Was your parent one who asked, when you brought home an A-, “Why didn’t you get an A?” So many adults have a version of this tale to share. They have never forgotten it, twenty or thirty years later.
Most children really do want their parents to be proud of them, proud for a variety of reasons. While we don’t actually remember the many times that they were, it is the composite of all those moments that contribute to the child feeling significant in his parents’ eyes. This is just one of the ways that a child feels connected to his parents. But how well children remember the times when their parents are not proud. Being disappointed in your child, communicating that he hasn’t met your expectations is powerful stuff. And it becomes etched in his psyche forever. As such it should be the exception, not the rule.
Like wild fire, the Wall Street Journal article Why Chinese Mother’s Are Superior by Amy Chua flew through cyberspace last week. I was sent this article by many clients, each of whom was eager for my reaction. Frankly, I got pretty sick of talking about it in my parenting groups, with individual clients, at the gym, and wherever I went. I saw Amy Chua on The Today Show, on CNN, everywhere. Enough!
Then today as I was preparing a presentation on The Plague of Perfectionism, I realized that so many of my perfectionism caveats hit the nail on Tiger Mom’s head. I had to respond.
Here are just some of the characteristics of people who suffer from perfectionism:
- Have exceptionally high expectations and goals for themselves and condemn themselves when they don’t achieve them.
- Have anxiety about making mistakes
- Are highly sensitive to criticism
- Have trouble making decisions
- Avoid trying new things for fear of failure
- Procrastinate or leave work unfinished out of fear it won’t be good enough.
- Focus on their mistakes, rather than on what they did well.
The similarities between children who are perfectionistic and children who have been raised in the dens similar to the Tiger Mom’s are undeniable. Stories abound of those raised with such pressure and stress who crashed and burned as teens, who ran in the other direction as soon as they left home, or who reached adulthood incapable of achieving without the structure or motivation provided by their parents (or another adult.) These are children who grow up to have little sense of their success being of their own making. They were doing what they groomed to do, following someone else’s dreams.
Of course there are those who make it, who experience the success prescribed by their parents. But at what price? Growing up is a journey, a long, wild, and wonderful journey. It can be a full quarter or third of a person’s life. Should it be filled with unrelenting efforts to achieve, with pressure and stress and a constant drone of work, achieve, perform, strive, climb, more, more, more?
The pathway of childhood should be cobbled with so many things—the acquisition of skills and tools to be used in future learning, with experiences of all kinds, with joy and happiness and adventure. Along the way, children will cultivate the values and characteristics promoted in their homes. Children need the freedom to explore and find their own pathways. Growing up is not a forced march.