A child told me recently that her mother gives her a spanking when she is being “naughty”. I was quite surprised. I’ve had a number of conversations with her mother about parenting concepts and managing relationships with our kids and this is something that has never come up.
It got me wondering whether she deliberately avoided the topic with me because I come across as judgemental. And on the topic of spanking kids, I surmised that perhaps I do.
I don’t spank my own kids. I don’t advocate it as a way of handling “misbehavior” (mostly because I don’t believe in misbehavior in the first place — to me, all behavior is a form of communication), and of course, what I write about is usually pro-some kind of peaceful parenting.
But, although I come across as completely child-focused and gentle in my parenting approach, do I judge people who spank their kids? No. And here is the reason why.
You see, what I advocate in my blogs and in my coaching practice is an ideal. Is it an ideal that I strive towards? Absolutely. Is it an ideal that I’m achieving 100 percent of the time? Absolutely not.
And here we need to understand the difference between positive and negative perfectionism.
Negative perfectionism would be striving for that ideal and constantly beating ourselves up for not achieving it.
Positive perfectionism is understanding that it is an ideal, striving for it, working on our shortcomings, and, at the same time, recognizing that we’re falling short of the ideal. Instead of feeling bad about that, we focus on what we can do next to get closer to where we want to be.
Usually, when we think about perfectionism, we think about the negative type — the one that brings with it guilt, shame, blame, and self-recrimination.
But nothing of great value in this world would have been achieved without some form of perfectionism. Of people striving for something better than what is, of people seeing an ideal and being brave enough to reach for it, of people not giving up because they know there is still another step that can be taken.
Positive perfectionism gives us direction and purpose and helps us to see a brighter future. It is forward or future focused.
Negative perfectionism is debilitating and frustrating and makes us hyperaware of all our faults and the things we have done “wrong”. It is backward or past focused.
So while I see an ideal and actively work towards it in my own life, in the people I meet and in the world in general, I am certainly not going to judge myself or anyone else for not living up to this perfect picture in my head.
I know how hard it is to be a “peaceful parent” all the time. I also know that whatever is going on in your life, the circumstances you find yourself in and the whole past that you have lived all come to play in the things that you do in this moment.
I was lucky, early on in my career, to work at a trauma center, counseling people who had been through some really horrific life events. What this experience taught me was that you can never judge someone until you know their whole story. And once you know their whole story, you would never judge them anyway.
The experience helped me to overcome something that in psychology we call “The Fundamental Attribution Error”, where we overestimate how much a person’s behavior is due to personality traits and underestimate situational influences.
Once you’ve put yourself into somebody else’s shoes, seen the world through their eyes and understood what it is like to deal with their current challenges, you realize that if you were them you would do exactly the same thing.
Seeing the world through the eyes of severely traumatized people, I realized that we are all capable of insane acts if the circumstances are just so.
People’s behavior is not about them being a “good” or “bad” person, but about them responding to their current life and situation as best they can in that moment.
So please, when you read my newsletters or listen to my talks or interact with me on a one-to-one basis, please know that whatever you do, however you behave, I am always doing my best to understand where you are coming from.
When I suggest a parenting practice, it is always coming from the place of the ideal and what I’m suggesting is that you strive for the ideal while practicing positive perfectionism — loving yourself as you are now, with all your faults and all your dodgy parenting practices, and learning from your mistakes.
Parenting is a tough job — the toughest, in my opinion. And you don’t need any negative perfectionism or judgment to add to your load — not from me, yourself or anyone else.
Mia Von Scha is a Transformational Parenting Coach. If you’d like some non-judgemental help in finding more peaceful solutions to dealing with difficult behavior in your kids, check out her workshops or give her a call!
This article was originally published at Transformational Parenting. Reprinted with permission from the author.