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Perfectly Imperfect
Perfectly Imperfect

Dear Parents,

One thing I love to do in my spare time is to visit antique stores and thrift shops. During one outing this past spring, I found a lovely silver creamer and sugar bowl set. It was carefully packaged and wrapped up in tape to hold the two pieces together. When I returned home, I unpacked it and set about the work of polishing the very tarnished silver. First, I polished the sugar bowl, which came out beautifully. I then began to polish the creamer; first the sides, and then the bottom. As I polished and marveled at the beauty of the silver that began to gleam with each stroke of my flannel rag, I noticed something quite unexpected. The creamer was damaged! It was missing one of its four legs, broken off right at the base in the front, under the spout.

At first, I was rather upset and felt cheated. I admonished myself for not having checked it over thoroughly or for not having asked the store owner to unpack the tape around the packaging that had held together the two pieces. But as I looked at the broken creamer on my kitchen counter, I realized that it was, in fact, an interesting and beautiful piece. Its imperfection, I decided, made it more attractive. Its imperfection is what made it perfect.

I wondered how it had gotten that way. I decided that there was an interesting story about how it had broken, about the home in which it had been, and the stories and moments it had been a part of. Teatime confidences, perhaps? I brought it to school as a reminder to me that imperfection is beautiful, and that our girls are perfect just how they are: YES ... in all their teenage angst, dramatic outbursts, and inconsistency.

We cannot foresee when their best friend will suddenly become a frenemy, or when our daughters will buck adult authority or become impulsive when they had not been before. We must, in those moments, remind ourselves that this is all part of the normal developmental cycle of the adolescent girl. They are parting with childhood, and it is not a clean and clear-cut process. Adolescence is messy business, and it is for this reason that it can sometimes be challenging for a parent to know when to react, or when not to react!

Being a high achiever is a good thing, propelling a student to move out of her comfort zone, to explore and try new things, and to achieve greater results. The problem is when this penchant for high achievement moves into the zone of unhelpful perfectionism. Overall, our girls are happy and healthy, but if your daughter exhibits some of the following, she could be suffering from toxic perfectionism, according to the tip sheet Helping Your Child Overcome Perfectionism.

  • Tendency to become highly anxious, angry, or upset about making mistakes
  • Chronic procrastination and difficulty completing tasks
  • Overly cautious and thorough in tasks (for example, spending three hours on homework that
    should take 20 minutes)
  • Frequent catastrophic reactions or meltdowns when things don't go perfectly or as expected
  • Refusal to try new things and risk making mistakes

By educating our daughters about perfectionism, teaching them to practice positivity and mindfulness and how to keep things in perspective (good is sometimes good enough), and praising them for effort and not just when they are successful, we can curb toxic perfectionism and the accompanying anxiety.

If you'd like to chat more about this with me, please come by my office. I'll make you an espresso or a cup of tea and, if you take cream, I'll be serving it out of my perfectly imperfect creamer. It serves as my daily reminder that the zealous pursuit of perfection to which our girls can fall prey (perfect grades, perfect body, perfect clothes, perfect life, perfect college application essay) is a myth.

Warmly,

Kassandra T. Brenot '87, Ph.D.
Head of Upper School

For more resources about perfectionism, check out the following links:

Overcoming Toxic Perfectionism in Teenagers

Perfectionism in Teenagers

The Vicious Triangle of Perfectionism, Anxiety and Depression

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