The Myth of the Perfect Parent

Dawn Davenport


Perfect Parent

We have wanted to be a mother for so long, how can we not want to be the perfect mom? So, how do we achieve that goal?

Those who have had to work hard so very hard to become parents—either through infertility treatment or adoption—often feel the pressure to be “The Perfect Parent”. A couple of weeks ago a new mom told me that now that she was actually a parent after five long years of trying, she felt inadequate and scared of failure. Her long journey involved four IUIs, three IVFs, one miscarriage, one birth mother changing her mind, one country switch, and finally the arrival of one beautiful son. She felt that these numbers should add up to total bliss, but three months into this parenting gig, she mostly felt inadequate. While she was trying to create her family, she didn’t have time to stop and think; she just had to keep checking off the next item on her list, scheduling the next appointment, filling out the next form. Now she had time to think, and she was plagued by fear of failure. Failing her son, failing his birth mother, failing to live up to the hype in her home study.

I’m Not Even Close

My heart ached for her. I’m an old hand at parenting, but I understand where she is coming from. I think most of us go into parenting thinking, or maybe assuming, and definitely praying that we will be The Perfect Parent. Heaven only knows that I thought, assumed and prayed for that. And yet, I’m not—not even close, and it certainly isn’t from a lack of trying.

The Arrogance of It All

There is something arrogant about thinking you can be The Perfect Parent, but I suspect that I’m not alone. For me, it was less arrogance and more the desire to control life. If I could somehow be The Perfect Parent, I would be able to make sure nothing really bad ever happened to my children. Surely The Perfect Parent could better protect her kids from the vagrancies of life.

All Bets are Off

It also seemed to me that The Perfect Parent would have less regrets, having, of course, made no mistakes. As a new parent I was all for bypassing regrets. Actually, that still appeals to me, but the reality remained illusive because it turns out that parental perfection is impossible. There are simply too many moving parts. Just when you figure out how to get a two year old through the day with a minimal amount of fuss, he turns three, and all bets are off. As soon as you figure out what approach usually works best for child number one, along comes child number two, and once again, all bets are off. Just when you think things are settling into a smooth routine and perfection is within reach, your husband changes jobs, or your father has a heart attack, and (are you beginning to see a pattern?) all bets are off.

Perfection is not only impossible, but trying for it is unhealthy for all concerned. Can you imagine the pressure of being the child of The Perfect Parent? For the most part now, I am content in my imperfection. It’s not that I don’t want to be a good parent; I still want that more than anything. But I no longer worry so much about being The Perfect Parent. I’m not cut out for perfection or even striving for perfection, and apparently neither are my kids. We seem to be a rather imperfect lot with our warts and blemishes only partly concealed from the rest of the world. But maybe that’s for the best since perfect people make me edgy.

What Our Kids Need from Us

But here is what I want that new mom to hear: our kids don’t need perfection. They need our love and our best attempts, but they can handle our many mistakes along the way. Parenting, like life, is a journey not a destination. Bruno Bettelheim, the famous child psychologist, wrote a book awhile back. I must admit that I’ve never read the book (of course, The Perfect Parent would have it read and highlighted), but I love the title, The Good Enough Parent. We don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. What a wonderfully freeing concept!

Nowadays, my goal is pretty simple: I just try to enjoy the process. I’d rather be a happy parent than a perfect parent. I figure that if I enjoy parenting, I will make good decisions most of the time for my children and for myself. There are definitely times in the midst of homework struggles, sibling squabbles, and teen screw-ups that this goal seems pretty unrealistic, but I persevere. And even on the worst of days, it is more satisfying and realistic than striving for perfection.

So, how about you–still striving for perfection? How’s that going for you??

Image credit: Nathan Pederson

25/11/2008 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 8 Comments

8 Responses to The Myth of the Perfect Parent

  1. Avatar Three Pink Diamonds says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post, I am struggling at the moment, I often feel that I need to have it all together. I beat myself up regularly and wish i responded calmer, better and stronger. I guess it is a day at a time. Good to know I am not on my own in my thoughts.

  2. Avatar Gabriella says:

    Hi. Thank you for your wise words:) Perfection is an unattainable goal and it is not healthy for parent or child.

  3. Avatar Ingrid says:

    Isn’t it all about balance. We want to be good, but to be perfect would require us to be a fanatic and that isn’t balanced. I don’t know whether this is unique to adoptive parents or parents through infertility treatment, but I do see it a lot. Thanks for your insight.

  4. Avatar Erme says:

    I hope others aren’t missing the distinction you are making between being a perfect parent and being a good parent. I would hope all parents, but especially those of us who adopted, would want to be a good parent. I’m not even sure we shouldn’t TRY to be a perfect parent. If we don’t set our goals high we may fall far short. I mean, I know we can’t ever achieve perfection, that is reserved for God, but we can at least try and then when we don’t make it we at least are closer than if we hadn’t even tried. JMHO. (just my humble opinion)

  5. Avatar Adam says:

    It’s not just mom’s that have the pressure to be the perfect parent. Us dads feel it too. I had not ever thought about the impact of how our kids came to us affecting this drive to do it well. The tenacles of infertility reach pretty damn far, don’t they. I agree that as time goes on and my son and daughter grow older, I feel less need to always be the perfect dad. As others have said, I love this blog.

  6. Avatar Jamie says:

    That’s a beautiful post, Dawn, and as always I love your approach of love and pragmatism. You’re absolutely right – our kids need parents who love them and love being their parents far more than they need parents who live up to somebody else’s perceived expectation.

  7. Avatar randi says:

    I agree that the reason I try to be The Perfect Parent is that I don’t want to screw up or screw my kids up. I think it’s normal to feel this way, but I think it can be taken to an extreme. The funny thing is that I realized that I never think about “enjoying” parenting. I do enjoy it, but not all the time and not as much as the media portrays that people do. Maybe I’ll try that for my goal over the next month and see where that gets me. As always, your blog gives me something to think about.

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