How the Light Gets in; Thoughts For My Perfectionist Child

By Jac

I see you there, crumpling up the paper when your crayon accidentally goes outside the lines. I see you struggling with your math homework, so frustrated because this doesn’t come as easily to you as the reading and the science, and that means you hate it. I hear you banging on the piano keys when a song is just too hard to learn. I hear you yelling at your little sister when she doesn’t play the game the way you think it needs to be played. You want to get it just right, don’t you? You want whatever you’re doing to be perfect, and you get so disappointed and annoyed when the vision in your head doesn’t match the reality. I know you, my love, and I know that it’s so frustrating for you when things don’t go right, when you are not living up to your own very high expectations for yourself. And I see how you feel such regret and sadness when you lose your temper and hurt someone else in the process.

I have news for you, though, and you may think it’s bad news. You’re not perfect and you never will be. At anything. Even if you master the piano piece you’re working on, there’s always going to be another one to frustrate you, and someone else who plays it better. Your pencil crayon will probably never exactly recreate what you’re picturing in your head, and if that’s what you’re aiming for you’re going to end up with a lot of balled-up paper on the floor beneath you. You can’t control your sister, and she’s always going to drive you crazy by scribbling all over the paper and playing every game wrong. I know that you’re probably always going to strive for perfection in anything you do, and I also know that this is often going to serve you well. It’s wonderful to have goals and to work hard to achieve them, and I’m so proud of you and already amazed at what you can accomplish. But this also means you’re going to struggle with being frustrated when imperfect things happen outside of your control. Because even the most skilled, highest achievers can’t control everything.

But guess what? I also have good news. Ready for it? You already know (or you’ve been told, anyway, even if you don’t believe it) that it’s okay to be less than perfect. But it’s more than that. Are you ready? Here it is: Life is better because you are not perfect. And you’ve already experienced this, if you think about it.

Think about your current best school friend, Emma. Remember how you met her and became friends? Your teacher put your desks next to each other because Emma needed extra help with reading and figuring out instructions, and your teacher thought you’d be a good person to help her out. And then the two of you learned that you had lots of other things in common, and like to laugh at the same things, and while you helped her with reading in class, she helped you braid your doll’s hair at recess. If Emma had been a perfect reader, and you’d been a perfect braider, you never would have connected.

One of my personal imperfections is kind of the opposite of yours. I’m not too worried if things aren’t perfect because I’d rather just get them done. This means that I can be sloppy, or commit to too many things and not do a very good job of any of them. I often have to rely on the people I love to pick up the pieces I can’t manage on my own, or to clean up messes I leave behind. But because I do this, I have made amazing friends who understand what I’m trying to do and forgive me when they have to pick up my pieces. That’s why you spend so much time at Jacob’s house, you see. Because his mommy is watching you again because I forgot to book a babysitter until it was too late.  I’m constantly having to apologize for this, especially to Daddy, and I will keep working hard to improve. But because of this imperfection, I have friends that I love and rely on so much that I really don’t know what I’d do without them, and they make my life better in so many ways every day. Our relationship is built on helping each other, which we wouldn’t need to do if we were all perfect.

You see? No one is perfect, but our imperfections bring us together. People work best and are happiest when they have other people to love and help and depend on, and if you were perfect, why would you need those people? You may want to play the piano perfectly, but isn’t it great that you have so many people who love you and comfort you and need you even when you make a big mistake? And who forgive you if you are rude to them because they are not doing exactly what you want? Our flaws give people the opportunity to get to know who we really are, and when people know the real us and love us anyway, we start to realize that our flaws don’t matter so much. If your imperfection is that you want to be perfect so badly that you get angry a lot, how can you let people in to help you and to love you anyway? The key is to be honest about your flaws, and forgiving of other people’s. Our flaws make us human, but vulnerability and honesty allow for the best human relationships, and we humans work best when we are in relationship with each other.

There’s a famous song lyric by Leonard Cohen that goes like this: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” We all have cracks, baby. Try not to worry so much about them. Instead, let’s focus on enjoying the light. 

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