek pressed to the floor.
This is how I feel when I can’t find my car keys.
So what can I teach Charlie to make things easier for him, even while I’m still dealing with the same problems myself? First, that everything in life isn’t going to work immediately just how he wants it to and that his control over the world is limited. Then I’ll teach him how to put systems in place to maintain the limited amount of control he has. As he learns more and refines his systems, he’ll have more control and get more satisfaction out of life.
Heh, I just had to giggle at the idea of a toddler refining his systems. I guess that could lead to problems of its own.
Luckily, there seems to be a grace period, time for me to get my act together before Charlie starts picking up all my bad habits. We got to the beach for my birthday (paying full admission price) and I was a real grouch the rest of the day. I have a lot of bad habits to work on. I hope Charlie can be patient.