The Myth of the Perfect Parent
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