Progress, not Perfection

Progress, not Perfection

Yesterday I noticed a bumper sticker in my dentist’s parking lot which read, “Progress, not perfection.”

Hundreds of examples of how to apply that motto to childrearing rushed through my head as I made my way past that shiny sedan.

Although most of those ideas flew right out of my brain by the time I got to the keyboard, I’m happy to be able to share what I can recall;)

Have you ever heard that if Christopher Columbus had invested one cent into a fund that yielded compound interest in 1492, that account would now be worth over $95 billion?

The moral, in this case, is obviously that ‘baby steps’ work.

Just because you can’t change the world (or yourself, or your spouse, or your child) does not mean that you ought not make the incremental changes that can accomplish a tremendous amount.

Let’s take a simple example of a positive family change:

“I will stop raising my voice in my communication with my children.”

What a wonderful, commendable resolution that is.

Realistically, it may last for two days, two weeks, or perhaps two months if we are particularly soft-tempered!

The general pattern of events is that certain levels of frustration result in shouting, which, in turn, will result in giving up on the above-mentioned resolution.

A roughly translated quote from an ancient sage reads, “He who grabs all is left with none.”

How aptly that describes our typical involvement in effecting positive changes.

As humans, we tend to reach for the stars. Thus, our failure to achieve those fantastic expectations results in discouragement.

Let’s try a new strategy, a strategy of progress.

How differently would the atmosphere my household radiate if I cut down on the number of times I raise my voice- without altogether pledging to eliminate any and all shouting?

Like Columbus’s proverbial penny, little changes add up to great transformations.

A small, positive shift in our behavior is likely to create a pleasant ripple of change through our family life.

Find two or three minutes of solitude, and ask yourself this: What can I do to make my child’s life a better one?

Additional quality time, more patience during mealtime, taking up a joint hobby, reading a book together- are just a few of the ideas that suddenly come to mind.

Figure out the concept that will work best for you and your child, and commit yourself to create progress- not perfection!

Happy parenting- the job where perfection is always elusive!

Here’s a terrific and thought-provoking book:

Parenting From the Inside Out “This is not just a book for those committed to being the best possible parents they can be.  Parenting From the Inside Out is for anyone committed to a continued and deeper understanding of the human phsyche.”  – Michele Pheiffer, mother and actress

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  1. Wow, I really needed to hear this today! I have a habit of putting myself down for slipping and venting that I’m a bad mother, ugh! Now I know that the main thing is PROGRESS- perfection is elusive!

  2. Veena Srigopal says:

    Reading this really made me feel a lot better about myself as I always carried the burden of guilt after having no choice but to raise my voice everyday at my 7 year old!

    This also made me realize that progress is the key & not perfection!

  3. Julie Baines says:

    This is a great strategy, ‘baby steps’. I am trying to adopt this attitude in all aspects of my life, including the way I interact with my children. There are many jobs round my house that need doing, sorting out the childrens clothes and toys into what they use and what they no longer need is one which constantly nags at my conscience. With 5 children at home this used to be a mammoth task when I tried to tackle it in one go and ended with me achieving nothing but getting cross with the children for taking back toys they had forgotten. So I now try to do it a bit at a time. If I pick up one or two items and put them either into a bag for the charity shop or discard them as rubbish, it is one or two items less to deal with at a later date.
    The result is happier children who don’t mind giving up the odd toy and a happier mum who will eventually get the house tidy!

  4. I wonder if all the readers are exactly getting what this article’s message truly is. Ellen is encourging parents to choose a goal, for example to use alternatives to yelling as a form or discipline, and then put it into action. Without giving up on your goal, make sure your expectations of yourself are appropriate..emerse yourself in the process of becoming a more positive parent, but don’t beat yourself up if you slip every once in a while. I think its a great philosophy…thanks Ellen.

  5. I love the idea of not yelling.. but my question is ‘what do you do then?’ I’m always saying I’m not going to yell. I would love to hear some better alternatives from other parents. With my son, I say it nicely the first 10 times, then I start getting mad! I try not to yell, but he doesn’t seem to take it seriously if I don’t. I try positive reinforcement, my children get a sticker for doing things the first time they are asked, for being nice to each other, and for being helpful, when they get enough stickers they are rewarded with a special time. This helps somewhat, but when it comes to getting ready to go, or picking up toys, if I say it nicely.. they’ll sit right there and act as though I haven’t said a thing… what then? Any suggestions?

