My ‘Perfect’ Family

Q: Before I got married, I didn’t realize what a rigid person my husband was. Everyone praised him so highly for his hasmadah and keeping seder so well that I really couldn’t imagine this trait ever being too extreme. However, I think that with the stress that comes along with being married and having children, whatever character traits one has get magnified, sometimes out of proportion.

I see that his rigidity — and sometimes being a perfectionist —is beginning to affect our children.We have a nine-year-old son who seems quite anxious and in many situations is afraid of making a mistake. I’m not sure if he is learning this behavior from my husband or is just plain afraid of disappointing him.My son worries too much for his age, illustrated by the fact that he can ask me the same question four times.I try to reassure him; it often doesn’t help.

I think my husband’s unrealistic expectations of our children largely causes this. He makes us all nervous at times. I’ve told this to my husband, and sometimes he’s open to working on himself, but other times he’s not.

What can I do to help my children — especially the nine-year-old — be less worried about performance in school, how many friends one has, etc.?

A: The best gift we can give our children is to be exemplary role models and exhibit the attitudes and behaviors we want to impart to them. If you truly want your children to be more easygoing, they need to see how their parents deal with disappointments and imperfections comfortably.

One cannot change one’s spouse,

no matter how much one might like to. Sometimes parents can be keenly aware of how they affect their children negatively, but find it difficult to change. If your husband has not yet learned to internalize constructive coping mechanisms, giving him mussar now on how to do so is limited in its effectiveness.

If your husband does realize that his knee-jerk reaction is to worry and feel anxiety, then he might be able to think of ways that he can “neutralize” this reaction after it presents itself.Using humor is one good way to dissipate the toxicity of overreaction to events — to laugh at oneself (without putting oneself down).

Mentally “practicing”positive verbal techniques in order to prevent typical negative responses to family members is an excellent tool to use to improve one’s parenting skills. Imagining typical problematic scenarios and positive alternative ways to respond to stressful situations is a stress-reliever in itself.

Another way to inculcate our children with positive concepts is to talk to them about our own daily challenges and share how we responded appropriately to them.

When coloring with a child, the parent can color out of the lines, or draw green faces on people. We need to leave behind the myth of everything being “just so,” and be able to laugh at our mistakes. Admitting our mistakes and not falling into self-pity can be challenging for some, but it teaches children not to “beat themselves up mercilessly” — which many continue to do, even in their adult lives.

Positive self-talk is helpful in dealing with the challenge of perfectionism. We should feel special because our neshamos are a part of Hashem and His Great Plan for the universe. One strives towards sheleimus, but must keep in mind that perfection is not attainable in this world.

Your husband can get into the habit of making three positive comments to each family member daily to try to mitigate critical tension that may have been experienced in the past. Thereby, an unconditional, positive regard can begin to be sensed by your children.