We tell our children that we don’t expect perfection, that it’s effort that is being measured, but are we misleading them? Are we misleading ourselves by pretending results don’t matter? I’m biting my tongue a lot in front of my kids so as not to dissuade their belief in trying, but I’m not so sure that’s best for any of us.
To be clear, my children are still at ages when how well a job is performed isn’t as important as the learning that happens in the process of giving it a shot. No, their beds aren’t made neatly and yes, I have to rewash glasses once in a while before I pour myself a drink, but these are small sacrifices I live with in the name of teaching them how to take care of themselves and their household. For the most part, I feel the same way about their schooling. Although my son will be in 7th grade next year and his academic performance will begin to weigh more heavily on his future plans, I still am more concerned with the learning process than I am with the grades. Of course, that’s easy to say because both of my kids easily do well in school.
I’m not naive enough to think that will always be the case; at some point they’ll encounter something that is difficult for them, and doing their best might still not be enough.
We’re a division of labor family, which means I’m in charge of some things and he’s responsible for others. This generally works better for us than direct cooperation or teamwork; with a few exceptions, we each handle or respective tasks without much input or assistance from the other. But, on occasion, he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and in those times, I’m a bit at a loss for what to say.
I don’t mean to disparage my husband; nobody is perfect and I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes both big and small. The problem is that I hesitate to say anything when a “mistake” is made because I worry it sounds mean or unsupportive. I mean, isn’t the fact that he tried good enough?
No, actually. Not always.
As adults, some things need to be done properly, some standards need to be met. That’s life in the real world, isn’t it? If I hand in work that’s a good effort but not up to par, no one is going to thank me for my effort and send me a check for trying. We get paid for results. Even when money isn’t involved, I confess to expecting more than the old college try; if I put you in charge of a job, I hope to have it completed well. I don’t expect perfection or results that would exactly mimic my own process (I’m not talking about oddly folded socks, in other words), but I do care about the finished product. I worry that makes me mean; I worry that pretending not to care makes me foolish.
But how do you say that to the people you love? How do you say “Look, I get that you’re saying you tried, but this is simply not good enough”? And will hearing that teach my kids that they have to always be the best, not just try their best? I’m interested to hear how other parents (and spouses) balance encouragement with realistic expectations.