  6. Response to Racheal:
    Everyone has different ways of doing things. I started taking privileges away. Sure, I still have to ask them to do things couple of times, but as soon as I say “Next time I have to say it, you lose one privilege” they get moving.(my boys are 4 and 7) Our privileges range from computer time, to TV time, to not going to visit their cousin (who has a cool X-BOX!) I’m sure it would vary depending on the childs age. I just think we take for granted ALL these “things” children have now a days. They need to realize they must EARN these special items, not just assume they can use them as they please.

  7. Response to Rachael:

    Tell your children about your desire to change your ‘yelling’ behavior. Tell them why you want to change, and ask them to be sensitive to helping you change by reacting appropriately the first time you give them an instruction. If they’re aware of your goal, they will begin to react helpfully, based on the fact that they love you. Let them know you’re not perfect; that you will fail periodically. Ask them to help you correct a behavior that will be beneficial to the entire family. They will appreciate your honesty, respect you for your noble effort, and begin to internalize the value by imitating your method to correct some of their inappropriate behaviors.

  8. I appreciate the ideas, however, I must say I’ve been there and tried both. With my son, who is the biggest offender of ‘not listening the 1st time’ he knows after I’ve repeated myself, I do the count down.. 1…2…3… okay, you’re grounded! And it works.. or he gets grounded from his game cube.. which is the only thing that I have for leverage! From that point on, he isn’t to motivated to behave considering he isn’t to worried about loosing any other privilege. After that, we go to bed time and it gets earlier and earlier. I hate doing that, I hate to have to resort to the threat.. I would love for an idea that might help to motivate him to just do it! Especially since I find myself ‘threatening’ to take away the game every time I need to get something done. To top it off he has ADHD and is so very easily distracted from tasks. I let it go for the small stuff, but getting out the door on time to school is a huge task for us! I have made a sincere effort with talking to him about how mommy doesn’t want to yell at you anymore, and I am going to try not no, but I need your help, by listening the first time, and doing what I ask you to do… ideally you would think he would want to do that.. however, my reality is that he could care less and takes it every time to the farthest extent he can get away with until I’m screaming “now you’re grounded from your game!!!” I appreciate so much your advice, but I think I need something more…

  9. While I understand that we want to stop our “yelling” behavior, the real problem is that the children are not obeying and are not being respectful. The children need to know that obeying is not optional and obeying means doing it the first time asked, or at least, that is the goal. As parents, we need to demand the respect of our children and that includes them obeying us. Is it easy? No way! However, it is important so we need to work at it often. If they don’t obey, then we need to get in front of them and let them know that they are being disrespectful by their disobedience and that there will be consequences. Taking away things they value as discussed by Gwen G. above is very effective at our house. I also find it very helpful to warn the kids when I am extra-tired or having a tough day so they know that they’d better not push too much or there might be some yelling. It’s up to me to control my yelling impulse but I think it’s fair to let them know when I’m on “thin ice.”

  10. Hi Rachael,
    This is not an easy issue to address in one or two paragraphs; it seems that you and your son would do well to unlearn some old habits and acquire a few new ones. This book is the first thing that came to mind, and it was written by a psychologist/parent with a child similar to yours! Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child

  11. Oh, sometimes, when one of my children is being particularly uncooperative, I take him aside and whisper, “I know that you really want to behave like the good Joey that you are- do you want me to help you behave well?” He will often (but not always!) be so relieved, as he’d worked himself into this disobedient frenzy from which he can’t seem to escape on his own! Then, I offer incentives (such as a tiny candy, or time to create a customized word find with me on the site below) for each of the ‘baby steps’ he needs to do. This is the site- it’s quite fun:

  12. Racheal, Maybe you need to backpedal a little bit with your son and just try to love him. I was having a hard time with my son when he was about 7 and I felt myself constantly yelling. I realized I wasn’t spending enough time showing him love, talking to him at bedtime, stroking his back, bestowing a quick kiss on his head for no reason, letting him know he was special. It helped heal our relationship. During that time, I tried to be kinder and gentler with him. Maybe all the yelling has made your son doubt your love and that makes him less likely to want to obey. Just something to think about . . .

