Perfectionism, Laundry and Parenting

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Mar 15, 2014

It has been a long while since I’ve had time to blog or had a blog in me, but this morning, while folding laundry I became inspired.

Anyone who truly knows me, even a little, knows I am a rabid perfectionist. Can’t help it, it’s part horoscope (Virgo) and plain old DNA. A cross I must bear, and I do quite happily.
In short, I like things to look, smell, feel, taste GOOD!

Let me clarify that I am not a lunatic perfectionist, just one who has a high personal bar and thus always tries to reach it and then nudge it upwards, slightly.

Where this ties into laundry and my family is quite simple. I was thinking about how far my perfectionist journey has come in the land of parenting. Teaching our kids how to fold laundry, case and point.

I hearken back to my mothers’ words when our first was a toddler — “you have to teach them how to make their bed,” she said, “but don’t worry about how it’s made at the start, just that IT IS made.”

But how could I live with an untidily made bed. In the beginning I showed him a few times and wondered why he didn’t seem to fully get it. Looking back on it now, it really wasn’t all that bad for a four-year-old.

Enter fresh laundry. The day we sat down and explained how to fold it. T-shirts and socks proved to be the stumbling blocks here and years later still tend to be challenges from time to time, but I’ve learned to let go. It’s now how they fold it, it is that they fold it — the voice in my head said.

This is not to say that quality doesn’t matter, quite the contrary. It absolutely does, but so too does positive reinforcement that should eventually lead to improvement over time of a skill or habit in a child.

I have most definitely explained that poorly-folded laundry that enters a drawer will exit that drawer like it has lived inside the mouth of a cow for a few hours or been trampled on by pigs. And yes, those comments are usually met with some form of shoulder-shrugging, low-level eye-rolling or flailing hands up in the air. I long ceased using that example and observed as the amazing happened. They eventually did care, and took care and perhaps heard our words in their little ears while folding — whatever — it was and is all good.

So, perfectionism. I feel it is a fairly noble pursuit within reason and with limits. Try to be the best you can be at whatever you attempt. Nothing wrong with that in my view. None of us is perfect, nor has that ever been my motivation. At the same time, there is nothing inherently wrong with pushing one’s own personal bar — as long as it doesn’t impede yourself or anyone else in the process.

I do feel that increasingly we live in a society where personal standards are slipping. Excuses abound, rampant laziness, easy outs — there are plenty of ways to let our standards slide. Like anything else, once they start sliding down that hill — like a runaway train — it, they, are hard to stop.

With respect to parenting, I learned to let go of my perfectionist ways when it comes to my children a long time ago. From time to time, it rears its anal head into a situation and I have to check myself.
The bottom line is both our three kids, my husband and myself have grown in our understanding of ourselves, each other and the world.

Who would have ever thought that bed-making and laundry-folding could hold such powerful parenting lessons.


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