Could perfectionism be the silent killer in your family? Dr. Leman explains how flaunting your flaws may just be the remedy your family needs.
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Produced by Unmutable™
Doug: Come on kids. Get the house cleaned up. Come on, vacum the house. Come on, get the bathroom perfect. Our friends are coming over today and no, I don’t want them to know about your grades that you were struggling with. And no, I don’t want them to see that. Is your life a showcase? Is there the perfect family, or maybe we don’t need to strive to be the perfect family. And when we do, what are the negative effects of trying to be the perfect family? Hi, I’m Doug Terpening.
Andrea: And I’m Andrea,
Doug: And we are so glad that you are joining us today. If this happens to be your first time with us, we’d love for you to know that this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concerns for you or your child, please go seek a local professional for help.
Well, Dr. Leman, I know I’m supposed to jump into the topic right away, but I got to tell you something that just happened. We’re recording this a few days after Valentine’s Day, and this doesn’t go out until April 6th, but our daughter decided that… So we throw dances here for a bunch of teenage kids once a month here and our daughter said, “The adults never get to do the dances.” So we are going to host a Valentine’s Dance and Dinner and she got about 18 of us together, and have a friend who went to culinary school, and they threw us a dance. And we had the most delightful time. And the meal was amazing; service us filet mignon. It was incredible.
Dr. Leman: Who came to that?
Andrea: Mostly it was the parents of the teenagers that come to the dances.
Dr. Leman: That hang out. I see. Okay.
Andrea: It was sweet.
Doug: But that’s not the topic for today. Sorry, everybody. I just thought we hadn’t told you, I probably should have told you off air, but now everybody knows. So Dr. Leman, we distinctly feel this pressure to be the perfect family because everybody else around us has no problems. Their kids are perfect. Their lives are perfect, but we’ve got to shove all our secrets in the closet and we’re starting to get stressed out about all this. How do we get out of that and how did we get into it?
Dr. Leman: Well, wow. That’s a loaded question. I’m just thinking about my own life. I’ve always been sort of, not sort of, a very informal person. I was in a restaurant the other day and I had on a Leman Academy of Excellence sweatshirt and somebody asked me if I worked at Leman. I didn’t quite know what to say. I said, “Well, yeah.” And I sort of stammered. I could see by the look on this guy’s face, he was trying to figure out where am I going with this? Because I couldn’t answer a simple question. I said, “Well, actually”, I said, “I’m Dr. Leman.” And he took a step back and said, “You’re Dr. Leman?” And he said it like that. Well, I got flip-flops on, a pair of shorts I know have at least two spots on them, a sweatshirt, my hair wasn’t really combed, but I had a hat over it, so I didn’t think it made that much difference, but you could see it in his eyes. “You’re Dr. Leman?”
That’s me. I should have told them I got thrown out of the Ritz Carlton Hotel once, in a nice way. They throw you out really nicely at the Ritz Carlton because I wasn’t properly dressed. But I think it goes back to how we were brought up in our family. And I realize the question you’re asking is, “Do we need to be the perfect family? Are we too concerned with how people see us? Do they see the outside of us and not the inside of us?”
I’ve said many times on our podcast and I’ll repeat it, perfectionism is slow suicide. So if you’re a perfectionist, my condolences. If you want to make a difference in people’s lives, I think you flaunt your imperfection, and flaunting your imperfection is not an easy thing to do, but it sort of says, “Hey, we’re all imperfect.” From a scriptural standpoint, we all fall short of the glory of God. We’re all very imperfect people. The marvelous thing about being a believer is that God loves us despite ourselves. So when I hear about people struggling with “our house isn’t clean enough and isn’t perfect enough”… I remember being in a pastor’s home once and his home was meticulous. I mean, there was not one thing that seemed out of place.
And I kiddingly asked him, I said, “Pastor, don’t you have a junk room?” He said, “Oh yes, I have a place for my junk.” He went to a closet and he opened it and on the floor was a box that was, I’d say, 16 inches high and three feet long. And he opened it and it was a very well-organized junk box with some tools and some light bulbs in it and some other stuff I don’t remember. I thought, “Oh my goodness.” Our pastor, a couple Sundays ago, came out in a suit. He rarely wears a suit. And I was watching online because of COVID and, in fact, you can chat with other members of the church during the sermon, and I typed in, “Whoa! Who bought our good-looking pastor a new suit?” Because it was so different from what he usually wears.
