Perfectionists present a unique conundrum: On the one hand, they tend to be arrogant and stubbornly resistant to ever admitting error (because of the whole I-should-always-be-perfect-so-I-deserve-death-if-I-am-ever-wrong complex), but then if they ever DO manage to admit they are wrong, they can take it too far . . . they can sink into an abyss of self-loathing that is tough to dig out of. When you see your kid descend into the I-am-awful abyss, you may be tempted never to parent them firmly again, lest you permanently damage their self-esteem . . . but that’s an overreaction. Gah! What’s a parent to do?
Perfectionist kids need two seemingly contradictory things from their parents: They need BOTH strong parenting (especially in helping them be humble—see Perfectionist Kids Part 1) AND heaping doses of grace. There can be NO DOG HOUSE for the perfectionist. Once they see that they’ve been wrong about something, help them to accept and feel forgiveness—from you, and from God. After they see that they’ve made a mistake, you may have to reassure them a hundred times (maybe even five hundred—no, I’m not kidding) that they are forgiven, and that you have moved on. They might bring up the mistake they made six months or a year from now, still feeling guilty about it, and worried that you are upset with them about it. Patiently and generously reassure them AGAIN (and again and again) that all is forgiven and forgotten. My dad must have told me a thousand times that being a Christian means I am “in grace”—this is a permanent state, not subject to the fluctuations of my imperfect performance.
Confusing? Yes. Will you show too much firmness sometimes, and too much tolerance at other times? Probably. Welcome to the world of the perfectionist. It’s tough to do this complicated personality justice in short posts, but I hope this will help get your thinking started, and get you into some productive conversations with wise parents who know your kids personally and can help you navigate the difficult terrain of their hearts.
But it can be done. I’m a perfectionist, and aside from some obsessive-compulsive laundry-folding behavior, most of the time, I’m sort of normal. Wait. Was that prideful? Now I feel guilty.
Want a great scripture to share with perfectionist kids, to help them better understand God’s love for them? Click here for a short devotional, “Guess Who Thinks You’re Awesome.”