Are you a perfectionist at heart or just naturally more
easygoing? Take our quiz to get a handle on your perfectionist
1. You've spent a week planning your 3-year-old's
birthday party, but on the big day, your normally sweet daughter
throws meltdown after meltdown. You:
2. You lost your new cell phone. What goes through your
3. A good friend stops by unexpectedly-after you and the
kids have had the flu for four days straight. You:
4. You've got a big presentation at work, and you
flubbed the first few lines. You:
5. You're meeting a girlfriend for a drink and she's
running late. You:
Scoring: Give yourself one point for each "A" answer, two points
for each "B" answer and three points for each "C" answer. If you
scored five points, you're probably the most easygoing person you
know. If you scored six to 11, you set reasonable standards for
yourself and people around you. If you scored 12 or more, though,
your perfectionism may get in the way of enjoying your life. Maybe
it's time to lower your standards-or let a few things slide now and
Noelle Berrios says she's always been a bit of a
perfectionist-and that wasn't always a drawback. "I owned a hair
salon in Lincoln Park, and everyone wants their hair to be
perfect," says the South Elgin resident. "And I worked for the
family business, which was in security, and when you're dealing
with people's lives and safety, you can have no error there."
At home, "everything had a place and everything was in its
place, and I had everything really neat," she says. "If I needed
it, I knew exactly where it was."
Then, at 32, she had her first child-and now has four little
ones ranging from 6 years to 3 months at home. Things have
definitely changed but it hasn't been easy to let go of her natural
desire for order. "It's a completely different world with small
children," she says. "There are toys everywhere, and clothes and
laundry. … I'm still a perfectionist, but I realize the children
are going to make a mess with their toys and as long as the
children are clean and safe and happy, I'm all right with
Berrios, 38, has learned firsthand that perfectionism and
parenthood make a tricky blend.
"The biggest problem is that perfection is hard to attain when
you have plenty of time and energy and have slept well," says
Clinical Psychologist Monica Ramirez Basco, Ph.D., author of Never
Good Enough: Freeing Yourself from the Chains of Perfectionism
(Harper Collins, 1999) and The Procrastinator's Guide to Getting
Things Done (2010, Gilford). "But once you have children, you no
longer have time, energy or perfect sleep and so it becomes even
What about you? If you push yourself to be perfect, you may be
setting yourself up for failure and even hurting your kids in the
process. Learning more about perfectionism, how it develops and how
it impacts you, will help you decide whether you still need to aim
for an A+ every time-or whether it's time to cut yourself some
Some of us are just born with perfectionist tendencies, but most
become full-blown perfectionists in childhood. Maybe your dad
expected nothing but the best from you, or your mother constantly
nagged you to "try harder." For whatever reason, your parents'
standards (or your belief that they wouldn't be happy with anything
less than perfection) became a mindset that's difficult to
"The most common cause is a critical parent. … These parents may
have tried to be encouraging and tried to praise their child, but
they always added some kind of criticism to the end of it," says
Basco. "A kid who's sensitive to this will just hear the criticism
part … and over the years, start to take this as an indicator of
Most perfectionists are "inwardly focused," where they require
perfection of themselves. The classic perfectionist is extremely
hard on herself, hates making mistakes and believes she must be
perfect for everything to work out OK.
"The prototypical perfectionist can't notice something amiss and
then ignore it," says Basco. "Like if she sees a picture crooked on
a wall, she can't leave it alone-she'd have to actually fix it. It
would seem totally unacceptable for her to see a mess and leave it
Other perfectionists are outwardly focused-they feel fine about
themselves but have unreasonably high standards for others. (Ever
had a boss like that?) And some perfectionists are both-expecting
no mistakes from themselves and from everyone around them (and
obviously setting themselves up for disappointment!).
And perfectionists have a hard time accepting that others can
"settle" for anything less than the best. "It's very hard for the
perfectionist to understand why other people don't have the same
standards," Basco says. "They have a hard time even conceiving how
someone would not give it their all at all times and would not live
up to their particular standard expectations."
Still, perfectionist tendencies can play a positive role in your
life. "Perfectionism has a good function in the workplace and can
make people very good at their jobs, especially if they're
detail-oriented," says Basco. "It's very helpful at home in terms
of keeping things organized, keeping people on schedules and can be
very helpful in relationships in keeping people on time and
accomplishing quite a bit in a busy family with a hectic
And it can be gratifying to be a perfectionist-at least when
things go your way. "When you do something well or perform well, it
can make you feel very good and improve self-esteem," says
But it can go too far, especially when you're a parent.
"In general, it's a problem when it causes you stress when
you're unable to be perfect or when it causes you stress in order
to be perfect," says Basco. Perfectionism can also have a negative
impact on your relationships as people see you as too controlling
or rigid, and it can definitely hurt your kids if you're holding
them to unreasonable standards.
"Kids naturally want to please their parents and the bar keeps
getting higher and higher," says Basco. "If you find yourself
saying, 'Well, that was really nice but you could have done better'
all the time, chances are you're actually setting a perfectionist
standard that your child cannot meet."
Even if you act pleased, most perfectionist parents can't help
but show disappointment when their kids "fail" at something. "And
if the kids always feel like failures, the parents are perpetuating
the same problem," says Basco.
Perfectionism usually runs in families, so if you don't want
your kids to spend a lifetime worrying about being perfect, you
have to let yourself off the hook first. "If you're no longer
acting like a perfectionist, you're no longer modeling that for
your kids," says Basco.
To break the cycle, identify your own perfectionist standards
and see if you can determine how they developed.
"Reflect on what it was like for you growing up and what kinds
of things your parents might have done that made you a
perfectionist that you don't want to repeat," she says.
Even if you've always had the highest standards, you can
"I have always been a perfectionist but didn't know that's what
it was. When I was growing up, everything in my closet had to be
lined up and facing the same direction," says Brooke Roché, a
stay-at-home mom of two in Woodridge. "In school when I had
assignments that had to be done on white lined paper, if it wasn't
neat and perfect I had to start over. I couldn't take the
'sloppiness,' even though it really didn't look bad to anyone else.
Now as I'm getting older I still want things to be perfect. I still
consider myself a perfectionist, from my house to my kids, but I
know what to let go-even though I don't really want to."
Roché doesn't want her kids to inherit her overly high standards
and makes sure they know they're not supposed to be perfect and
that mistakes are part of life. "If they do get upset because they
can't do something right away, I usually tell them that that's why
God invented practice-because in order to be good at something you
have to practice," she says.
Practice can also make you less than perfect. And if you can't
give up your stellar standards altogether, decide where you're
going to channel that must-be-perfect energy.
"It might be at the workplace or it might be with your boss,"
says Basco. "Put your energy into where you think it's going to be
most valuable. Focus your perfectionist energy … and consciously
make the decision where you're going to use it-and where you're
going to turn it off."
Kelly James-Enger is a former lawyer, a mom of two and a freelance writer.
See more of Kelly's stories here.
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