My fourth son was born just a few fast-moving months ago. I’m sure I’ve spent hours looking at his perfect little wrinkly toes, and dimpled hands, and rosy lips. I’m often overcome with the thought of how amazingly perfect he is.
I’ve found myself thinking that with this new little one, I’m a new parent all over again. And, as my wandering line of thinking goes, it’s a new opportunity to get things right. I can start over. I haven’t made any of my parenting mistakes yet. I get caught up in the fervor of perfect parenting all over again.
I’m snuggling this perfect little baby and I want everything in his life to be just as perfect. There are plenty of voices around to tell me (and all of us) how to get it just right. (If there’s any doubt, just do a Google search, or wait for a stranger on the street to offer up some sage wisdom.) These voices tell us about skin on skin bonding, eye gazing, and babbling. About developing good habits for sleeping, eating, and finding a rhythm for it all. They’ll tell us about additives to avoid and supplements to get. Nature trips to take and TV shows to moderate. They tell us about apps for brilliant babies, and also the dangers of technology. They’ll give us lists of books to fill every shelf in the house and give us enough enriching activities, clubs, and teams to constitute a full-time job. And they’ll tell us all about the importance of slowing down.
The longer I think about my proposed path to perfection, the more I become overwhelmed. Until I come to my senses.
Though my little one seems so perfect, wrapped in his blue blanket and snuggled to my chest, the reality remains that I’m not perfect. And quite honestly, I don’t know a perfect parent out there.
But as a parent, it’s easy to feel like perfection is what’s required– that it has a clear path and you’re the only one who hasn’t figured out how to get on it.
As the aphorism goes, perfect is the enemy of good. Kids don’t need perfect parents, they need good ones. Unfortunately, when good parents get too wrapped up in all the voices that tell them about those supposed paths to perfection, sometimes those voices drown out the more valuable voices coming from their own children. Careful comparison begins to take the place of thoughtful observation as parents try to keep up with other “perfect parents” and miss out on the individuality of their own family.
I’m a huge fan of learning and of doing better when you know better. But I can’t help but feel there’s some pressure out there for us parents to reach an impossibly high standard. Worse yet, there are messages out there telling some of us that any struggles our children face are a direct result of our failures. This isn’t true — and it isn’t healthy.
The idea of perfect parenting seems like a noble goal, but it’s a myth. We won’t be perfect, and our kids won’t either. But we can be good enough. We can be loving and happy and completely fulfilled, even with all our missteps. And our kids will be amazing — even if they’re average.
So I’m beginning a series of posts, all about this myth of perfect parenting. I’m hoping that by letting go of an unreal standard of perfection, we can all truly be good enough.
Here’s what’s coming up:
- Why Imperfect Parenting is Good for Kids
- How to Deal with Your Parenting Critics
- The Real Work of Parenthood
- Permission to Ignore Good Parenting Advice
- 100 Ways to Ruin Your Kids
- It’s Never Too Late
- *Bonus* Yeah. I’m THAT mom.
I think it’s something you’ll enjoy. And if, by chance, you have actually managed to become a perfect parent, I hope you’ll just tolerate the rest of us.
***This popular series has led to the transformative ecourse, Letting Go of Perfect: The art and science of being an awesome mom without losing your mind. This course only opens a few times a year, so be sure to get on the wait list to be notified as soon as it opens again!
Hands Free Mama says
Thank you for putting this powerful, healing, and much needed message out there! I love your honesty and authenticity. I truly believe that if one person steps forward and says, “Parenting can be tough” or “This is difficult,” it gives someone else permission to do the same. And in that openness, we connect and we grow –and we also shed that unrealistic pressure to “do it all” (with a smile plastered on our face). I look forward to reading your series! Thank you so much for the work that you do here at your beautiful site.
Alex | Perfecting Dad says
Hands Free Mama, I just checked out your blog. Beautiful stories in there, especially how to miss a childhood.
Hands Free Mama says
How kind of you to visit my blog and provide this kind word, Alex! The title of your blog has me intrigued. I will be heading over to check it out!
Thank you so much, Rachel. Your kind words mean a lot to me. I will gladly step forward to say this work is beautiful and hard, and that I mess up all the time. I just keep hoping to be good enough and to have enough great support on my side!
