Tuesday | 02 June | 2020
By Anja van den Berg
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended family life around the world. School closures, remote working, physical distancing and lockdown … it’s a lot to navigate for anyone, but especially for parents.
When you’re juggling work and parenting under these conditions, you’ll inevitably drop the ball here and there. But, says Dr Alice Boyes, these slip-ups feel like an emotional bee-sting to perfectionist parents.
Dr Boyes is a clinical psychologist and the author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.
“Mistakes provoke anxiety for perfectionists and shake their sense of identity,” Boyes explains. “Memories of past mistakes can pop back into mind long after the fact, and this can leave parents feeling like they’re doing a terrible job in all their roles.”
While it’s commendable to aim for excellence in all your roles, obsessing over ‘mistakes’ can do more harm than good.
Boyes explains that slip-ups have two types of consequences. First, there are actual consequences. But, she adds, when a mistake does have an objective consequence, it’s more likely it’ll be mild or moderate. Significant repercussions are few and far between. Moreover, people are sympathetic during this unprecedented and challenging time.
The second type of consequences is the psychological consequences of mistakes. For perfectionists, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ mistake. “When you’re a perfectionist, mistakes trigger harsh self-criticism and intrusive overthinking.”
Anxious perfectionists, especially, are often prone to catastrophising mistakes, like imagining how they are going to lose their jobs or how their child will not pass their grade.
Much of the pressure that parents are currently feeling is internal, Boyes adds. It’s impossible to be perfect, but it’s especially impossible during the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, it’s not necessary.
To ease internal tension, marriage counsellor Deborah Parker recommends that parents work in shifts, taking turns to supervise the children, and setting aside time to chat and listen to each other’s concerns each day, in a room away from the kids.
Instead of worrying that children are not doing enough schoolwork, parents should view the enforced break as an opportunity for some child-led, individualised learning, says Nerys Hughes, clinical director of Whole Child Therapy. “I would say to the child: let’s write down all the different things that you could use this time to learn, do and experience. Then every morning, ask them to put a schedule together, made up of those things.”
Hughes adds that children and teenagers should also be allowed a few “duvet days” where they can do whatever they want. That way, she says, they may be more willing to take a structured educational approach on other days.
One way parents can help even young children to feel productive while they are at home is to enable them to help with housework or cooking. “It doesn’t matter if the accomplishment is curriculum-based,” Hughes explains. “It can be learning to make mum a cup of tea, putting pasta in a bowl or drawing a picture for someone so they feel connected to the people they are missing. Even if that gift never gets given, because you are self-isolating, the child has felt that moment of connection.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-working-parents-can-let-go-of-perfectionism
The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/mar/22/family-isolation-guide-for-parents-teenagers-coronavirus-lockdown
Whole Child Therapy: https://wholechildtherapy.com/
* All information was correct at the time of publication.