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Expectations and Perfection

By: Music Teacher Chelsea Dorner

December 13, 2017

I remember when I had my first child, nothing went as planned. Not only was he born during Hurricane Sandy, but our magical idea of bringing him home to our cozy place for the first time after leaving the hospital was not even an option. Without power, and a northeaster looming in the forecast after the hurricane, we had no other choice but to stay with my parents for two weeks. They had power, were excited about the opportunity to provide us a place to stay, and I liked the idea of someone else cooking for us.

I remember my husband taking multiple trips to our house. His excursions to our dim abode involved the use of a camping headlamp, rustling through a lot of unknown baby supplies, and returning only to find he had forgotten the one thing we needed. It made me sad to think of him there alone in the dark, trying desperately to find something that would make being first time parents easier on us both. What a foreshadowing.

They day we finally made it back to our home, it finally sank in that this was going to be our new normal. Besides “surviving” the birth of our first child during a hurricane, I had all of the usual concerns of a first time Mom: Will he be okay at night? Should I hold him? Should I put him down? Does he like me? Will he be smart? In the months before his birth, I ate every healthy food I could, exercised regularly, and was obsessed with reading articles on being pregnant. The list could go on and on. Suffice to say that from the day I found out I was pregnant, I did everything in my power to make sure my child would have the best of everything. When we got home that day though, none of that seemed to count for anything. Here I was, completely unaware of how to take care of an infant, and killing myself over whether or not I was doing the right thing, minute by minute. I kept asking my husband “Is everything going to be okay?” and his response was always, “Everything IS okay.”

Though I went through a tough adjustment into new parenthood those first few months, each step along the way I have had opportunities to gain some valuable insight. At the top of this list I have learned (and will be learning for many years to come): My expectations for perfection can be toxic for me and for my family.

Now, I’m not here to give you expert advice or statistical evidence-based data that will support this claim, as it is one that is personal and that I still struggle with, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone. We have so many instances in our journeys as parents for our children to “perform” up to certain expectations. These very well may be cultural in nature, they may come from our own life experiences, from seeing how others seem to do it, from the ever-so-discouraging judgement of social media, or from friends or family. Whatever the case may be, we know they’re there. From the day we laid eyes on this precious child we have been charged to care for, these expectations have been there even if we haven’t identified them.  

Why do I say they can be toxic? Expectations themselves aren’t necessarily bad. They help us set the framework for success in a fast paced culture where competition is a real thing and being the “best” is highly valued. Perfection is another story. To expect ourselves to be perfect parents, or to expect our children to be perfect, is unrealistic and creates an environment for high anxiety to be present. We function at a level of black and white in this type of scenario and the connecting and nurturing that need to happen for a healthy emotional state have the chance to be thrown to the wayside.  

Knowing what is developmentally appropriate can be a great first step. Not being a parent expert myself, I try my best to use the resources that are available to me. Teachers, parents, administrators or friends that you regard highly as parents are a great place to start. Secondly, why not trying to create a Family Mission Statement? Steven Covey, author of the well known book series 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says that a family mission statement is “a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is about — what it is you really want to do and to be — and the principles you choose to govern your family life.” This helps to create an atmosphere of unity within the family, as well as sets important boundaries. It is flexible enough to be open to interpretation, yet clear enough for all to understand.  

Think about it, if I expected perfection out of the students at our recent Holiday Program, how different would the process be? To me, the way the students got to this performance is much more important than the performance itself, even in all of its splendor. We practiced hard, learned why practice was important, had fun along the way, and did our best. Remember that just as in music, as parents we need to improvise often. The Holiday Program was just a snapshot of the experience our children have had in music. Be encouraged that you are always one note away from the right note!


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here

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