Practice Makes Perfect

Do you have a perfectionist in your family?

My oldest has high expectations of himself. He always has since he was small. In his mind, he should know how to do something expertly even if he has little to no experience with it. Make a goal on every play, ace a new math assignment, get to high levels the first time playing a new video game. He’s disappointment and frustration that things ‘don’t come easily’ is hard for him.

I’ve often wondered where this came from. My husband and I have never pushed either of our boys to be perfect. We have asked them to put in effort, try their best, and not to give up when improvement is needed. Yet, my son’s expectations of himself remain the same.

My husband recently alerted me to what might be a contributing factor. “Have you ever noticed on TV or in the movies how easy new things always seem to be?” he asked, “Take Luke Skywalker, for example. They find him on a remote planet and before you know it, he’s flying a X-wing fighter with enough precision that he hits his target and blows up the Death Star on practically his first try. You never see Luke struggle to learn to fly. He’s just good at it. You never see him put in the work.” Of course, I could point out that we see Luke struggle to become a Jedi, but that is besides the point. My husband was onto something, rarely does effort get the lead in the storyline unless the payoff is big in the end (win the game, gold medal, blow up the Death Star). Struggle and the gift it gives in helping you better understand yourself and what you’re capable of isn’t always easy to see or appreciate.

I find myself having more compassion for my son (vs. concern) over his desire to always achieve peak performance. I plan to use the example my husband shared with me with my son. Maybe it will resonate with him, maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, I’ll have to practice what examples I’ll use on him next. After all, practice makes perfect, right?

How are you helping your child when they have high expectations of themselves? How are you helping them understand (appreciate?) the gift of practice?

I’ll be off for a bit to enjoy Spring Break and will be back in a few weeks.

The Joy of Giving

What is your child hoping Santa will bring them for Christmas?

We are turning a corner in my family. My kids have reached the age where Santa doesn’t have quite the mystic that he once did. Regardless, both my sons came up with their wish lists for Christmas right around Thanksgiving. My youngest put some pretty extravagant Lego sets on his list (it always kills me that Lego sells sets that go for upwards of $499 — I’m looking at you Death Star). We told our son that he might have to save up some gift cards to get the sets that he’d like, and asked what else he might like. He came up with a few more ideas and we thought we’d solved the problem. A few days later our son, unprompted said, “Mom and Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want anything for Christmas.” In shock I responded, “What? Why are you saying that?” I knew he was disappointed that he likely wouldn’t have his desired Lego set under the tree, but thought, based on his suggestions, we’d get him the other gifts he suggested. “Is this because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be able to get you the Lego set you want?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “I just don’t want anything.” I was in a bit of shock and denial, he couldn’t really want nothing for Christmas, right? I decided to end the conversation, because it was clear his mind had been made up.

After a few days, I asked my son again, “What would you like for Christmas?” He said, “I already told you, nothing.” “But I don’t understand why,” I implored, “what changed?” My son didn’t understand my concern, and I couldn’t blame him. As a parent, I am overly sensitive to these milestones that keep speeding by. He’s outgrown Santa and the magic of believing in him — that was a big bummer for me, and now to see him no longer care about what he got makes him seem too grown up. I’m not ready for it! But, of course, it’s not about me and my wants, it’s about my son and what he wants. I have to come to terms, once again, that my son is going to continue to grow and mature and I need to not project my wants and desires on him.

While my son’s interest in receiving gifts has waned, he has taken a notice in giving trees, where you select a name from the tree and buy the desired gift(s) the person wants or needs. I’ve always enjoyed selecting names off these trees — they normally have one up at his after-school program, there’s one in our church and another at work. If it were up to my son, we’d take every name off every tree. I can appreciate his desire to want to help everyone. As he was picking a person’s request off the tree he commented, “I can’t wait to get this person what they need.” I love his empathetic and giving spirit and how much he wants to share with others. I said, “You know I learned when I was a bit older than you that it felt much better giving than receiving, and I’ve felt that way ever since” He looked up at me and smiled. I could see he too was understanding the joy of giving.

My son will have presents on Christmas morning to open, but not because I want to force my wants and needs on him, but because I too want to share in the joy of giving. I’ll explain to him that seeing his smile brings me as much joy as it does when he gives someone something they want or need — and that the joy of giving can happen anywhere and between anyone — family and strangers alike.

What brings you and your child joy during this holiday season?