The Perils of Parenting a Perfectionist


My oldest daughter is a perfectionist.

I am not.

And so the battle rages.

She makes lists. Morning to-do lists. Weekend to-do lists. She has a very clear and specific idea of how each day should proceed—all of which she documents and color-codes in multiple locations for her reference. She wakes herself up each morning at 6 a.m. to get dressed, organize her ballet bag for rehearsal, practice math on her iPad. She nudges me, drooling on my pillow, to turn off our house alarm so that she can go downstairs to make herself breakfast and fold laundry. She is nine.

Sounds like a dream, right? She is.

She is creative and smart and talented. She works hard, she is motivated, she is driven, she is detailed, she follows rules. That is, until life happens to Quinn. Then Quinn the Dream, turns into a nightmare.

Life is not perfect, as we all know. And try as she may to control it, sometimes it rears its ugly head and chews up and spits out all of my dear daughter’s carefully laid plans. She responds in kind, with her own level of rage, panic, tears, and irrational proclamations of failure.

Once, I was delayed at work, and therefore it appeared that tragically, I was going to get Perfect Patty to ballet rehearsal only 15 minutes early, instead of her preferred 20; I was treated to a 10-minute car ride full of screaming, crying, and desperate wails of, “This is a disaster!” Entire mornings can be completely ruined by a single error that sends her predetermined expectations down the toilet.

These are the moments that parenting a perfectionist is a challenge, especially for someone like me. I go with the flow. I don’t get worked up about much of anything. I’m usually a comfortable 10 minutes late. I make lists, and then lose them. I figure we’re all just human beings wandering around this planet listlessly—you win some, you lose some.

Only once have I made the ultimate mistake of uttering the words, “Who cares?” in response to a seemingly insignificant hiccup in her day. Never again, my friends. Never again.

I do my very best to try to understand what motivates her and how her feelings, however foreign to me, can be overwhelming for her. I have consulted our doctor and read about effective calming techniques for those moments when her perfectionist tendencies cross over into the scary land of anxiety. We have been fortunate enough to have a couple of fabulous teachers who recognize her perfectionist personality, and who have helped to capitalize on her strengths and in turn, helped her to cope with not-so-perfect moments that throw a wrench in her day.

We are certainly an odd couple, she and I. I always imagined that my daughter would be just like me. We’d be kindred spirits. And despite our differences, I think we might still be.

She keeps me in line and sets high expectations—and forces me out of bed in the morning. I do my best to instill in her perspective, balance, and the power of a deep breath and laughter.