Category Archives: Failure

29Sep/11

Family Project Update

Well, the chaos of the holidays and the start of school term have taken their toll on me, and I have to admit that I haven’t kept focussed on our Family Project as much as I’d hoped.

However, despite my lack of planning this month’s family activities, the concept of respect has been central in my thoughts, and has caused much relief, hope and despair.

The story goes like this:   For most of my parenting life, I have felt uneasy with the general parenting techniques that our society uses, namely the culture of reward and punishment, blaming and shaming, and the reliance on external motivation to mould children’s behaviour.

However,  I’m also not comfortable with the more permissive, liberal side of parenting either, where we let our children discover their own path, and put their needs first.  I do believe that we should teach our children certain ways of behaving, and for them to learn that there are consequences whenever and however we act. 

Add to that the recent realisation that I am a perfectionist who feels the need to be in control of everything – especially her children – you have a set of contraditions that are not likely to bring about a safe, nurturing, respectful environment for children to grow up in.  Instead you find a mother who is instinctively loving and nurturing but who on a day to day basis uses threats, blaming and shaming with her children (and herself) in the misguided belief that this what you have to do to instill proper values, principles and manners into her children.  But it doesn’t work. And because I’m a perfectionist, I blame myself (when I’m not blaming the children!) which makes the whole situation ten times worse.

So when our Family Project focussed on respect I ordered three new parenting books.  But I didn’t get what I expected.  Instead of learning new techniques to teach my children how to act with more respect, I was told what I already knew deep inside: that it was me who needed to learn to treat my children with respect, not the other way around. 

Cue relief (my instincts were right after all), hope (it will be ok when I’ve practiced this respect thing – it can’t be too hard, especially since it is in tune with my thinking) and then despair (it’s sooooooooooooo hard.  Habits are hard to change, and my children don’t respond in the same way that they do in the books). 

So our Family Project will be concentrating on respect for as long as it takes, and it will involve as much learning, and changing, from me and my husband as it will from our kids.  It’s tough, and will continue to be tough, but it feels right. For once I feel like I am living in line with my values.

11Apr/11

It doesn’t always have to feel good.

I’m not feeling very happy.  My day has not been a bad one, but it hasn’t been great either.  I worked hard on what I said I’d do but put far too much energy into making the ‘right’ decisions, and as a result I’m feeling restless and unsatisfied with my day.  I think the problem is that I can’t sit back, take a deep breathe and feel proud of today’s achievements.

A few months ago, I could easily have dived deep into a pool of self-indulgent despair, shouting at my children and being grumpy with my husband when he got home. But I’m proud to say that I haven’t done that today, because I’m trying to remember what I’ve learnt about perfectionists, namely that we expect every moment to be perfect and think that whenever we don’t feel wonderfully happy, then something is wrong with us, or the world. 

So while I’m not feeling great, I’m pleased that I’m not feeling awful, I’m trying to take on board the fact that I’ve had a good day, but that some things didn’t go well and that’s ok.  Bad days happen and that doesn’t mean that my life is way off track.

04Apr/11

Happiness = Acceptance

 

Carrying on from my Tibetan Monk  post, I want to say a bit more about acceptance because it is such an important element of overcoming perfectionism.

As I’ve said previously, the thing about perfectionism is that it makes you want to be something or someone else.  It makes you feel like you are not ‘good enough’ as you are.  You are constantly striving to become a ‘better person’ because only then will you be worthy of love and respect. 

But the only way to find real happiness is to start with who you are now, and accept yourself with all your imperfections.  Obviously that is easier said than done – and it’s even difficult to say, especially out loud.  I definitely struggle sometimes with accepting the concept myself. ‘But I don’t want to be like this so why should I accept it?’ (Because it causes you so much pain and unhappiness, Thea, that’s why!) I often use the subtitle of Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection as a reminder, because she phrases it in a way that makes sense to me, even when I’m in perfectionist mode. 

“Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.”

