Small Jars

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My hope is to focus on creating a perfect process, not a perfect product.

I’m a recovering perfectionist. That’s not something I say lightly or proudly. I dealt with crippling perfectionism through much of my teen years. Just to give an idea of how much it impacted me, I would use a ruler to draw the vinculum (the line between the numerator and denominator, I definitely didn’t know that prior to writing this!) for fractions when doing my math homework and I had several instances when someone thought a hand written assignment was a typed page that I’d printed. Needless to say, it was pretty severe. And even though I feel like I have made significant progress since then, it still finds its way into my life more days than not.

I mention this because even though perfectionism is not a part of the legacy I want to pass on to my children, having little helpers involved in many of my daily tasks can sometimes be difficult for me. As much as I want to be a chill mom that doesn't mind messes or sweat the small stuff, that's just not who I am. I find a little alarm in my head going off on a regular basis because there’s another mess that’s been made or something isn’t being done “right.” Despite this, I try to tune into a quieter, more centered voice inside; the part of me that desperately wants to pass on a legacy of confidence, calm, and creativity to my kids. I want them to know they can figure things out and that there is someone supportively standing by when they do need help. I want my children to be involved and I want them to have the space to explore and learn - a process that is inherently messy, often chaotic, and usually doesn’t yield a perfect result. In a way, my hope is to focus on creating a perfect process, not a perfect product.

I try to tune into a quieter, more centered voice inside; the part of me that desperately wants to pass on a legacy of confidence, calm, and creativity to my kids.

The truth is, having kids has been a sort of exposure therapy for my perfectionism. Those little, busy hands have forced me to confront the remnants of it head-on. And while nothing erodes perfectionism quite like having a toddler pour the pancake batter on the griddle (and the counter, and the ground, and the side of the bowl, and that small crack between the griddle and the plastic legs that support it), I have also had times where my perfectionism gets in the way of my kids’ growth and independence. 

Chaos is an inherent component of growth. If possible, I try to find ways to adapt to or recover from it, rather than prevent it. This is a combination of our toddler mastering his paper cutting and our baby mastering her table clearing :)

Even if you don’t deal with perfectionism, most of us have developed some level of particularness by the time we reach adulthood. And while toddlers can be very particular about some things, it’s usually not the same things we adults tend to focus on. When there’s a problem with perfectionism that I haven’t found a solution for, it usually plays out one of two ways: my kids get stressed as I try to place my perfectionistic expectations on them or I try to ignore how I’m feeling and “white knuckle” through the situation. I think both of these are quite problematic.

When perfectionism dictates my parenting, my focus is on doing things a certain way and/or there being no mess. Their learning and confidence are in the background (if present at all) and my focus is on the task at hand being done the “right way.” Obviously, my kids react to this. Their focus is no longer on learning, exploring, discovering, or mastering a skill, but simply doing something "perfectly" as measured by my standards. While they might technically develop a certain skill under these conditions, I think it's emotionally crippling and stifles their progress to have perfection-focused parenting. So even though they might learn how to do something, in another sense, true growth isn't really happening.

I know that sort of emotional environment isn’t ideal for my kids, so for a long time, my default was to try to ignore my perfectionistic tendencies. In the past, when I didn’t have a good solution to something that bothered me, I would often just try to not be bothered by it. This left me feeling really stressed and at times, maybe even a little resentful. Even though I would try to convince myself that these small things didn’t matter, the reality was that they mattered to me and not honoring that increased my mental load and chipped away at my inner calm. They added up, and over time, wore me down.

For a while, it almost seemed that my kids’ confidence and independence had to come at the cost of my own sense of calm and sanity.
I eventually realized that this was my approach and recognized that it wasn’t working well for me or my family. Rather than just trying to push through situations that stressed me out, or convince myself that they shouldn’t impact me, I’ve tried to find solutions that work for our entire family. Solutions that help my kids maintain and develop their sense of independence, while also preserving my sanity. 

I think it’s also important for me to pause and say that there are some things that really don’t matter (like the veggies being cut to a uniform thickness or the bread being sliced evenly) that I have challenged myself on and continually work on letting go of. But there are other things that do stress me out and it’s okay that they do. For those things, I have tried to find workable solutions that help add to the calm, not the chaos, in our home.

Some Hacks I’ve found Helpful

One principle that I have found helpful is to create a “kid-friendly version” of some common items in our home. Usually this means a smaller container that is easier for them to handle and has less contents in it. This works well for them and me because they can have free reign using it and there is minimal mess or waste that I have to deal with. It’s a simple solution, but it’s one that makes a big difference in our home. Doing this allows me to proactively invite my kids to be involved and independent while also allowing me to stay calm and try to create the type of emotional environment needed for real growth. Here are just a few examples of applying this principle.

We use small jars for common meal-time items that come in larger, less kid-friendly containers. Because many items come in large containers that are hard for little kids to handle and not make a mess with, I just put some of the contents from the bigger jar into a smaller one. Before using small jars, I was hesitant to let my kids fix some of their own foods because I didn’t want to deal with the mess or have things all mixed up.

This guy likes to do EVERYTHING himself (unless he’s already mastered it), so this solution works well for us. I usually just upcycle glass jars from things we buy at the store. I especially love Trader Joe’s jars because the labels come off seamlessly, and they have some fun shapes and sizes. The little jars are much easier for my kids to handle and if gobs of whipped cream get mixed with the jam, that’s okay

Small shakers are great for everyday items like salt, cinnamon, cinnamon and sugar, etc. We tried some small spice jars and now the kids have a much smaller, easier to manage shaker that they love using to flavor their own food.

We eat steel cut oats for breakfast a lot and we were ending up with “cinnamon bombs” almost every morning - way too much cinnamon in the food, on the floor, or spread across the table because the shaker was large and the holes were too big for little kids to manage well.

 

I only give as much of something as I want to clean up. I realized this with my oldest and find it a helpful standard; I use this rule with drinks as well as water (or other supplies) at our craft table.

Small stable watercoloring Jars can help... creativity
For watercolor painting, we were initially using small spice jars and they got knocked over all the time. It wasn’t too big of a deal, because it was only a little bit of water, but it was a bit inconvenient. I recently tried using a shorter, more stout jar (from Trader Joe’s lemon curd, which is quite tasty if you haven’t tried it) and they haven’t been knocked over a single time. The boys love that they can come and paint whenever they’d like and there’s enough water that they can go for a while before it needs to be replaced.

I hope that some of these specific examples are helpful. If not, hopefully they can help you think about some ways to apply the larger principle at play here: creating a more kid-friendly version of some things around your home to increase your kids’ independence and creativity, as well as your calm, as you grow together.

I’d love to hear about some of the solutions you and your family use to help your kids gain more independence and confidence, while also preserving your sense of calm. Hopefully we can be a resource for each other through our parenting journeys!

 

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