The Perfectionist Parent

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By the time her third child came along, those habits were a distant memory. Torpey remembers the nights when her youngest daughter was an infant and she struggled to make it through the hours between when the babysitter left and her children went to bed (her husband usually arrived home after her children's bedtime). "I'd be nursing the baby, my oldest child would be throwing a tantrum, the other would be crying, and there'd be a mess somewhere. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it."

That's when she knew she had to either give up the perfectionism or go crazy. "If I'd kept it up, my head would have exploded," she says. "I physically didn't have any time or energy left." So some nights she went to bed immediately after her children. She didn't pick up the messes around the house. She didn't do her sit-ups. Her children didn't get as much Mozart or developmentally appropriate stimulation as the books advised. But Torpey has no doubt that this was all for the best.

"Once you've given up on the idea of being so perfect all the time, you're a little happier and the kids are a little happier," she says. "You realize that the shortcuts you took are worth taking all the time, except on special occasions." Then she adds, laughing, that for her youngest child's most recent birthday, she served not only a sugar-filled cake but one that was also "somebody's leftover cake."

Happier parents, happier kids

Interestingly, Dr. Stein describes having children as an opportunity to move beyond perfectionism. "For parents who are stuck, children provide a chance to grow," he says. "They can be your way out of that phase of believing you can do everything perfectly." And how will kids react when parents stop trying to control themselves and their children all the time? They'll have a chance to simply be who they are, says Wineman-Marcus. And they'll also have more self-confidence, not only because they see that their parents are more satisfied with them but because being allowed to make their own decisions shows that they're trusted -- a major key to self-esteem.

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