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Work in Progress

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (November 2, 2013)

One of my greatest strengths I believe is also my greatest weakness. I am someone who strives for excellence and I’d rather not do something if I know I won’t do it well. When I decide to do something, I give it 100% effort and do it to the best of my ability. This in itself might be a good attitude to have but I say it’s also my greatest weakness because it means I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like the things on my desk being perpendicular to each other, I like to colour coordinate clothes, I like to do and redo things until I feel like it’s perfect. I like things being ‘perfect’ which is a downhill battle because everyone knows that perfection isn’t possible. It means that I put a lot of pressure on myself and, very likely, on others around me.

And I realise that I am not alone in this. As I look at people in the city, many are seeking ‘perfection’ in different ways. Some people want to look perfect in their appearance, which may mean going for face lifts or plastic surgery to look like models in the magazines. Others want to be perfect in their CVs, their jobs or have the ‘perfect family’. But people I see most are parents who want their kids to be ‘perfect’ – a model child of obedience, with perfect grades at school, with no mood swings or temper tantrums, with no bossy fits or lazy bouts - a musical virtuoso, an award-winning athlete. As much as I’d love to meet a child like this – he doesn’t exist!

It’s wonderful to meet parents who want to help their children be the best that they can be but it’s painful to see parents who demand perfection from their children because parents end up frustrated and children end up being angry.

I remember reading a great article about parenting with a great analogy. If a person goes to a showroom to buy a car, he is looking for a car that has no default. If he were to see a car with no windows, he would not be satisfied because he is expecting a finished product. However, if this same person were to visit the car factory and see that a car on the production line had no windows, he would not be surprised because he knows that windows will eventually get fit on the production line.

Raising a child is being in the production department of the car factory. A child is never a ‘finished product’ but always a ‘work in progress’. They will make mistakes, forget things, lose belongings, have temper tantrums, and fall short of expectations. Not to say that we shouldn’t help them in these areas but we should see that these shortcomings are bound to exist. Understanding that raising a child is like being on the production line will ease a lot of frustration as we interact with them because we are always ‘adding to’ and developing our children. So instead of expecting them to be in a showroom, we can accept their mistakes and help them as they are on the production line.

And I think something we can all identify with, as parents or not, is that we are all works in progress. We can’t expect our children to be ‘perfect’ if we ourselves aren’t. I remember a parent once complaining to me that her son hits his younger brother when they get into fights. The fights get the boys very angry and then they express it through physical violence. When I asked the boys how their parent reacts to that, they said that she gets very angry with them and hits them too. When parents vent their anger in a certain way, in this case with hitting, it’s likely that their children will follow suit. If we can acknowledge that we as adults and parents aren’t perfect and need to work on our own imperfections, it makes it much easier to take those expectations off our children.

Let’s remember that we are all works in progress, us and our children included.


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