Getting Past the ‘Pressure to Be Perfect’ Trap
“We don’t want perfect moms. My mom was the perfect child and she expects me to be perfect. She doesn’t bend. It has to be her way. As hard as I try to please her,
I feel unworthy.”
Jenny said this last week in our session. She felt her mom was always on her back. Jenny was super stressed out with school and her mom.
Let me tell you about Jenny. She is 16 and a junior at a large public school. She is in the IB Program and makes mostly A’s and a few B’s. She is extremely gifted in sports and has good friends. She doesn’t “party” by abusing alcohol and doing drugs. This is an amazing girl.
How can she feel unworthy?
Now I am not going to blame mom. Moms already get blamed way too much.
I am going to blame the culture. There is more pressure than ever before on our daughters.
Our daughters feel pressured to look perfect. Their hair has to be perfect. They need to have the right clothes. They have to be the perfect weight. This is why it takes them forever to get ready and it’s hard to pry them away from the mirror.
Our daughters feel pressured to make perfect grades and perform at the top of their class. It doesn’t matter if they are making A’s, B’s or C’s they feel the same level of pressure. It never feels like enough. They always feel like they can do better. Someone out there is out-ranking them which results in them discounting what they have accomplished.
This pressure affects friendships. Your daughter’s friendships are defined by who is more successful or less successful. She is aware of this all the time. She is skinnier than me. She dances better than me. She makes perfect grades.
I call this the “Pressure to Be Perfect” trap.
And mothers, we can fall into the same trap. We feel the pressure to be perfect. We want to be the perfect mother, wife, and friend. We want to have our house look perfect. We would love our bodies to be perfect. We want to be successful at work.
This affects our friendships with other moms. We are aware of who has the cooler home, who looks younger and is in better shape, who is more successful, who is more involved, and who is the “I’m on top of everything” perfect mom. We go through our days comparing ourselves with others.
We fall into the “Pressure to Be Perfect” trap.
It’s a trap because ‘perfect’ was never meant to be the goal. Perfectionism kills joy, love, belonging and compassion. It kills all the good things. Bottom line the “Pressure to Be Perfect” will keep you from enjoying your life and your daughter.
Underneath the “Pressure to Be Perfect” is the FEAR of what might happen to you or your daughter, if you are not perfect.
Let’s go back to Jenny. The “Pressure to Be Perfect” impacted both Jenny and her mom. Her mom wanted Jenny to get into the best college. Jenny wanted the same thing. When Jenny’s grades dropped in 2 classes her mom panicked. She was afraid this would impact her future and Jenny worried about the same thing. Jenny’s worry was so significant that it impacted her ability to study efficiently.
This started a downward cycle with Jenny and her mom. Because of moms fear she started to micro-manage Jenny’s study habits. Jenny felt her mom was pressuring her to be perfect. Her mother would say one thing and both of them would lose it.
6 Ways for Moms to Help Their Daughters though the “Pressure to Be Perfect” Trap
1. Focus on where she is successful
Perfectionism hyper-focuses on where your daughter falls short. Shift your focus to where your daughter is successful. Instead of pointing out where she is failing, encourage her with what she is doing right.
2. Stay calm
What are you afraid of for your daughter? Are you afraid for her future? Calm your fears down before you talk to your daughter. If you need to, call a friend.
Know that both you and your daughter are under lots of pressure. Decide that you will stay calm when you are talking with your daughter, no matter what your daughter’s reaction is.
3. Maintain connection
Create the “No Pressure” zone. Allow for 30 minutes a day for you and your daughter to enjoy each other without pressure to get anything accomplished. This is time to catch up, be silly and enjoy the dog. This will strengthen your relationship.
She needs to know that you love her and enjoy her just the way she is.
4. Share one imperfect story
I remember a very successful business man share his imperfect story with Laura his teenage daughter. Laura worshipped her dad. She stressed about her grades and felt like she was letting her dad down. Her dad told her that he made a D on and English paper in High School. Laura started to smile and you could see the pressure lifting. She thought, “If my dad can make a D and he’s successful, then I will be ok.” Laura was able to get rid of the pressure and her grades improved.
***Be careful what you share. Don’t share stories that can give your daughter permission to act out. Example: If my mom did drugs then I can.
5. Be flexible, allow mistakes
You want your daughter to make mistakes at home and not at college. At some point your daughter needs to take on more responsibility. This is hard for moms. We don’t want our daughters to fail. You see your daughters studying while watching YouTube and texting. You know she is not studying efficiently.
Let your daughter discover her own way even if you know it’s not efficient. She will figure out what works and doesn’t and then you can step in and give direction.
6. Encourage her best
Frequently moms will say, “I just want you to do your best.” This still can be perceived by your daughter as pressure. The message she hears is “This is what my mom wants and I am not measuring up.” We are dealing with her concrete thinking.
Here is the key. You want to encourage her to do her best. She needs to be encouraged not pushed. She needs to feel she can do it. Many times your daughter gives up because she doesn’t feel it’s possible. Or she gives up because you are mad at her.
She needs to feel your approval. One way to do this is to give her credit for any small achievement. I can see you are trying. You really worked hard last night on your paper.
After she feels your approval, you can offer your help or other resources. You really worked hard last night. I know you had to stay up really late. If you need help with time management I would love to help or we could find someone else.
This week ask your daughter where she feels pressure and if she feels the “pressure to be perfect”?
I would love to know what she says.