It reminds me when I put pressure on myself to do and achieve too much, and when I beat myself up for not achieving it, that I am trying to be the perfect person I think I’m supposed to be, rather than the wonderful, but imperfect, person that I already am. (I even find that difficult to write that last bit down in black and white, which shows that I’ve still got a way to go before I believe it completely.)

Think about what is really happening when you don’t accept yourself and don’t believe you are enough. You are rejecting yourself. And if you reject yourself (by rejecting your successes, your failures and your negative emotions) then essentially you are rejecting reality.  And you know what we call people who reject reality….

26Mar/11

Making the Perfect Choice

On Thursday, my daughter was upset. Nothing new in that, but it seemed to go on for longer than normal, and she was very reluctant to talk. The sun was shining, we were all enjoying the gorgeous spring weather….except she wanted to stay inside watching TV – which was very unlike her.

Finally, she accepted my offer to have a cuddle and chat, and it emerged that she hadn’t had a very nice time at school during Golden Time – the part of the day when they can choose what to do or play with. Her problem was, she couldn’t decide what she wanted to do. She walked around the playground on her own trying to decide what to play with. By the time she had chosen it was time to finish. ‘So I only got to tidy up’ she said, her face crumpling.

Whey-hey I thought, we’re on my territory. I know this. I’ve been there. So I told her that I too worry about making the right choice. And she admitted that, like me, she was sometimes scared about making the wrong choice, and ‘wasting’ her time. We talked about there being lots of right choices, and usually not many wrong ones or less good ones.

And then I got to the punchline. “And remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Life isn’t perfect, and we don’t really want it to be. So don’t worry about making the perfect choice, you’ll make a good choice and that’s OK.”

A few months ago, this encounter would have involved me asking about what things she could have chosen, and why she couldn’t choose, what to do next time, and it probably wouldn’t have got got us very far. Instead, she seems lighter after our sharing chat. I feel proud that I recognised the opportunity to start teaching her – at six – what I am only just learning myself.

14Mar/11

Because You’re Worth It.

Do you ever think you’ll feel better when…you’ve lost weight? written that book? earnt more money? got your dream job?

Ever wondered why you feel like this?

It’s because you don’t feel worthy enough already. Yes, Worthy Enough.  Do you think you are worthy enough already?

When I considered this question recently, my first thought was: ‘Of course I think I’m worthy enough already.’ My confidence and self-esteem goes up and down but generally I’ve always had a decent enough regard for myself.  It didn’t seem that feeling worthy enough was a problem for me.  Not having enough time to get all the things I wanted to get done seemed to be my problem.

I’d been reading ‘The Gifts of Imperfection‘ by Brene Brown and as I read on, I realised that perhaps I didn’t think I was as worthy as I thought I did. I began to ask myself the following questions:

  • If I believe I am worthy enough already why do I feel that my day is only successful if I ‘achieve’ things each day?
  • If I believe I am worthy enough already why do I feel I need to prove to people that I can be a successful businesswoman / coach / writer, not to mention a perfect mum?
  • If I believe I am worthy enough already why do I feel I have ‘failed’ at so many things?
  • If I believe I am worthy enough already why am I constantly striving to change myself?
  • If I believe I am worthy enough already why am I worried about what other people think of me?

Brown claims that the difference between people who live a wholehearted life (i.e. people who are truly happy) and those who don’t is their belief that they are enough, already.  In other words they don’t have to prove anything. Instead they are brave and open and vulnerable and connected and they believe they are worthy. She says:

“Here’s what’s truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Now I might be putting myself out on a limb here but that hit me hard. I realised for probably the first time in my life that perhaps this constant striving to improve myself and my life weren’t admirable qualities with a hint of perfectionism, but actually signs that I don’t think I am worth enough as I am. Do I think I have to change myself to be worthy?   Perhaps the reason that I never have enough time to do all the things I want to get done is because I want to prove too much?

What do you think? Can you relate to this idea?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please comment below. I want to know if it’s just me…

p.s. I know the photo at the top is too dark, but I’m fighting my perfectionist urges to redo it because I have lots of other stuff to do.  I am trying to be brave and allow myself (and my post) to be imperfect.

