19 Tips for Over-achieving, Ambitious, Compulsive, and Type A Parents.

Perils

  • Don’t expect them to be like you. Otherwise you’re in for a long painful slog that could make them very unhappy, and–not unlikely — anti-ambitious. In a determined effort to develop their autonomy, they may rebel against your attempts to teach them your way of being successful. Be thankful not everyone is as compulsive or perfectionistic as you.
  • Don’t call them lazy or selfish. Address their specific mistakes, NOT their character. It’s really important that you demonstrate–and they learn–to distinguish between making a mistake and being a bad person.
  • Don’t hit. Sorry if this seems obvious to you, but it still happens far too much, and high-strung parents sometimes rationalize doing it. The research is quite clear that spanking and physical abuse actually deter self-control rather than increase it. If your anger becomes intense, wait until you can speak to them in a more productive tone. Tell them they’ve made you very angry and that you’ll speak to them later.
  • Don’t punish them with silence or avoidance. Compulsives can get righteous and justify shutting their kids out. What’s more important, being right or helping them?
  • Don’t abandon them by working too much. Over-achievers are at risk of rationalizing spending too much time at work in order to provide more for their family. Whether you are a mother or a father, your presence is important.
  • Don’t try to create a stress-free life for them. Help them to develop a perspective that stress can actually help us to grow stronger. If you are overly ambitious for their “success,” you may be vulnerable to feeling guilty if your kids accuse you of putting too much pressure on them. Trying to over-compensate and protect them from the inevitable stress that comes with school and life is at least as destructive.

Opportunities

  • Set consistent rules and standards in a matter-of-fact tone. Express confidence that they can meet your expectations. It’s not just how high you set the bar, it’s how calmly you set the bar. Raising your voice just gives them something to react to and doesn’t convey your faith in them.
  • Expect that whatever you say will be stored in their head for decades. You won’t see it as it’s happening, but for better or worse everything you say becomes part of the map they use to navigate the world–re-actively or pro-actively.
  • Expect them to resist. That’s how they develop their strength, independence, confidence and maturity. Don’t take this personally, or as a sign that they’ll never grow up.
  • Tell them whenever they do something well. Compulsives have a natural tendency to focus on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. You will probably need to set an intention to focus on what they’re doing well.
  • Make time for fun and exclusive attention. If you are compulsive, this may be very hard for you. Try to find things to do that you can both enjoy. This could be really good for you. And set aside time in which they are the exclusive focus of your attention and you’re not on your phone. Don’t try to multitask during that time.
  • Listen first. Make sure that you understand their point of view, and that they understand that you understand before you give them your pearls of wisdom. Parents who are driven tend to be impatient to get their point across and miss the important step of listening first. Imagine that you need to build a bridge to them first. Listening builds the bridge. You can then send your ideas back across to them after listening. To really get this read Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s great little book entitled How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Parental Hygiene

  • Don’t think you have to be a perfect parent. While it’s good to aim high, it’s not good to make it a personal necessity. If you think you could or should be perfect, it will just make you defensive when you fail. When you make a mistake just model taking responsibility without making it about you. Even if you could be perfect, that would not be good for your kids. Again, they need to develop resilience.
  • Come to terms with your own limitations and disappointments. Don’t expect them to live out what you were not able to achieve. Don’t displace your dissatisfaction with yourself onto them.
  • Don’t expect applause or try to prove your goodness through your parenting. This is about them, not you. They’re people, not another project. Don’t let your ego get caught up in it. It’s rare for kids to appreciate their parents until much later in life. If you don’t feel good about yourself, have some empathy for what you’re going through and break the cycle of self-attack.
  • Identify and remember your goal in parenting. Since this is not another opportunity for your achievement, what are you doing this for? What gives it meaning? It’s important that you decide this for yourself.
  • Take the for time self-care and achieving a balanced life-style. That will pay off for all of you.

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