Alex | Perfecting Dad says
Ha. Since my little blog is called Perfecting Parenthood I just had to chime in. Totally agree with you. Nobody’s perfect at anything. The hard truth about parenting is that most of it just doesn’t matter anyway. People can do a bit to influence outcomes in children, but the main influence is who the parents ARE not what they DO. Almost anything parents think they can do is pretty much bound to make them feel bad unless they were doing it anyway 🙂 Another of life’s paradoxes. Just like you can’t really look for happiness, happiness only comes when you stop looking so hard. Perfection in parenting comes when you stop thinking about parenting techniques and just open up to what you know is right.
Thanks for this post!
I like your differentiation between who we are and what we do. Obviously those two will be tied together, but I think you’re right in that what is in our hearts will be more powerful than a what’s in a checklist out of a magazine. And when what we do comes from that place of sincere love, we’ll always be much better off.
I couldn’t agree more! what we do has a greater influence than what we say or “teach”. This is perhaps one of my most profound realizations as a parent. It is an ongoing lesson …
Katherine Collmer says
This is an amazing blog and I am looking forward to your series. I plan to share this information with the parents that I work with. It has been very difficult for me to watch these past few years develop into a Parent Trap for new moms and dads. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have watched the evolution of the Stepford Parents. Media, authors and the internet have launched “expert” information about how to do it “right,” sending the message to parents that if they don’t follow the rules, then they are “bad” and that their children won’t be perfect. Ha, Ha. I have to laugh at that. Perfect children. Watch out, parents, because if you expect that from them, every time they “mess up,” you will end up being disappointed. Parents used to only have to contend with relatives, friends and the stranger in the supermarket sharing their wisdom and criticizing their parenting skills. Dr. Spock was the only expert for a long time. But, now, having a child comes with so many “musts” that it can nearly take away the joy of parenthood. I look forward to hearing your continued thoughts on this subject and I applaud you for taking on this topic! Thanks!
Thank you Katherine! It does become dangerous when we place too much of our parental self-esteem on the performance of our children. Children will make mistakes and that’s part of learning. Parents will make mistakes too, and we learn along the way. You’re right that we could all use a deep breath and a moment to reclaim the joy in parenting. I hope you enjoy the series!
Yes. Thank you. I’m greatly looking forward to the series.
This post couldn’t have come across my screen at a better time. During my lunch hour I read some articles on parenting and while some was good advice, so much of it was conflicting and hurtful…if you do this your child will be messed up and forever scarred. If you do this your child will be dependent and ungrateful. It was so disheartening to read. I switched over to Pinterest for my daily scroll and your post happened to be right there begging me to read it. It was all the things I wanted to read today in regards to parenting. As a new mother to a 15-month old I’m really just winging it here, but I have a great kid so I have to be doing something right. Really looking forward to your series. Thanks.
I’m so glad this found you at the right time. I’m sure you’re doing more things right than you realize. My mom would often say the same thing when I would get worked up about “perfect parenting”. She’d remind me to look at my kids and see that I was doing just fine. Thanks for reading!
Olivia @ I am still learning says
I recently read and re-read and searched for some new parenting techniques as my almost 4 year old just changed up the game, and I was feeling like a failure… I felt like it shouldn’t be this complicated, and I wanted him to learn valuable lessons not just act a certain way right now, ya know? And of course, after spending nearly $40 on new books… I found a free online article that suggested 10 different ideas for shaping a child’s behavior, and the first being praise… why, oh why is this the first time I’ve read this? I felt like a light bulb went off, and I felt like I finally found what I was missing… my little guy needed more encouragement and acknowledgement when he does something right, and more help in calming himself. To an outsider looking in- I may look like a “softy”… but after deciding how I’m going to change my ways in raising him, I feel SO good about it, and know I have to ignore outsiders.
Kids are always changing the game, aren’t they, Olivia? I’m all in favor of learning new tools and realizing that there’s no one-size fits all approach. Good for you for finding out what your child needs right now and responding to that, rather to the nay-sayers. I hope you enjoy the series.
This is the post I wish I was given as a brand new parent; and something I struggle to remember. What I feel when I’m centered as a parent is an openness to looking at those ideas/advice as resources to pick from and a sense of empowerment to select the best fit/matches/path for my child and our family. When I feel out of balance, it can get overwhelming. As our kids are always changing and the challenges/successes along with them, sometimes it does take a bit of struggle to find our own way. Knowing how to filter and find a place of security in yourself as a parent seems so key to surviving this gig. Thanks for the reminder and reassurance to all of us out there who continue to wrestle with ourselves and filter through the information overload. I look forward to reading more of your series!