11Mar/11

Perfect Pancake Day – Creating Triumph from Disaster.

Ours did not look like this…

As millions of mums around the world know, it was Shrove Tuesday this week – aka Pancake Day.  Now, while I am not trying to be a Perfect Mum, I would not feel happy if we didn’t make pancakes in our house on Pancake Day (or at least one day this week).

So, feeling brave, my three children and I donned our aprons and started making our batter.  After arguing with my eldest over whether to double or triple the quantities of ingredients (I won, but he was right in the end) we shared out the weighing, pouring in, and mixing jobs evenly, and proceeded relatively conflict-free.  Soon, however we realised that we had very, and I mean very, lumpy batter.  I’ve made quite a few batches of pancakes in my life (some not even on Shrove Tuesday!) and I know that having lumps is really part of the process. In my kitchen at least.  But these lumps were massive, and probably because they contained half of the flour and egg, the rest of the mixture was really thin.

“Oh this is not good,” I try to say in a light-hearted tone.

We attempt to whisk, then squash the lumps out and it kind of works.  It’s  not smooth, but ok.  Then we melt the butter and add a bit to the batter.  Not only does the butter immediately go hard when making contact with the cold batter, but we realise it is orange.  We conclude that we used the pan that I had made a chorizo and tomato pasta sauce in a few days before, and someone – probably me – didn’t wash it up properly.

So we’ve got a thin mixture with big floury lumps and bright orange buttery lumps. We should give up and start again, but we’ve been through so much it seems right to soldier on.

“This is the worst mixture we’ve ever made” says my oldest, like he’s enjoying himself more because of it.

“Nevermind, it might still taste nice,” says my middle one, in a light-hearted tone.

“Yum, yum,” grins my youngest, licking the flour off the table.

We start the frying.  “Remember, the first one is always rubbish, ” I say.  And it is.  The mixture is so thin, and the frying pan so old and warped that the pancake has a big hole in the middle.  So we move to another pan, and sacrifice another rubbish one.  By now, I’m starting to get wound up.  I’m getting talked at from 3 angles, my youngest making the loudest ‘now’ demands, and everyone is getting too close to the hot cooker. But they manage to take turns pouring their mixture in, flipping over and then eating their own creations.

“Mmm, delicious.” “Yummy” “Can I have the last one?” “They were great, mum.”

We congratulate ourselves on saving our pancakes from disaster.  I congratulate myself at allowing the process to get crazy, chaotic and imperfect, and not losing it somewhere in the middle.  Not so many months ago, I might have given up, shouted, cried, and basically had a tantrum because it didn’t all run smoothly, and I couldn’t cope with the chaos and noise. I can’t say that will never happen again, but I’m proud of myself for letting go of the need to be in control, and of celebrating imperfection with my children.  Hopefully, they learnt a good lesson in failure and success, persevering, and basically enjoying the process.

Image by http://www.free-stockphotos.com

09Mar/11

Dear Mum, You don’t have to….

Jasmine's 'grumpy' picture

“Dear Mum, You don’t have to be grumpy. You can calm down when you want to. Remember you have a good husband and 3 children who can make you happy.”

Striving for perfection doesn’t mean your life is always on an upward trajectory.  It may motivate you to improve, and keep you focussed on trying to get better but paradoxically stops you achieving it. Aiming for perfection will often make you feel, perform and  behave worse because you are constantly disappointed by or scared of failing to reach the high standards you set for  yourself.

When my daughter gave me the picture – above – it brought home to me in all it’s innocence who I affect when I am so deeply disappointed in myself (and sometimes others).  Being annoyed with myself and grumpy with the world only hurts myself and the people around me who I love. It doesn’t help me improve. Instead it knocks the confidence, hope and motivation out of me. It makes me forget what a wonderful life and family I have, and that they love me being imperfect.  It’s a shame I needed a 6 year old to show me that.