The other day, Madeline got off the bus looking disappointed. “Mommy, I didn’t get a hundred on my spelling test”, she sadly confessed. She had a perfect record, five for five, on her spelling tests so far this school year and she (and admittedly i) was quite proud of that. I knew there was a chance that she might have tarnished her record last week because she (and admittedly I) forgot to study her words the night before and the morning of the test as we always do. The test was on a Friday which was also a half day at school. I guess I pretty much just write those days off, like they’re not really school days, just a massive play date for a few hours. The test never crossed my mind.
“Yeah, I know, we forgot to study last week. So what did you get?”
“I got a 94. I got one wrong.”
I went to give her a high five and she seemed a bit confused, like she didn’t deserve it.
“Honey, you certainly don’t have to be perfect every time. A 94 is awesome.”
“I know, but I wanted to be perfect on all my tests.”
I realize I’m walking a fine line here. I want her to have high expectations for herself, but I don’t want her to strive for perfection so much so that she is actually disappointed when she falls short. I watched my mother struggle her whole life with unrealistic expectations for herself and others (mostly herself). I heard tales of her sometimes difficult childhood with a father who demanded perfection and belittled emotion. I recall these stories the very moment I see my daughter’s crushed little face as she “breaks the news” to me. But, like any good parent, my mother worked hard to improve her children’s childhood over her own. It was challenging for her to learn to accept her own shortcomings, as well as those of her very imperfect husband who didn’t mind his flaws a bit, and her two children who both took after him. “You’re just like your father!”, she would often resentfully utter.
I flaunt my imperfections for my children. Ok, maybe they’re just wildly apparent. But I really do want them to know that it’s ok. As a parent, I feel like I fall short A LOT. I struggle despite giving it everything I have all the time. But I know that this is the greatest challenge I will ever have in my life, raising my children. And like any other worthy and rewarding experience, it does not come easy, you have to work at it, hard, and you will still screw up along the way. And your children will screw up too, which just feels like another indication of your screw ups. Each time, you are meant to learn a little something that is designed to help you deal with the bigger mistake lurking around the corner. Yet, all the while, you must remain calm because too much crazy can diminish your credibility. I have my moments, but I’m pretty sure my kids think I’m only a little bit crazy. I hope that my daughter now knows that I am certainly not crazy enough to be disappointed when she brings home a 94 on a test. And I hope that she made a mental note of the fact that I was just as proud of that 94 as I was of all the 100’s before it.
My mother’s well meaning but sometimes unrealistic expectations sparked my rebellious sprit so much so that in hindsight, I consider myself lucky to be alive; to have lived and learned. So my hope is that my obvious and admitted shortcomings, despite my obviously very best efforts, will teach my children that they don’t have to be perfect to be awesome!