You’re so right, Pamela! When we filter the information by what can best meet our kids’ needs rather than trying to do everything to please everyone, we’ll be much better off! I hope you enjoy the series!
Oh, so very timely. I read this post as I’m nursing my second son, who is 3 weeks old today. I look forward to your series!
Congrats, Emily! Enjoy this special time. It goes by much too quickly!
What a great post! As many have said above, there is so much information out there telling parents to use this technique or that style to raise the happiest children. What happened to just being a parent and handling life’s challenges as they come? Isn’t loving and teaching your child the best you know how good enough? I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series.
I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I’ve alway’s believed the only perfect parents are the ones with no kids 🙂
Alex | Perfecting Dad says
Haha, ain’t that right.
Susan Case says
Wonderful idea – looking forward to reading these.
Victoria @ Mommy Marginalia says
Oh my goodness, your timing! We are hoping to welcome our second child later this year and I’ve already started a list in my head of everything I want to do different – no, better. The strive for “good” can quickly lead to a very slippery slope to crippling perfectionism. I am beyond excited for your new series!
I really needed to read this today because lately I have been putting too much pressure on myself! Looking forward to the series. Thank you!!
Thank you for reminding me that his phases and difficult times are not a direct result of me some how failing him in my parenting. Things are getting a little hairy at times here at 18 months and I am constantly questioning what I have done wrong to bring about whatever it is. Just thinking about having another baby makes me list things I would do different or “better” the next time around. In the end I will probably do things the same way when I really think about it. Looking forward to reading your upcoming posts.
Amanda @NotJustCute says
Jennifer, you point out something that is so common. We quickly judge ourselves and others based on our kids’ behavior, when in reality, most of the time the outbursts are developmentally appropriate and happening in some form in every family. (Especially with an 18 month old. They’re going to experiment and test boundaries — I’d be more concerned i f they didn’t.) What’s more important than what our kids are doing is what we do to respond. We can’t control their behavior — we can only control ours and influence them in the process. Their behavior may not change immediately, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job. I do hope you enjoy the series!
I love your spirit Amanda! Thank you for this post. My husband is in Peru for 10 days and kids and I are missing him a lot. He works at home and we spend many hours together everyday. My 10 years old boy is expressing his frustration complaining for every single thing I do to cheer him up. I tried to be a “better mom” than what I usually am, organizing special treats, inviting friends and going to the cinema. But nothing was enough for him. He is so upset and sad! And me too! Maybe I´ve been trying too hard to be a perfect mom instead of accepting his sadness and my own.
Cathie Johnson says
Just read through the comments. So many good thoughts. As a grandmother now, each step in the journey of life and raising children has it’s challenges and it’s joys. Thanks for your post. I’ll continue reading. Come visit me sometime at toddlersthroughpreschool.com. Cathie J
Oh yes! Having just had baby number three, there’s been lots of “oh, it must be lots easier, as you know what you’re doing now”. Yes, and no. Every little person is so different, and what worked for one baby doesn’t necessarily work for the next one. I have to learn all over again, and so the reminder not to strive for perfection comes at a handy time!
Thanks so much for this. Much needed in today’s world. 🙂
Amanda thanks for this post. I read it and had to thank you for the smile it’s left on my face and a little weight it took off my shoulders. Thanks for popping into my house (email) weekly, I always enjoy the cupa we have and feel like I’ve had a visit from my supportive big sister when you leave (I finish reading). After all “when we feel better we do better” – thanks to Jane Nelson for the quote 🙂
Maggie Macaulay says
Beautiful, Amanda! This one is going into the September 4th issue of Parenting News, so I hope many parents come to your site for the wonderful support this article offers. On a similar theme, at our October 20th It Takes a Village to Raise a Child Parenting Conference, Karen Deerwester will be speaking on Good Enough Parents: Smart Enough, Creative Enough, Loving Enough. The conference benefits Indigo Village Educational Foundation, and I invite you to check it out at http://www.VillageConference.com.
Many thanks –
Maggie Macaulay, MS Ed