  13. Ksthys response:
    I do agree with the showing love concept. Of course I take away privilegs, but that’s when then need arises. I (and my husband) always cuddle with our boys. Showing affection keeps our bond, it helps even out those stressful days.

  14. Kathys response:
    I do agree with showing affection. I do have to take away privileges now and then, but I (and my husband) love to cuddle with our boys. It helps even out those stressful days.

  15. I’ve heard that playing video games does not help with ADD and, in fact, makes it worse. I would get rid of the game altogether for at least a month and then maybe bring it back after good listening skills have been acquired and then get an egg timer and limit it to ten or fifteen minute intervals. I find my kids are a lot more willing to help out around the house when there aren’t other exciting things to do like TV or video games.

  16. I have been reading some well thought out parenting goals. I oftened find myself in and yelling match , not sure how we got there. Old habits. I heard it takes 21 days to make a new habit. I try to remind mtself of my goal each day, to make the change. just a thought.


  17. to racheal:
    I have a 3 year old son who is exactly as you describe. Nothing works, he is very active, creative, playful, but does not obey well.. and he insists on doing everything by himself without any help (these are all appropiate behaviors for instance throwing things in the trash, changing his clothes, turning the page of a book, opening the door, turning on the light switch, pouring milk into his cup, etc) but his temper tantrums when my husband or I do it first by accident, or have to do it because he really isn’t quite adapt at it are 20 minutes screaming fits where he is usually laying on the floor kicking! This is especially bad in public restrooms where the toilet autormatically flushes because he wanted to do it himself, and I can’t get the pee-pee and toilet paper back to allow him that privelgde of flushing the toilet, I am reading “Raising Your Spirited Child” and do find it helpful, but in our case, my son needs “Play Therapy” from a professional to learn to control his emotions.
    By the way, we rarely yell in our house, and I think we needed to do it more often earlier in his life to avoid the tantrums we have now. Parents chosing not to yell at children is not the correct answer for some behavior problems.
    That’s just my 2 cents worth from a parent who is tired of seeing her child screaming on the bathroom floor, and found that some children have temperments that require outside help.

  18. For Rachael: In case you’re still watching the site for more advice… I have been reading Love and Logic for PreSchoolers and we have been trying the principles. When you read them in the book, the example stories seem a little “pie in the sky”, but if you focus in the simple principles, we are finding they really work – no yelling required.

    I shared one of them with a friend recently. She was venting about her 3 year old who will never get ready and get out the door in time. I shared the book’s idea of telling him once what the deadline is and asking him to comply. When he doesn’t you just say “I am so sorry you’re not ready. I guess you’ll have to go like you are.” She did it and threw his school clothes in a bag and headed for the car. Her 3 year old got the message very quickly and and dressed himself in the driveway as she was buckling in the other two children. She hasn’t had a problem since and no yelling was involved.

    Best of luck and cheers to all of us for continuing to try and grow as good mothers…

  19. hi-struggling w/ my 7yr old adhd dtr…need to get her on meds–need advice?!she is impossible and having trouble w/ school and friends-help!

  20. I work with adhd kids.
    yelling etc. will do no good and lowers self esteem
    (when the expectations are not reasonable or it isn’t possible for them to focus on what is being asked …)
    BAR NONE the worst thing for these kids is SCREEN time (computers, xbox, t.v. etc.)
    They are addictive, antisocial and trick the brain into thinking the eyes should stay in a LOCK STARE position -thereby affecting their ability to team and track properly . This in turn affects reading , writing and distance vision. Also every moment spent in the electronic world keeps them from the very activites that would help them to thrive : playing , swinging , jumping, climbing.

  21. Definitely a great philosophy. I would totally agree with you.

  22. I just wanted to say how grateful I am to have Raising Small Souls newsletter as a resource. Our income is extremely limited as I decided to work part time as a stay at home mom (which means I only work when he takes his nap). I really appreciate the valuable information and thought provoking essays that challenge me to be the most progressive [not perfect :)] mom I can be. Thank you Ellen.

  23. That is a great philosophy. I totally agree with you.