And as he developed his sermon, he took off his jacket and on his white shirt there were filthy marks all over it; just dirt marks, black, brown, all over it, and you couldn’t see with his coat on all the stains and the darkness in his shirt. And of course he used that as an example about how we sort of hide our dirt as people. I thought it was a very good way of conveying the message and I commented that we all need dirt bags in our lives. We all need places to put the dirt. You know, I’m going to get spiritual here for a second, but again, if you’re not a person of faith, just don’t listen for a second. But you know, the person that you think is holier than thou, I got news for you, they’re not. So that’s why I say we all need to learn to flaunt our imperfection. And I think lots of times, as we relate to our children, our kids really look at us and feel like, “My mom or dad would never do this. My mom and dad would never do that.”
I’ve said for years, kids love stories. When you’re tucking kids in at night, tell stories about yourself as a kid where you made a wrong decision, where you were embarrassed, where you did the wrong thing. Who wants to approach someone who is perfect? If you’re imperfect, that makes you approachable. It seems to me, that’s what all of us need to be in life. We need to be approachable so the people we love will communicate the truth to us, and people that we don’t know will be drawn to us. It makes sense to me. I revel in the fact that I’m imperfect and God, the perfect one, his son, Jesus, who never sinned, that he loves me no matter what. I always tell churches, when I’m speaking in a church, the sin you’re going to commit this week, I got news for you, it’s already forgiven.
So who’s kidding who? I talk with a friend, in fact, he lives up your way in Oregon, he’s got a new program called it’s something like Pastors Fishing Retreat, it’s on Monday. He takes pastors out and he said, “It’s amazing how, when you take pastors out fishing in a river, how they tend to let their hair down and they get a chance to interact with other pastors.” He says, “It’s marvelous to see how the weekend unfolds.” And they really show their real self to one another. Well, here’s a thought for you, parent, when you pray, do you pray from your real self? “Lord, you know I struggle with this, Lord, you know I struggle with that.” Or do you pray from the ideal self? “Oh, Lord, make me this. Oh, Lord, make me the vessel I need to be.”
Come on, get with it. God knows your heart. He knows your every thought, he knows the number of hairs on your head, so why go down Perfection Lane when you can live a stress free life by realizing that you’re imperfect? Stress is a part of our life every day. And people create their stress through unrealistic expectations they put on themselves and they put on others. In fact, I wrote a book about stress. It’s a pretty good book, by the way. So anyway, those are my thoughts, Doug and Andrea.
Andrea: Well, just as you were talking about it, it makes me think a few years ago, how Doug would remind me when people were coming over. If you have everything perfect in the house when they come, then they’re not going to want to invite you over to their house because they’re going to think you have it all together. They’re going to see that nothing’s out of place, but that’s not reality of how we live. And so over the years I’ve learned that there’s a balance between have it nice so they feel comfortable; you don’t want it to be a mess, you want people to feel comfortable just sitting on the couch or the bathroom is clean and there’s a fresh hand towel, but you don’t have to have everything perfect because then people are going to think they have to live up to that standard to invite you to their house or whatever, get in their car, whatever the deal is. And that’s been really freeing for me. So I appreciate that we’re talking about this.
Dr. Leman: Andrea, that is so good what you just said. Every word you just said is just spot on true. And since Mrs. Uppington is still in bed and can’t hear what I’m about to say, I’m going to tell you though, when Mrs. Uppington has a couple over for dinner, number one, there’s enough food to feed a herd of people, a herd of people, and everything from the lime sorbet that cleans your palette, whatever that means, to the flowers that are fresh at everyone’s… I mean, she just overdoes it, to put it bluntly. And I remind her, I said, “Honey, when was the last time one of our friends invited us for dinner?” And then I answered my own question. I say, “They haven’t. You know why? Because none of those women feel like they can put on a dinner like you.” You think that makes a difference in how Mrs. Uppington proceeds in life?
