July’s Theme: Perfectionism and the Parent-Child Relationship

Perfect babies at University Settlement, corner of Eldridge and Rivington Sts., New York, N.Y. (1913). Photo by Underwood and Underwood. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As I am expecting another child next month and have a lot of parenting issues on my mind, I hope you will indulge me for the next two months in a discussion of parenting-related topics. Even if you are not a parent, I hope to structure these topics so that you will find the discussion helpful to reflect on your own upbringing and learn general organizational strategies that work for both kids and adults.

In the month of July, I wanted to delve further into one of the more popular pages on my site, the article I wrote last year on Perfectionist Parents and Perfectionist Kids.

By examining the keywords used to access this page from Google Analytics (Remember: your internet searching is still anonymous! I have no idea who typed these keywords nor does Google Analytics tell me.), I have learned a lot about the parent and child perspectives on this topic.

From the (assumed) child’s perspective, I see searches like:

  • my parents are perfectionist
  • dealing with a perfectionist mother
  • mothers that are perfectionists in their relationships
  • rigid personality resulted from perfectionist mother
  • how to live with a perfectionist dad
  • father daughter relationship perfectionism
  • perfectionism, fathers relationship with son
  • only child to perfectionist parents
  • parents made me a perfectionist
  • struggling for parents approval
  • when a parent cant tell their child i love you
  • perfectionist parents avoiding

From the (assumed) parent’s perspective, I see searches like:

  • how to parent a perfectionist child
  • raising a son with a perfectionist mother
  • relationship mother and perfectionist son
  • what to say when a perfectionist child blames mother
  • co-parenting +father is a perfectionist
  • academic perfectionism help for parents
  • best school environment for a perfectionist child
  • approximately how many parents blame themselves for their kids mistakes
  • how not to be a perfectionist parent
  • how not to parent a perfectionist child
  • is a perfectionist child personality inherited
  • why is my young child an extreme perfectionist?

From (assumed) people outside the parent-child relationship, I see searches like:

  • how to help children with a dad that is a perfectionist
  • dealing with students perfectionist parents

I have no psychological training but just from reading these search words, you can infer a lot about current parent-child perfectionism issues.

1. Perfectionism creates distance in the parent-child relationship. Searches about perfectionist parents were far more likely to include the formal, more distant titles of “father” and “mother.”

2. Perfectionist dads seem to have a more distressing impact on the family. There were more searches about perfectionism for both “dad” and “father.” There were also quite a few searches on “perfectionist mother” but interestingly zero searches on “perfectionist mom.” I infer that a person with a close, loving relationship with “mom” is far less likely to be bothered by her perfectionism.

3. Genetics is surprising. We know that there are at least some genetic components to perfectionism. Searches from parents absolutely perplexed by the behavior of their perfectionist child reflect that even non-perfectionist parents may end up raising a perfectionist child.

4. Perfectionist parents most likely have trouble separating themselves from their children’s lives. There were many search terms about parents blaming themselves for any mistakes their children make. While this is certainly understandable and every parent does this to a certain degree, perfectionist parents likely experience more anxiety about this. As we saw in February’s discussion of obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism in many ways is a form of OCD where the perfectionist’s greatest fear is making a mistake.

5. In the end, it’s all about love. As last year’s article pointed out, the message of conditional love is the one that drives most child perfectionists. Essentially the child is internalizing the message, “My parents don’t love me unless I am perfect.” Children are far more likely to be searching about signs of parental love while parents strangely seem almost unconcerned with this topic. Perhaps parents assume their children know they love them and don’t need reassurance? Parents are more likely to search for ways to defend themselves against emotional attack or seek objective reasons like genetics to explain things.

This month we will look at what it means to be a perfectionist parent and a perfectionist kid in 2011. We will also look at strategies to “organize your head” if you suffer from perfectionist tendencies.

Please share in the comments your interpretations of the above keyword searches as well as any other topics you would like to discuss this month!