Lea Ray, LCSW
Why your child doesn't need a perfect parent
Mom guilt. It’s one of the worst emotions I’ve experienced, and I experience it on an almost daily basis. I was too impatient and snappish, then I was too much of a softie. Then I was spacing out when my kids were trying to tell me about their days, and then I missed the memo that it was Halloween costume day at school (yes, this really happened this year). I know the dad guilt is real too! All of us want to be the very best parent we can for our kids. We want to bake them homemade, healthy treats, pass on everything we know about the world, and be there cheering the loudest at every recital and sports event. We want our kids to feel supported and wrapped up in our unconditional love, but also learn to be independent and responsible. And even when we try our hardest to be and do all of those things for our kids, we often fall on our face.
The good news is, our kids don’t need us to be perfect. There has never existed a perfect parent since the dawn of time, and our species has survived this long. Kids do need good parents! As I’ve outlined in earlier posts, kids do need us to pay attention to them, be there for them, nurture them, and guide them. And we should continue to strive to be the best parents we can be. But inevitably we will fall short of the ideal on a regular basis, and that is actually just fine. When I didn’t tell my daughter she could wear her Halloween costume to school, I taught her a valuable lesson in handling disappointment. (That’s what I’m going to keep telling myself, anyway!) If we never, ever snapped at our kids, or spaced out on them, they would be horribly disappointed in their future friendships and romantic relationships. Recognizing that their parents are fallible humans can also open the door to a more authentic relationship.
Also, when we make mistakes, we have a great opportunity to model for our kids how to handle making a mistake. If our child sees us admit we were wrong and apologize, it will be easier for them to do the same. I love how in the movie Timmy Failure, Timmy could only say, “mistakes were made” and never own that he made the mistake – until his mom admitted to him, “I made a mistake.” He said, “You did?” and after digesting this, was able to say, “Me too.”
I am a fan of the Positive Discipline parenting series, and one of their mantras is “Mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn.” The book Positive Discipline for Parents in Recovery quotes a sign the author saw in a store. “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” It’s important for our kids to see us own our mistakes and apologize, and also forgive ourselves. That’s exactly what we want them to do, right?
Of course, there will always be social pressure to be more, be better, stretch ourselves further, especially for women. I have a friend who is as close to a perfect mom as I’ve ever met and who also for many years juggled a ridiculously stressful management position at a respected nonprofit – without putting her kids in afterschool! She is extremely organized and hardworking and made it look effortless. But she told me that another parent at a kid’s birthday party asked her, “So, are you volunteering or involved in your community at all?” It’s so hard to give ourselves permission not to be everything to everyone, when there will always be someone pointing out something else we could do better, but today I would like to be that voice that helps you give yourself permission to let it go.
There are several books with titles like “Good Enough Parent” or “Good Enough Mother.” I haven’t read any of them because, you know, I’m muddling through working and parenting, but I love that idea. We strive to be the best we can be, and in the end, we’re good enough.
”Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn't exist, and I've found what makes children happy doesn't always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.” ― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent.