Perfection is something I will never expect from my kids. They're at the young ages of 4 and 6, and I'm already letting them know that. You see, my son often acts like the stereotypical firstborn. He's typically a rule-follower — especially with the teachers. (Well, anyone but Mom, right?) He likes meeting the expectations of adults and truly hates disappointing anyone. While all of this sounds fine and dandy, it's not all rainbows and butterflies. I can already see that trying to succeed — at everything and all of the time — gets stressful on him. And my husband and I in no way put that on him. I was far from perfect as a kid. As a free spirit, the thought of actually trying to be perfect never even crossed my mind.
It will never be about perfection, but more about doing your best, staying humble, and being kind.
So when I see my son come home from school at times talking about how fast he took his math quiz and how great he did on it, I obviously applaud him for that. But I believe it's equally important to tell him that I never expect perfection from him. Before his first-grade conferences this school year, I interrupted him while he was playing Legos on the carpet. I sat down next to him and looked him in the eyes when I said, "Drew, I want you to know that Dad and I never, EVER expect you to get a perfect report card."
He stopped playing with his Legos for a second and said, "Oh, I know that, Mom!" With a wave of his hand and good old-fashioned eye roll, he dismissed me for even thinking such a thing. However, I'm glad that I'm starting this conversation at a young age with him.
And I need to make it a conscious effort to continue to reiterate that to him as he grows older. Because I have seen what too much pressure looks like — I used to be a high-school English teacher. These high-school kids are not only burnt out with the stress to succeed, but they are also being bombarded by all directions of their life. Teenagers think colleges expect perfection (and let's be honest, some of them do), so the only way to get into these schools is to earn perfect grades all of the time WHILE doing all of the things. It is ridiculous.
When I taught at a college preparatory school, students would come to my office stressed out and trembling, young men and women alike. They shared the same stories. They didn't want to earn a B on their chem test, they didn't want to miss a lacrosse practice, and they didn't want to skip their choir concert for the lacrosse game, either. Their voices would quake, and tears would spill down their cheeks. They felt so much pressure from everyone around them that the thought of enjoying their childhood was not even on their radar. They didn't want to disappoint a single person but could disappoint themselves all day long.
So I'm going to tell my own children what I told my students: "Breathe. Perfect scores do not validate your worth. Getting into an Ivy League school does not validate your worth either." Of course, I will urge my children to do their best. But I refuse to compromise their mental (and physical) health for the sake of perfection. No way. Not in my house. Not happening. If my kids pull Bs and act like quality human beings who help others, I'll be thrilled. If they go out of their way to volunteer at a soup kitchen or shovel the neighbor's driveway, even better. Because in our house, it will never be about perfection, but more about doing your best, staying humble, and being kind. Never about perfection.