Andrea: No, she loves it.
Dr. Leman: Yeah. She still does it.
Andrea: As I think about our story, I realize I love to go and have somebody else pamper me and have things beautiful, but I think that this process has helped to set me free that I don’t have to add up on my end, that we offer something different in our friendship and the people that are comfortable coming around, they’re okay with it. That I am not a trained chef or that I am not an interior decorator. I ask my friends, “Hey, what picture should I hang here because I don’t know!” I just realize we have to give and take, and I don’t have to be afraid of what they’re going to think of me. So it is a process, but it really has set me free.
Dr. Leman: Yeah. Well, good for you. That was really well set up. If every person would take that to heart, they would live a less stressed life. Stress is a huge thing today. The stress that we have inward, that we feel emotionally, expresses itself through our body; through neck problems, back problems, headaches, migraines, you name it. Stress will find its way out and it tends to do it through our muscular skeletal system in our body. So it’s a big killer today that the medical doctors tell us, stress.
Doug: Well, which is a great lead into the ebook promotion that we have for everybody today. And that is Stopping Stress Before It Stops You. For a mere $1.99 between now and the end of April 2021, you can get Stopping Stress Before It Stops You in ebook form wherever you get your eBooks. Andrea?
Andrea: Yeah, so I have a review here from Amazon, “This is a great book for moms, but husbands should read it too, to give a glimpse of what their wives go through. As a husband, I am stressed too, but it is enlightening to read how moms sometimes put unnecessary stress on themselves with their expectations. Dr. Leman offers good solutions to stress, and isn’t shy about making your spiritual life a priority.”
Doug: So between now and then the April 2021, go get Stopping Stress Before It Stops You. And now, a no-nonsense parenting moment with Dr. Kevin Leman.
Dr. Leman: The question is, “What do you do when your kid hits you?” You hit him back, knock him right out cold. No, no. That’s just my bizarre sense of humor. Listen, you don’t start habits with kids that you don’t want to have continue. So even a little one, a two-year-old or a three-year-old, hitting mommy, no, you hold the child close to your body and you tell them with a look on your face, “We do not hit people.” Now, when you say, “We don’t hit people”, you got to make sure you’re not hitting him. They watch your actions. They study you every day.
So when a kid hits, many times it’s just a reaction, but if a kid continues to hit, there are some issues there. There are some things that little guy or little girl is angry about. And the best way to get to the bottom of that is to simply talk about them with a calm voice. But modeling is really important. “Notice, mommy doesn’t hit daddy, daddy doesn’t hit mommy, big sister doesn’t hit big brother, et cetera.” Do your best, again, “nip it in the bud,” as Barney Fife once said. Nip it in the bud. That’s the important part. Don’t let it grow. Don’t let it fester.
Andrea: All right. So now I’m wanting to draw this into the whole idea of parenting. Dr. Leman, how do we take this idea that we’ve just talked about, about perfectionism, and apply it to our parenting? How does it affect our kids and how do we train them?
Dr. Leman: All right. Number one, be a good listener. Stop telling kids just to do things. Stop asking questions, ask opinion. That creates real dialogue, a transparency, a place where we communicate with each other without hurting each other’s feelings and putting people down and acting like we have all the answers, and most parents feel that way. So it’s a paradigm that works. Let the kids give back to the family. We talked about that. It’s a healthy thing to do. So everybody gives back to the family. No one member of the family is more important than the family. Family comes first. Everybody rows the boat in the same direction.
Doug: When we’re trying to be the perfect family, and we’re trying to have this facade, what are we communicating to our kids? And how does that… I got to assume that’s a negative on our kids’ life.
Dr. Leman: Yeah. You’re valuing them on their performance. It really says, “I really don’t care about you. I care about how you perform.” So you look good to our neighbors, to our friends, to our church group, to you name it. So it’s just putting a sense of realness in your family. Being quick to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong”, for example, is just such a good thing.
Doug: Wow, so you’re saying if I try and keep my life perfect, I really am making my kids say, “You only count when you perform the way I expect you”, huh?
Dr. Leman: Yeah, we’re performance-based families in America, for the most part.
