Your Child Is A Perfectionist. And She Learned It From You

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I was sitting in the waiting area of my daughter’s dance studio, patiently waiting for the end of her class and eavesdropping on the parents and children around me. It’s a favorite past time of mine, listening to other parents deal with attitude or share an innocent conversation with their little one. Mothers and their daughters have the most amazingly dynamic relationship and I think it’s fun to observe.

Most commonly, I enjoy watching the way young girls mimic their mothers. Not just their actions, but their attitudes and mannerisms. It’s so much more than parroting back overused phrases. Young children mirror their parents. This is a great way to teach them complex lessons about morality and how to conduct oneself in public. Let them watch your behavior long enough and they’ll try to do the same things that you do.

Unfortunately, mirroring can teach children a whole lot more than common mores. It can also pass along our worst habits and character flaws. On this particular Monday evening, as I listened to a young girl, who looked to be about six or seven years old, I was shocked to hear a very adult tone come out of such a little child. She and her mom were digging through her dance bag, searching for a pair of ruffled socks to wear. The girl was holding a pair of plain, ankle-length white socks in her hand, but these were obviously not the ones that she wanted. Once her mother finally gave up and told her daughter that she must have forgotten the pair they wanted, the little girl exploded with frustration.

“You packed the bag today. I told you that I needed the ruffled socks. No one wears plain socks with their dance shoes, Mom. I can’t believe that you couldn’t even remember to get me the right socks.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This child was berating her mother in public. The woman didn’t chastise or rein in her little girl. She let the temper fizzle out and still gave her daughter a kiss on the forehead before she entered class. Then, in a move that seems written for a mediocre comedy sitcom, the mother picked up her cell phone and called what I assume to be an assistant. While I couldn’t hear both sides of the conversation, the woman was saying, “What do you mean he didn’t get the report? I specifically asked you to send this to him. I thought I gave very detailed instructions. Where was the problem?”

In said sitcom, everyone watching would have that, “Ohh, now I get it…” expression plastered across their face. We pass everything along to our children, good or bad. Once they get older, they can choose whether or not they enjoy following in our footsteps, but from early on we ingrain their psyche with our own behavior, and we need to be sure that we’re passing along traits that will help them later in life.

More and more, I’ve seen this particular mommy-trait filtering down in younger girls, especially. Women are asked to be perfect a lot of the time. We’re expected to balance between a successful work life and a nurturing, happy home. So many of us look at our children and their good behavior or accomplishments as shining examples of our wonderful mothering. After all, it’s hard not to feel proud when a teacher says, “They’re doing wonderful,” or when your little girl dances a solo at the school recital. Even those these are our children’s achievements, we mothers enjoy the reassurance that we’re doing a good job.

I think wanting to be proud of your children is healthy, but obsessing over creating perfect kids to reinforce your perfect reputation ends in little girls who berate moms over socks. That girl is used to hearing that mistakes are not acceptable. And until she’s old enough to learn that there’s another way to live (and maybe not even then), she’ll continue to get frustrated and upset every time things aren’t exactly how she expects them. Making a young girl obsess over being perfect just like her mommy? That’s nothing to be proud of.