Women around the world recognize perfection as one of their most difficult challenges to overcome. The research I conducted for my book found that as women, our desire to do things perfectly is much more compelling than it is for men.
However, the need to be perfect all the time can be exhausting for ourselves and for those around us, especially when a global pandemic has forced families to quickly adopt social distancing and working from home.
Whether it’s our appearance, our children, or our homes, whether we are working on projects or we’re up against deadlines, we tend to go “all-out” in perfecting the details. We find it hard to delegate, as we believe others may not be completing the task as meticulously as we would, which often leads to gatekeeping. We strive harder and put in extra hours to single-handedly shoulder the work of two or three people.
However, in an unprecedented situation like this, it would help to loosen up a bit in order to preserve our sanity.
It’s disconcerting to recognize that some of the time pressure we experience is courtesy of our own self-imposed high standards and expectations.
Many women still believe that if they did less around the house, they would feel as though they weren’t taking care of it properly. A similar amount would say the exact same thing about the amount of time and effort they spend parenting.
Women still feel that they are going to be held accountable if housework and childcare aren’t taken care of flawlessly. In some cases, women may be setting excessive and unattainable standards for themselves. It’s important to highlight the issue of control here.
Many women are quite sensitive about control, so they are hesitant to relinquish authority, and that, in turn, results in gatekeeping. We want to hang on to things and not let go, even if that means wreaking havoc in our personal and professional lives. As Susan Strasser, author of Never Done: A History of American Housework, puts it, home is a “sphere in which some women who have been denied power in other parts of their life have been able to obtain and maintain power.”
Many of the women from my survey revealed they are hesitant to delegate home chores to their husband or partner, as most feel that the tasks would be executed shabbily. This is gatekeeping; women unwittingly prevent a more equal distribution of labor or even block a partner’s attempts to get more involved in housework or childcare.
In times like these, it makes sense to avoid gatekeeping and delegate as much as we can without worrying about how flawlessly it needs to be executed. It’s not easy relinquishing control and being flexible about your standards, but when many people are put in together for a long time, that’s your best bet to ensure a harmonious home ambience.
Women commonly hold on to the false notion that if they do things flawlessly, they can shield themselves from blame, judgment, and shame. But holding up this heavy shield is what really prevents us from being seen.
Many people justify their quest for perfection by calling it a self-improvement tool. In reality, perfectionism has a lot to do with seeking approval, appreciation, and acknowledgement.
Most perfectionists have been brought up in an environment where they were praised for achievement and performance. Somewhere along the way, they consequently began equating achievement and accomplishment with quality of execution.
Learn to let go.
The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless mother is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly – indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection. –Arianna Huffington.
Women tend to be perfectionists. If our child’s school project doesn’t meet our own high standards, we feel dissatisfied. However, for your children, perfectionism is an unknown dimension. Even if you are doing a good enough, but not a perfect job, then typically that’s all that matters to your kids, so stop being so harsh on yourself.
One way to let go of perfectionism is to ask yourself, How important is the project on which I am spending a painstaking amount of time and effort? Tamar Chansky, Ph.D, a psychologist specializing in the treatment and prevention of anxiety and stress, instructs:
The pressure on the perfectionist is that every moment of stepping into the spotlight, every outfit, every lipstick choice, every word you write – from the note to the dry cleaner to the editorial to the New York Times – is a moment with a permanent scorecard.
An important point to consider is whether spending more time perfecting something truly makes a difference or not – Will it add value? In a crisis situation, we often have to go with the good enough options rather than the best ones.
In any case, as we work to achieve perfection, time marches on, standards change, accomplishments are surpassed, and the bar is set even higher. We are left more imperfect than ever, longing to achieve the next new standard of perfection. After all, perfectionism is a delusion that can rob us of a successful, enriching life if we’re not careful.
Originally published on Ellevate.
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