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Parenting and Perfectionism

How do our expectations affect our children?

Key points

  • Having high expectations is one thing, but expecting perfection only sets us up for failure and disappointment.
  • There are three fundamental types of perfectionism: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed.
  • Demanding too much and being too critical can be harmful to the parent-child bond.
Tim Samuel/Pexels
Tim Samuel/Pexels

Ever tried to do everything perfectly?

Maybe you’ve tried this your entire life: You’ve put on a face, planned your itinerary for success, and sacrificed everything to make it happen.

But, again, you were reminded: “Perfect” doesn’t exist. Frustrated from the same old cycle, you try again to prove your worth and abilities.

If this sounds familiar, you may be a perfectionist.

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is more than simply being an “overachiever” or “go-getter.” While we often use it as a way to define our need to succeed, perfectionism is a complex, destructive personality trait that reflects our desire to be accepted and avoid rejection.

Overall, there are three main types of perfectionism:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionism (demanding perfection from ourselves)
  2. Other-oriented perfectionism (demanding perfection from others)
  3. Socially prescribed perfectionism (thinking others demand perfection from us)

Each type is built on warped expectations from ourselves and others.

How Does Perfectionism Affect Us?

Perfectionism doesn’t just make us “picky.” It’s correlated with serious mental health issues, such as eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Perfectionism greatly affects the way we see ourselves and the world around us. When each day feels like an impossible mountain to climb, it’s easy to fall into a mindset of controllingness, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The Role of Parenting: What Causes Perfectionism?

What causes us to become perfectionists? While there are many theories, one of the most proven causes of perfectionism stems from demandingness in parenting.

My team and I analyzed this relationship at a closer level. Here’s what we found:

Parenting With High Expectations and Demandingness

Parents often want to set high standards for their children. We push for more, better, and best—often to the point of destruction. High expectations can quickly turn into controllingness and demandingness.

When children struggle to meet unrealistic standards again and again, they can believe they’ll never be good enough.

Parenting With Excessive Criticism

Setting the bar too high can cause our children to put unnecessary pressure on themselves. Yet, setting the bar too low with constant criticism can do the same.

Children who endure high levels of criticism from their parents can grow up to believe everyone expects this level of perfection from them—setting them up for failure, stress, and low self-esteem.

Perfectionistic Parents

Children do what they see. They are our greatest imitators. When parents place these unrealistic expectations and criticisms on themselves, children notice. They can learn to model this behavior and develop similar tendencies of controllingness.

Overcoming Perfectionism in Parenting

You don’t have to let perfectionism control your life.

Expecting perfection from yourself and others is exhausting and disappointing, but we can do better for our children and ourselves. All we can ever do is try, so let’s reframe our expectations. How about instead of “practice makes perfect,” we start telling ourselves that practice is perfect”... or at least it’s good enough?


Smith, M. M., Hewitt, P. L., Sherry, S. B., Flett, G. L., & Ray, C. (2022). Parenting behaviors and trait perfectionism: A meta-analytic test of the social expectations and social learning models. Journal of Research in Personality, 96.

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