The Perils of Perfectionism in Parenting
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Quite a few recent books have alluded to just how fed up parents are with people expecting them to be the perfect parent. Scary Mommy, by Jill Smokler, was just released this week and details confessions of real parents who feel all the feelings that go along with parenting that we often do not talk about such as, anger, isolation, depression, fear, and embarrassment. In this age where so much of what we do is recorded and we see so many recorded images of parents on reality television, it also seems like everyone is judging everyone else’s performance all the time. When we do this, we can wind up in a seemingly endless cycle of judging others and ourselves constantly without any relief in sight. In fact, there are several studies that have come out in the past few years stating that parents are significantly less happy than non-parents. I believe part of this is our unrealistic, perfectionistic tendencies during which the thought patterns can begin to get quite vicious.
My profession has not been much help in making parents feel much better either, I’m sorry to say. Not only do most of our books focus on what you can do for your children, rather than how to help you feel better so that you can be a better parent, we are constantly telling you how to improve communication with your child, have educationally enriching activities, spend quality time with your children and encouraging you to take constant care of their emotional needs. While all that stuff is nice and worthwhile in many ways, I think too much of it also takes away the important quality of being genuine with our children, you know, like the genuine feelings expressed in the popular picture book for adults “Go the F@$k to Sleep,” by Adam Mansbach. If you don’t know that book, take a moment to look it up on youtube and you can listen to Lawrence Fishburne read it to you- when your kids are not in the room. Really, isn’t that how most of us feel when our children are coming down six and seven times to say goodnight and asking to be tucked in even though we already tucked them in?
Here is what I think many parents are wanting and it is something we hear all the time about everything but being perfect parents… everything in moderation! Yes, even lovey, touchy stuff. It’s actually good for the kids to understand that their parents feel- gasp!- genuine emotions. If you are fakey, fakey all the time and pretend things are nice, they know it’s BS anyway and later they call you on it- I’ve seen it too many times to have any doubt about this. And you know, many times when our kids call us on stuff they are right. Has your child ever said anything to you like my daughter when she said, “Mom, that’s what you say when you’re not really listening?” She was right. I had no idea what she just said. That’s the daughter my husband and I joke that someone must have told her in the end she will get paid per spoken word because she sure does act like it. You bet I zone out the chatter sometimes and maybe even miss important things. As one of my favorite professors in my Master’s program said, one of the great thing about people is that if you miss something important they said the first time around, they are pretty certain to repeat it. I know this is true for my daughter too. Now, don’t get me wrong, remember- everything in moderation, so it is also important to take time to turn on our listening ears for our children every day, but I also want to be realistic that it feels quite impossible to be in the moment and listening to one child while the other is asking you to make them a peanut butter sandwich.
Another reason genuine = good with our children is that they, like us, are humans too! They are often not perfect and they need a good example of how to recover from imperfection. I give my kids lots of opportunities to witness imperfection without even trying that hard. I’m a real natural 🙂 I burn things, forget stuff, and plan poorly sometimes. Most parents do. It’s the ones that admit it and give children an example of how to recover via apology, forgiveness of self and others, humor, etc. that have happy, not entitled (another by-product of over-perfect parenting), healthy children with a good sense of who they are and who their parents are.
Dare to be perfectly imperfect! Your kids will thank you for it.
- Parental Reframes When Things Don’t Look So Good (help4yourfamily.com)
- Two things your kids tell their therapists about you (help4yourfamily.com)
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