I love you. You are perfect.” I say to my daughter in order to pacify her whenever she was overwhelmed. I say these words all the time. They are a clumsily expressed sentiment intended to make my daughter know she is loved exactly how she is, that i do not see flaws, that in my eyes, she is Mona Lisa, a Mozart…quite simply, a masterpiece. But recently as I witnessed her in a moment of genuine self-loathing and realised that my expression of love had become a burden.
My daughter came to me in tears, and said, “I’m not who you think I am.You think I’m perfect, but I’m not. You don’t know the things in my head or the things I sometimes do.” Of course I was alarmed—what monstrous things was she doing?—but it turned out the “things in her head” were simple moments of pettiness that we are all guilty of. The “things she sometimes does” were minor interactions with other children when she was probably not her best version of herself. But in her mind, these moments of humanity had become bigger than they were.
What really worried me though was that she thought my love was contingent on her perfection. That she had” to be perfect to be perfect to me.
Our expectations of our children’s psychological abilities, even more than of their physical abilities, are typically much too high. We consistently overestimate their self-control, ability to persevere and stay on task, consistency of performance, and social ability. It’s normal for a 2-year-old to get bent out of shape if he doesn’t get something he wants; it’s normal for a 3-year-old to lose it if there’s an unexpected change in the bedtime routine; it’s normal for a 6-year-old to fail to sustain focus on a baseball game, to pursue one fly ball with steely purpose and to let the next fall untouched in the grass because he’s daydreaming.
When a child doesn’t perform according to expectations, the parent’s stress level rises. Changes occur in the parent’s behaviour—extra doses of impatient body language and insistent harshness in the voice, for instance—which become setting events for deviant behaviour by the child. When you bear down harder, in other words, you increase the likelihood that your child will escape and avoid your authority, which will inspire you to bear down even harder, and so on. The spiral of escalation twists up and up, sometimes to the point that a parent loses it and ends up doing something normally unthinkable.
When we enforce unreasonable expectations, we put stress on our
children, who respond by avoiding, escaping, and becoming irritable. Ironically, that puts them off whatever activity, skill, or virtue we’re trying to inculcate, making it aversive rather than attractive. I don’t think parents know what pressure can do to their children.
Mankind was not made perfect and was not made to be perfect but why do we parents expect our children to be perfect? We need to realise being perfect is just too ‘imperfect’.
By expecting our children to be perfect, we make them “PERFECTLY IMPERFECT!!