The Tooth Fairy and Toxic Perfectionism


Oh no.

It hit me the second my 7-year-old’s voice drifted downstairs the other morning at 6:30 am. A sinking sense of dread filled me. I had failed as a parent. Failed to perform my sacred parental duty and keep the magic of childhood alive.

I forgot to be the Tooth Fairy.

How could I have forgotten?! My son’s second front tooth had fallen out during dinner for goodness sake. My husband and I had even reminded him to put his tooth under the pillow so the tooth fairy would come and get it. And we forgot.

I raced up the stairs to find my son trying not to cry as he explained that the tooth fairy had failed to come during the night. My mind raced. What to do? What to do? There is no guideline for “You forgot about the tooth fairy and now have to deal with the consequences of crushing your child’s belief in the extraordinary” in the parenting handbook. There is no handbook.

I was crouched there, desperately trying to find a way to explain things that would allow him a little bit longer to have the wonder of belief in magic, when I heard him.

“She didn’t take the dollar I left or my tooth,” he sniffed.

The what?!

“You…left a dollar for the tooth fairy?” I asked, hesitantly. This could be it. This could be my out.

He nodded. Bingo.

“Oh! Well, that’s why she didn’t come!” I explained, ecstatic that my son had made this easy. “She thought someone had already come for your tooth! You just confused her! You shouldn’t put money with your tooth, buddy.”

I was ready to pat myself on the back for my neat handling of the crisis when my son’s face crumpled into full-on sobs. “You never told me that,” he cried.

Oh no. Instead of fixing this, I’d managed to make it ten times worse. Because I’d forgotten that my firstborn is nothing if not my child and in his head, mistakes, no matter how small or silly, are not allowed.

He’d broken a rule I’d just made up on the fly. And now he was DEVASTATED.

Because we’re both perfectionists. And it’s a problem.

I grew up in an environment that fed my toxic perfectionism and it took me years of therapy to learn how to cope with it. I still struggle every day with never being good enough. With not putting myself out there because I’m afraid of failing as a mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a person.

I don’t want that for my child.

“Look at me,” I told him, crouching down and holding him close, “you didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t know and that’s okay. You can’t be perfect. No one expects you to be perfect. Failing is an important part of life, of growth. You are allowed to make mistakes.”

He took a deep breath and nodded, then went to get ready for school. I took my own deep breath.

I am allowed to make mistakes.

I didn’t fail as a parent. I am allowed to make mistakes. My kids are happy and healthy and maybe one day we’ll laugh about this when my son has his own children. I think it’s important to remember that we, as parents, are allowed to make mistakes.

The Tooth Fairy definitely came that night, though.


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