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Parenthood Plus - August 27, 2010

Perfection Is Not Lovable

As a parent, I know that I was guilty of finding fault with my children. Here is the soundtrack of our earlier years together: “You left the garage open.” “You left your dishes in the sink.” “You left your bathing suit on the dining room table.” “No wonder your bike got stolen, you didn’t lock it.” “What is this plate in your room? It has mold on it.” “You left the light on again.” “Why can’t you remember to turn the faucet off when you’re done in the bathroom?” “Don’t leave a wet towel on the floor.” And so on.

As a mental health professional, I know that there is supposed to be a ratio for parents to adhere to, where messages of praise far outnumber those of criticism. I cannot say whether I succeeded in this regard. What’s more, my own lapses as an adult were no better than my kids,’ but no one was around to hound me.

For example, driving up the Meadowbrook Parkway, about 15 minutes into my drive to work one morning, I glanced down and noticed that I was wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe. There have been times that I wore mismatched socks, but different shoes? This was a first. I thought, do I turn around and fix this or do I just keep going and deal with the embarrassment? I just kept going.

On another occasion, I arrived at the office on a Monday morning. There were no cars in the lot. I had forgotten the key to the building. I waited for my fellow workers to arrive to open the door. After about 10 minutes, when no one showed up, I figured everyone must be taking a long weekend or there was a major accident and everyone was delayed. I walked around the building and found an unlocked window that I pried open and crawled through.

I went to my office, which was on the second floor of the building. After about an hour, I walked downstairs. The lights were still out and there was no receptionist. I looked outside and the only car in the lot was mine. I walked over to the reception desk and opened the notebook with everyone’s weekly schedules. They all had diagonal lines drawn through Monday. It was a legal holiday.

I went back to my office, gathered my stuff, and crawled back out the window and drove home. This was even more embarrassing than the different colored shoes. I could not believe that I had broken into the office to work on a legal holiday.

Once I got to the office early and put the coffee up. I must have been daydreaming, because I failed to put the carafe under the dripping coffee. I left the kitchen, only to return to a flood of coffee. Luckily I was able to mop it up before anyone else arrived and, as old-time comic Oliver Hardy (Stan Laurel’s partner) used to say, “No one will be any the wiser.”

When I recall these incidents, I wonder how I reconciled them with the image I have of myself as a professional, and now CEO, of a well- respected children’s mental health agency. One thing that helps, is recalling something that noted anthropologist Joseph Campbell said: “Perfection is not lovable; it is the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable.”

Although this is good for me to know about myself, it is even better for me to know and always remember, about my children.