How many times have you wanted to invite someone over but chose not to because you didn’t think your home was up to snuff for entertaining? How often do you prepare a “fun” activity for your kids only to miss the boat and get upset when it doesn’t turn out exactly as you had planned? How many everyday moments of spontaneous fun do you fail to enjoy with your family because you are trying so hard to keep your house clean or finish your to-do list? If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, you may be a suffering perfectionist, and you are not alone. (Like, really not alone.)
I am what I like to call a frustrated perfectionist. Maybe a more accurate description is a recovering perfectionist since I have made great strides to overcome that frustrated feeling that comes with being a mother as well as a perfectionist. (You would believe me if you saw the general condition of my house on most days.) When I talk about perfectionism, I really do know of what I speak. And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that perfectionism is the ultimate fun killer!
The good news is, I firmly believe most perfectionistic moms can overcome their persnickety ways and become that “fun” mom they always thought they would be. I am living proof. Just last night I amazed myself by playfully giggling with my 5-year-old in her bed despite the ginormous mess surrounding us. And the night before that I totally rolled with it when my son started a “sock war” using all the freshly folded sock pairs on my bedroom floor. I could hardly believe I wasn’t going into my usual “knock that off, it’s time for bed” routine. And you know what? It was actually a nice little stress-release for me too after a long day.
The fact is, I’m getting just old enough now that I could really care less about being perfect. I just want to be happy, and having fun with my family is one really good way to get there.
In fact, I think we could all use a little more fun these days. Between the end-of-life-as-we-know-it predictions swirling around the elections in America, economic troubles brewing worldwide, and the daily pressure to help our children keep up with the ever increasing demands of a modern world, having a little (or a lot) more fun might be just the thing we all need to keep ourselves and our families strong and vibrant.
In my own quest to raise responsible, hard-working children who have plenty of opportunities to develop their God-given talents, I can get wound up pretty tight. For example, two of my children are in a gifted program this year. While it’s a fantastic opportunity for them, and they are having a great experience, it is requiring a lot of them (and their parents!) when it comes to homework and projects. As a result, I’ve learned over the last few months that it’s not just OK but it’s a really good idea to look for opportunities to blow off steam by having a good time. Joining rather than squashing an evening sock war is just one example. Turning a blind eye to some of the accumulated messes around the house until we can all work at it together over the weekend is another.
So now that we’re all agreed that having fun with our families is always a good idea, and because I know I’m speaking to the perfectionists in the room, following is a list of three ideas to help you overcome the fun-killing perfectionist in you:
- Stop waiting for “when.” Going back to the beginning of this post, don’t wait to have fun “when” you have more money to go on that dream trip to Disneyland, or “when” you have a house big enough for an arts and crafts area, or “when” your kids get a little older and it won’t be such a messy pain to invite people over for dinner and games. Choose to have fun today. Live like a tourist in your own town, let the kids take over the kitchen for an arts and crafts day and order pizza for dinner, and please invite that fun couple or family over for dessert and games even though you don’t have enough matching dishes, you aren’t the world’s most impressive cook, and your kitchen table has to be covered with a table cloth because it looks so bad. (That would be my kitchen table.) Stop waiting for some magical day when you are really ready to live a fun and joyful life and start living it today. (I have never regretted choices like this. Ever!)
- Bag the expectations. Plan a fun activity for your family (at home or out and about), and then let go of your expectations entirely. Don’t stress out about color coordinating your children’s clothing for possible pictures at the the pumpkin patch (unless that’s fun for everyone), don’t obsess about keeping the kitchen clean if you’re planning to make sugar cookies with the kids, and definitely don’t try to dictate how your kids enjoy themselves based on your own childhood experiences or how you want them to react. Just sit back, see where it goes and enjoy the ride. If you’re open to following your children’s lead, you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!
- Remember that the fun is in the journey, not the destination. Yes, I know what a cliche this is, but it’s because it’s so stinkin’ true! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve taken our kids on a beautiful hike and either my husband or me will catch ourselves hurrying the kids along as if getting to the “end” is the point. That way of thinking is so counter intuitive to children! They are constantly stopping to smell the proverbial roses (which can be maddening, but a good lesson at the same time). Think back to when you were a child. Why was everything so much fun? Because you were living in the moment with everything you had.That’s why kids are always so disappointed when you tell them it’s time to go: They never even considered there was an end point!
So as we lunge head first into this “fun” holiday season, let’s all try to remember that’s the point: to have fun with our families while creating lasting memories that bind us together. (Note: That doesn’t happen when we’re screaming at them to keep their shirts clean.) Having fun really is the glue that makes all those special holiday traditions and activities stick, so if you’ve been looking for a way to get over your perfectionism, I can think of no better way than by indulging in some chaotic, messy fun with your perfectly imperfect children.
QUESTION: Does your perfectionism get in the way of you being able to have fun with your family? What do you do about it?
CHALLENGE: Stop waiting for “when,” bag the expectations, and remember that the fun is in the journey, not the destination.