By Chris Croll
”Sometimes is never quite enough, If you’re flawless, then you’ll win my love, Don’t forget to win first place, Don’t forget to keep that smile on your face.”
These are lyrics from Alanis Morissette’s song “Perfect,” which many of us rocked out to long before we ever became parents. Now that we are adults raising children, we might want to dust off our copy of her album, “Jagged Little Pill,” and take another listen to this song.
I believe these lyrics describe the crux of the issue around the spiking levels of anxiety we are seeing in children today. Many parents demand perfection from their kids—in academics, sports, hobbies and behavior. A lot of us over-monitor, over-program and over-protect our children. It’s hard to watch kids fail or experience the discomfort of defeat. Yet at the same time, we set the bar for them at “perfection” and we accept nothing less. We hope high expectations will motivate our children but, instead, our unrealistic expectations can make children feel like they can’t measure up.
Kids who feel inadequate can become anxious and depressed. Research shows that more children are anxious today than ever before. In fact, this trend has gotten so bad that psychologists are starting to refer to this period as, “the age of anxiety.” The question is, if we know setting the bar too high hurts our kids, why do we continue to do it? Morissette suggests it’s our own unrealized dreams that propel us to push our children so hard.
“I’ll live through you
I’ll make you what I never was
If you’re the best, then maybe so am I.”
In many cultures, craftspeople practice the art of deliberate imperfection where they incorporate flaws into their designs and handicrafts to demonstrate humility. In South America, hand-woven blankets include an errant stitch or a thread of a different color. In Japan, bowls are intentionally misshapen around the edges. Tightly embroidered patterns are broken on purpose on cotton shawls made in India and Pakistan. These artisans believe that imperfections reflect that the artisan is humble and aware of his or her own transience.
Even the builders of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, incorporated intentional architectural flaws into the structure’s design. The ceiling that arches over the main aisle of the cathedral does not meet at the center and the choir stalls along the nave of the church are slightly misaligned. These flaws were not accidental; they represent the belief by the architects of the church that only God is perfect.
So rather than striving for perfection for our kids, perhaps we should emphasize to our children the value of humility. Being of service to others, playing a supporting role on a team, being kind to the less fortunate…these are arguably more important traits for a child to learn than how to earn perfect grades, how to win first place and how to be the very best at everything they do.
Forget winning, stack ranking and flawless appearances. Our kids need us to embrace and accept them for who they are; beautifully imperfect human beings. Just like us. So, in a nod to the concept of deliberate imperfection, I’ve decided to leave any mistakes I made writing this column just the way they are are.
Chris Croll is a parenting consultant specializing in educating and raising gifted and twice-exceptional children. She leads the National Center for Gifted Services (NationalCenterforGiftedServices.com) and the nonprofit Loudoun County Parents of Gifted Students (LoCoPOGS.org).