New Parenthood Can Lead to Situational Perfectionism

A new parent writes to syndicated advice columnist Carolyn Hax about how stressful it can be:

The "stressed parent" images were too stressing, so here's a beautiful flower intead.

The “stressed parent” images were too stressing, so here’s a beautiful flower instead.

I’m a new mom of a pretty but challenging 6-month-old boy. I am a naturally decisive person; however, the anxiety I’m feeling over making the “right” decisions or providing him the “right” things has been difficult to cope with.

For example, since I’ve gone back to work, I haven’t been able to pump enough milk, and I’ve needed to start supplementing with formula. I intellectually know this is fine and many babies have formula, but for some reason I’m beating myself up over it. Why can’t I produce enough milk, why can’t I provide what I’m supposed to for him, etc.?

Also with regard to other things — like when to stop swaddling at night, how and what solids to feed him — I feel so worried I’m going to do something that is less than optimal that might hurt his development. I’m second-guessing myself very often and starting to drive myself crazy, and I know that isn’t good.

Do you have any suggestions for how to calm my anxieties so I can just do the best I can and be happy with that place?

Hax wisely advises her to remember she needn’t do everything right, and also to avoid competing with other parents.

I would add that the very best thing the questioner can do is find a community of nonperfectionist/noncompetitive parents and hang around with them. They’ll help keep her grounded. Perfectionism is a complex behavior and nonperfectionism is also complex and best learned experientially from mentors. (Make sure some of the parents are more experienced; a group of new parents, however well intentioned, probably won’t do the trick!)

New parenthood definitely qualifies as a trigger for situational perfectionism.

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