Doug: And how does that then lead to stress for me and my kids?
Dr. Leman: It leads toward disaster because the kid, or the adult as they grow older, says, “I only count in life when I achieve, when I win, when I control.” You just create a society of a bunch of control freaks. Good luck with that!
Doug: So there’s just this tidal wave of culture that says you must be perfect, it must be ideal. What do we need to shift in our mind, or what does an action step we can push that back and not live that way?
Dr. Leman: I don’t know what… The first thing that comes to my mind, Doug, I went to the dermatologist the other day and I’m fair skinned, light hair, so I’m a dermatologist’s dream. In fact, I used to kid my dermatologist. I used to say, I think he was saying, “How are ya?” when I walked in and I discovered he was saying, “Hawaii”, because every time I walked in, he saw a Hawaiian trip on the horizon for all the stuff I needed done. But, I digress. But I was looking around in the dermatologist’s office about all the services they offer; Botox, these kinds of injections, those kinds of injections, skin surface resurfacing… And the women in there, and these are middle-aged women who are basically trying to make sure they look like they’re 29 years old.
To me, there’s nothing worse than a woman that doesn’t grow old gracefully. My wife is now in her seventies. And as I’ve said many times, heads will still turn. She’s a very, very attractive woman, very pretty. And as we grow older gracefully, I think that shows that things are okay inside of a person. But our society is so hung up on we should on each other. You should do this, you should do that, which conveys that you’re not there. You don’t measure up. That’s such a disrespectful thing to say. Billy Joel said it best in his song I Love You Just The Way You Are. Isn’t that great to have somebody love you just the way are, with all your warts and blemishes and faults and frailties? So this stress thing with your kids, I’m telling you parents, just be real, be honest, be straightforward, listen to them, be quick to say, “I’m sorry”, and you’re going to raise some pretty healthy kids.
Andrea: I’m trying to figure out how to ask my question. I’m thinking about imagining a kid growing up in a family where everything has to be perfect and they don’t have anyone they can talk to about what’s actually behind that veneer and the brokenness, the hurt or whatever, because the image they have to project is that “We’re perfect at home”?
Dr. Leman: Well-
Andrea: What happens to that kid as they get older?
Dr. Leman: What child do you think is most likely to commit suicide? The first born. Why? And I’ve read many a suicide note in my life; I’ve been privy to him as a Dean of Students at the University of Arizona. And I’ll tell you, they have a theme, “I’m sorry I didn’t measure up in this world.” Really? Didn’t measure up? To whose expectations? Many times of their own, but how did that get there? By the practices and the communication, or lack of communication, and the very sterile environment they grew up in where perfection reigned.
Andrea: So that maybe goes back to what you were first saying after the break, that when we’re a good listener to our kids, and we let them dialogue with us, when we let them ask us questions and we don’t act like we have all the answers.
Doug: Do you remember? It was probably like seven years ago or so, or six years ago, when our kids sat us down and said, “We’re tired of trying to live up to this expectation. And we’re tired of doing this. And mom and dad, we want you guys to stop.” Right? That’s exactly what we were just saying that if we listen to our kids, they’ll actually tell us what we’re needing to do and how we had to set ourselves on a different path and set them free.
Dr. Leman: You know, people just have to get it that you see little Miss Perfection, little Mister Perfection, I’m here to tell you, they’re going to do a swan dive. They’re going to hit the concrete someday.
Doug: And it’s so much more fun now that our kids actually call us out on things that we’ve said we want to stop and we don’t want to be a perfect family anymore and it’s way more enjoyable. It really is. There is no fun in being the perfect family, for sure. So, okay. Well for all those perfectionists out there, I can’t encourage you enough to drop it. It’s not helping anybody. If you’re dealing with stress, go get the book, Stopping Stress Before It Stops You. It’s only $1.99. You’ll be super thankful. Stress, as we know in America, is the silent killer that’s just growing rampant out there. And we look forward to the next time we get to hang out with you and add to your parenting toolbox so that you can love those kids more and more.
Andrea: Have a great week. Thanks for joining us today.
Doug: Take care. Bye-bye.