Progress, Not Perfection

Recently I noticed a bumper sticker in a 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 is 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!

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  1. Oh, I love today’s article, thank you!!! I’m always trying to make massive changes, failing and falling down head-first, and then trying again. (At least I’m a tryer, lol!)

    Starting today, I resolve to set REASONABLE goals for myself!

    Sandra in NY

  2. As a mother of a 10 year old boy and an 8 year old boy I have had many years of trying to be the best Mom I could be. I know I have failed in some departments (I don’t think they have figured it out…YET) but I am always trying. As the article mentioned, I have to focus on the baby steps rather than making a complete 100% change in one day. My boys are wonderful and everyday I am proud of them and proud of the job that their father and I are doing. I keep hoping and praying for the strength (and patience!) to keep at it ! 🙂

  3. Today’s article resonated on a few levels with me. Thank you!

  4. I so needed that this week! Thanks so much!

  5. Thank you for the reminder, seems I’m always wishing for my 3 teenagers to speak more respectfully, clean more thoroughly, stop asking for more from us, but I need to realize that they are a work in progress. My patience is needed to continue the molding of their lives, one little step at a time.

  6. yes that was needed. we all know what needs to be done, but like all humans or maybe even like children, we need reminding. thanks for parenting us!!

  7. Amy Currant says:

    I became a mother later in life and have found the adjustment to motherhood a hugely challenging and profound one. After a successful working career and used to being in charge, it was like landing with a thud where the achievements are must less obvious and progress often going in reverse. The same rules of the business world to resolving conflict and problems no longer apply. I am “relearning” the rules of the game and struggling most of the time but your article on progress really helps to put things in perspective. Life is a marathon not a race!

  8. Very practical and encouraging. We often abandon our self improvement initiatives because we try for perfection from day one and get disheartened when we cannot live upto it. Psychological and behavioural improvements are like physical exercises. Both need a lot of pratice and persistence.

  9. Jo-Anne Layton says:

    Excellent insight, Ellen (et al)! Yes, we often KNOW at the intellectual level, what needs to be ‘changed – progressed’ … but it’s the INCREMENTAL STEPS, and the actual ‘walking the walk’ vs ‘talking the talk’ that hangs us up.

    ‘If only I could remember everything I know!’ goes the quote. In the heat of the moment when emotions are running high, it’s difficult to recall the more BALANCED strategies that we have READ about, THOUGHT about etc. Therefore, breaking down the process into bite-size portions can work wonders:

    Take a deep breath, remember how I WANT to react in these situations, don’t say-do ANYthing until the IMAGE of how I REALLY want to react to this situation ‘gels’ in my mind. Having thought this through previously, I can, step-by-step, implement the NEW attitude-action.

    Always allowing SOME room for imperfection, of course! Practice does make … near-perfect.

  10. Thank you for your articles! Such a simple question that I don’t ask myself enough.

  11. I have a 9.5 year old daughter and a 21 year old son that live at home. I’ve will admit that I failed my son and put holes in his fences due to abuse he and I suffered in the hands of my daughters father in the past (no longer together for last 8 yrs). I’m not sure if it’s too late…HOWEVER…this has really made me think. I really need to give myself more “Time Outs” when dealing with my children. I was raised with a yeller, and mirrored that while raising my kids. I am a single parent, and have had abusive relationships in the past. I’m still a work in progress myself. I’ve worked very hard at not letting my daughter know what my son and I had endured in the hands of her father throughout the years, and sought help with various programs for myself and my son when she was just a baby. He resents what I put him through and now I have to learn to back-off and understand he is still hurting. My goal now is to stop the yelling, show more patients, and stop playing God. I can’t control what decisions they will makes as they grow into young adults, but I can learn to just let go and allow them to make their own decisions and just love them for who they are. They are my children who will always need my love and support. Thank you for this article! It has really opened my eyes to continue to take more steps in self control when feeling anger or frustration!

  12. You are absolutely right. Small but consistent and positive steps towards the right direction leads to accumulative effects. Will try to operationalize this concept

  13. Sometimes its easier said than done. God know my twin 7yr old boys test me, over and over again.
    I definitely do try to talk more and yell less. I find getting right down to their level gets a better reaction
    or response than anything else. I love them to pieces so as a busy mom I try to be the ‘best mom’.

  14. Hadassah says:

    so true. Those of us that care about being good parents are always trying for perfection. I teach 3 year olds and need to keep this in mind for that as well. keep up the good work.

  15. This is so true. In fact I have a book that I read when I get really down on myself about this very topic and there is actually a chapter in this book that is called “Progress not Perfection”. The book is called The Best things Parents do” by Susan Isaacs Kohl.
    It is a must read and it takes alot of pressure off thinking we have to be perfect and how not to expect such perfect results right off the bat.

  16. This one was just for me! Thanks for the reminder. I oftentimes tend to raise my voice, especially when my 3 boys won’t listen. Fortunately my husband also suffers from my loud voice at times and therefore I have a double reminder.

  17. Scott W. says:

    “Progress, not Perfection” is actally a mantra used by a prominenet 12-step group; I am very sure that the bumper sticker you saw was on the car of a friend of Bill W.