How can I get my perfectionist husband to back off and not be so picky with our kids?

JUNE (a parent, asks): My husband, John, is a good guy, but he's very demanding with our kids—our son is nine and our daughter is six.

KEVIN (Dr. Kevin Leman): What do you mean by demanding? Is he very strict and authoritarian?

JUNE: No, he doesn't demand anything with "Do it or else!" or anything like that. Maybe the better word would be picky or critical. You see, I home school and my husband is in charge of our Bible memorization program. He tells the kids, "You have to memorize the verses the way they are written. They have to be letter perfect."

KEVIN: I see—your kids have their little King James Versions, because what was good enough for the Apostle Paul is good enough for him! Would you call your husband legalistic?

JUNE: No, not really, its just that when things are done, he believe they're supposed to be done right. We've come a long way in nine years of marriage and we've worked on a lot of things. For example, he's a neatnik and I'm a slob. His desk at work is always clean with hardly anything on it. His fellow workers razz him and tell him he isn't getting anything done, but he's one of the most productive people in the office.

KEVIN: You mention that you feel you've come together with your husband over the last nine years, but apparently you don't feel together with him about his being picky with the kids. Where have you learned to agree?

JUNE: Well, we've come together as far as the house, you know. I try to clean up more and keep it neat for him, and he lives with my clutter with a lot more patience than he used to. But I want to find the balance with the way he's dealing with the kids—his pickiness. I see my daughter becoming very much like him. The other day she put a verse she had printed out up on the refrigerator and there was one minor word misspelled. I said, "Oh, that's great, Honey," but Daddy said, "Oh, oh, I have a problem here. This isn't right."

KEVIN: Are you sure John’s middle name isn't Nicodemus? It sounds as if he might have made a great Pharisee. I’d try to get John aside and point out to him it might be okay to let an error go by here and there because he's teaching the kids to be perfectionists, and perfectionism is slow suicide. Tell him you have some real fears about how your kids are going to grow up and see life. Explain that when you put up the verse on the refrigerator and allow it to be not quite perfect, you are encouraging your child, not teaching her bad habits. Shell see the misspelled work and change it herself the next time. But what we want to do is encourage our kids and tell them they're okay. They need that message every day as they grow up.

RANDY (Randy Carlson): If your husband likes to have some fun now and then, maybe you could tease him a little and say things like, "Oh, John, you're so right. You know, I've really been worried about this. I want to make sure the kids get those Scripture verses letter perfect every time! If they miss even one, we’re probably all doomed." You know the kind of things you could say to your husband. But a little laughter might soften the situation and get him to back off a bit on his perfectionism. Do you thing you have good enough communication to do that?

JUNE: Yes, I do—that wouldn't be a problem. He's not really touchy—he just gets very serious about “doing things right.”

RANDY: Humor is a key ingredient in communicating. I know in our own family, we get pretty uptight at times, but when we’re willing to laugh at ourselves it really reduces the tension. Try to get your husband to lighten up and that will help your daughter to lighten up on herself too. Be aware, however, that changing a perfectionistic husband is a slow process—two steps forward, one step back. Stay positive, and when he does get perfectionistic with the kids, do all you can to balance things out and let them know that they are loved even when they make a mistake or don't do everything perfectly.

Author: excerpt from Parent Talk by Dr. Kevin Leman and Randy Carlson of Family Life Communications

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