Avoid This Phrase to Prevent Perfectionist Tendencies in your Children

Hi, my name is Tim and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

Tim Schwartz
Family Matters
5 min readFeb 16, 2021


Black and white photo of a father holding young child.
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

I was raised to believe in the veracity of the statement ‘If you’re going to do a job then do it right’. On the surface, it sounds like the perfect thing to say to a child in order to instill a strong work ethic. The fact is that it did work on me. I became an adult with a strong work ethic and I’m sure this made my mother happy. The problem is that it also resulted in me becoming enslaved to an unhealthy mindset.

They say that every action has a reaction but what they don’t tell you is that sometimes an action results in spawning multiple positive and negative reactions at the same time. This is what happened to me after living through a childhood where I was periodically reminded that if I was going to do a job then I should be doing it right.

The truth is that this innocuous little saying has had a choke hold on me my entire life. It turned me into a perfectionist. It made it so I approach every personal and professional task feeling a weight of responsibility that I have to do the best that I can — and anything less is unacceptable.

Photo of author as a little boy trying to do a hand stand.
The author trying to do a hand stand as a boy.

In a world where the things I choose to do have to be done right, there has never been room for anything other than a near perfect execution.


If you are thinking that a near perfect execution of everything, all of the time, sounds like an exhausting way to live a life then you’d be right. It is exhausting because each and every task comes with a rubric that defines what good looks like and demands a well-executed plan.

The gift of this approach is that it results in developing a solid professional reputation because people know that they can depend on me to get good outcomes.

The curse of this approach is that it results in developing a solid professional reputation where people ask me to take on work because they know I’ll do it well.


Raising my daughters has truly been a labor of love. For better or worse and most ironically, I embraced my responsibilities as a parent guided by the very saying that I now recognize is important to never say to children.

My kids are awesome. They inspire me each and every day. They do well academically and socially. They are leaders among their peers and are already more productive than I ever was at their young ages. Moreover, they’re already working hard to make positive changes in the world.

Photo of my daughters enjoying the cold waters of Lake Superior.
My daughters exploring the cold waters of Lake Superior.

This wasn’t simply a matter of luck as some have said to me about my children in the past. This was the result of a perfectionist mindset in parenting. Yes, it did result in the desired outcome of getting good kids but not without a cost to myself.

The interesting thing is that I never repeated the very saying my mother always said to me as a child while raising my own daughters but yet somehow they have developed a strong work ethic and sense of personal and civic responsibility.


The problem with an approach to parenting that relies on adages is that it doesn’t allow room for children to have the very experiences and opportunities that help them come to the conclusions they need to on their own.

An adage is just a blanket statement that does not have personal relevance and does not acknowledge any context. In other words, an adage doesn’t understand the nuances of life experience. Adages are really nothing more than verbal clubs designed to knock you over with the force of a thousand years of human experience. And, the truth is that a thousand years of human experience doesn’t mean anything to a child.

Adults often underestimate the importance of providing basic human rights to the very children that they are raising. Even the youngest children have the same craving for voice and choice that we adults do. They want to have a voice in the decision making and the freedom to choose on their own. Montessorian educators get this. That is why they strive to ‘follow the child’ in a Montessori classroom. It is an acknowledgement that the child has their own agenda and wants to do things on their own. It is also an acknowledgement that the child will fail and then try again until they get it right. Children need to come to conclusions about life on their own and they don’t need adults always telling them what good looks like.

If we parent with this approach in mind, we end up with children who find joy in pursuing the things that interest them. This joy and interest fuels their intrinsic desire to do the things that they are interested in as best as they can. This results in children who learn at an early age how to define what good looks like on their own terms. They become confident, self-advocates who know how and when to take on tasks, how to self-assess in healthy ways and how to adjust their work output to a level merited by the relevance of the task at hand. In this world, there is no place for extrinsic forces of empty adages that do nothing more than create anxiety and unhealthy perfectionist tendencies.



Tim Schwartz
Family Matters

I get joy from inspiring people, parenting my daughters & creative endeavors. I write to share my perspective & capitalize on my life experience. 🔎🤔