The Myth of Perfect Parenting
Three ways to let go of impossible expectations and embrace imperfection.
Many mothers, and some fathers too, have shared with me their insecurities about parenting. All their questions and concerns have one underlying theme: Am I doing this parenting thing right? Am I really a good parent?
This pressure seems to be a modern phenomenon. In the early 1900’s, a new field of study was born: child psychology, pioneered by Freud. He believed that the way that parents handle their children during childhood has a profound and lasting influence on the overall development of their psyche.
In some ways this knowledge has taken away our confidence and has given us unrealistic expectations of parenting. We want to make sure that our children have idyllic childhoods so they reach adulthood unscarred. It has us striving for something unattainable: perfection in parenting. Aiming for perfection is robbing us of the simple joys of parenting.
Here are three ways on how to let go of the myth of being the perfect parent:
1. Imperfect Equals Normal
Family life is messy. Kids fight, the house seems to be perpetually out of order, and marriage takes hard work. Even on a good day it can seem as if you are getting it all wrong. But you’re not. It’s normal. This is what life is about. We need to embrace the messiness of it all, roll with the punches and move as calmly as we can through the ups and downs.
After one of my parenting workshops, a mother came over to me and said, “I loved learning all the skills that you teach. The best thing about this class though was the support. All the parents here are dealing with the same thing, they all have the same struggles, sleepless nights, potty training, terrible twos, sibling rivalry, kids with disabilities and moody teens. The most important thing I learned is that everything I am going through is normal. It’s a relief.”
We need to remember that there is no such thing as a parent who never yells, never gets frustrated or impatient and has children that are well behaved 24/7. It is helpful if we tell ourselves “Sometimes, I do a great job taking care of my kids and sometimes I am just an average parent. My kids sometimes are well behaved and sometimes they are not. That is the normal way for kids and parents to be. I am capable of managing parenthood and all the problems that may entail.”
2. Focus on the positive
For some reason we can remember all the things that we did not do right that day and forget about our accomplishments. The same goes with parenting.
When we focus on what we don’t do for our kids, we feel inadequate and insecure, we get into a bad mood, and then we take it out on our kid and yell at our children…Sound familiar?
Instead let’s focus on all the good stuff we do for our kids. There are those joyful, spontaneous moments that are made up of pure love and devotion. The easy stuff, like hugs and kisses, smiling when you see them after a long day of school, ruffling your child’s hair, making silly faces, cheering them on when they learn to walk, reading books and just listening to them tell you about their day. It’s those small moments everyday that build strong families.
Not only that, housework is the job of unsung heroes. Just imagine what would happen if we didn't cook dinner, do the laundry, or straighten the living room. We need to appreciate what we do even though it is expected of us. Even if no one else will, we should at least be patting ourselves on the back.
At the end of the day, we need to review all the good things that we did do for our kids and our family, (especially if we didn't do them perfectly):
“I made her lunch.”
“I tucked him into bed and sat with him for 5 minutes.”
“I did the laundry. Her socks were clean.”
“I took him to the doctor when he was sick.”
“I cooked dinner.”
The more we focus on what we do for our families, on the positive, the less pressure that we will feel to aim perfection.
3. Practice Gratefulness
Being grateful for the little things in life is a sure way to feel authentically happy. It has been scientifically proven that keeping a journal of those things can keep you upbeat and joyful, a natural mood booster. It can also distract you from aiming for perfection.
If you focus on being grateful that your child has slipped his little hand through yours and is tugging at you to come see his Lego creation, you might not see that mess he’s made.
If you spend time appreciating that your husband has given your kids a bath, you might not notice that he missed washing their hair.
If you focus on enjoying your family when you sit down to dinner, you might forget that they are not eating their vegetables.
Not noticing the imperfections can be a gift that keeps you appreciating your family and keep you calm, happy and conflict free.
This also works best at the end of the day when you take a minute to look in on your sleeping kids, appreciate their innocent faces and remember why you love them. When you get to the child who was really giving you a hard time during the day, take a few more moments. You might just go to sleep feeling good about your beautiful but imperfect family.
Letting go of perfection might not be easy but we can do it one step at a time. Knowing that imperfect is normal, focusing on the positive and appreciating our family can help.