As a perfectionist in recovery, there are no 12 steps in my program. It was developed while managing the challenges of parenting complex children, and founded on the tenet that failure is as excellent a teacher as success.
In my home, growing up, I did not believe that failure was an option, so avoidance of failure directed my decision-making. I limited my opportunities so I could excel, and learned not to try anything I didn’t do well.
While that’s not a problem in and of itself — after all, I teach parents to take a strength-based approach to life with complex kids — I let fear of striking out prevent me from playing games I wanted to play.
I would likely have continued on that course, unchanged, had I not been gifted with a child challenged by the complexities of life and learning. Her path was destined to take a different course than mine. It has been my greatest teacher, despite my initial reluctance to be its student.
For years, I fought it. I danced around the edges of her challenges, buying support services in the form of therapies, trying to assure that she would one day fit into my idea of what it meant for a “smart kid” to be successful.
No matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t right for her. The more I pushed, the more it felt like I was dragging her, kicking and screaming, to her own success. And the more I had to come to terms with my own “failure” to raise a carbon copy of myself.
At some point, when she was in early elementary, I learned the most powerful lesson of my life: to be the best parent I could be for her, I had to let go of trying to keep up with other people’s definitions of success.
Parenting a kid with complicated issues is like walking onto a tightrope, watching as your safety net is removed, feeling compelled to continue on without a net, uncertain that there will be a safe landing on the other side.
It’s not like you really have a choice. You’re out there on the wire: committed, terrified, feeling simultaneously responsible and irresponsible. The crowd is watching.
Your confidence disappeared with the net. Before it was removed, you were sure you were on the right path. Now, you are all alone. Your child is on your shoulders. The only safety net for your child is you. And you have a decision to make.
Your job is to figure out how to get her down safely. It may not be graceful. You may not finish the walk across the wire. You may call the fire department and make a public spectacle of yourself.
In the middle of that wire, you must re-define success, make decisions, and take bold action.
That is the essence of parenting special needs kids – to recognize, embrace, and accept what it is to be human. Instead of holding tight to some ideal notion of how it should be, we must be flexible and respond to what life offers.
As parents, when we accept our kids for who they are, and empower them to embrace and understand themselves, we serve them best. We must shed our outdated notions of perfectionism that leave them feeling broken and worthless.
The time has come for us to re-define what success looks like in this modern world. It means that we must re-negotiate our relationship with perfectionism, and re-acquaint ourselves with new ideals of excellence.
Ultimately, re-defining success means setting our own expectations, rather than looking to the outside world to define them for us. In this day and age, it means…
lightening up on things that just don’t matter
being selective on when to push for excellence
embracing good-enough when that is truly good enough
letting go of unhelpful obligations
focusing on what is important, instead of assuming everything is
So, I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Every day I make the effort to re-define success in terms that make sense for my family, and myself.
I remind my husband that a 90 is still an A when he judges his own performance too harshly
I encourage my dyslexic daughter to be thrilled with a B on a Lit paper
And I own my mistakes vocally, and forgive myself…a lot
THAT’s what I call success!
Elaine Taylor-Klaus and Diane Dempster, founders of ImpactADHD.com, teach/write about practical strategies to parents of “complex” kids with ADHD and related challenges. To help your kids find the motivation to get anything done, download their free parent’s guide, The Parent’s Guide to Motivating Your Complex Child.
This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.