The Imperfection of Parenting
How to Adjust Your Expectations of Yourself and Survive
“Parenting” and “Perfectionism” are two words that should never be used in the same sentence. There is really no room for perfectionism once you become a parent. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to do your best, but the truth is that all close relationships involve ups and downs, emotional messiness, and give and take. An intimate relationship is a dance, and a parent-child relationship is definitely an intimate relationship.
There are two kinds of perfectionism parents get caught up in when they have kids. One has to do with keeping a perfect environment, and the other is being a perfect parent.
The Perfect Environment
Remember how things were before you had kids? Your house stayed exactly the way you left it. If you wanted it clean and organized, you could do that and count on it to stay that way unless you decided on your own to let it go. It was your choice.
Enter kids. At first, you try to stay on top of things. If you are a person who is used to having a clean, uncluttered and organized house, and you like it that way, then kids present a real challenge that can feel quite uncomfortable. If you're good with chaos, then you may not feel this challenge as much.
New parents will work extra hard to try and keep everything just the way it was before their child was born and came home. They may stay up later cleaning and vacuuming, or get up earlier, ask their spouses to do more, or get babysitters so they can do what they need to do. Once parents start this trend, they tend to try and keep it going, regardless of how exhausting it is. This can lead to irritability, anger, tiredness, overwhelm, and sometimes marital discord and unhappy kids.
Moms are the ones more likely to get into this pattern, although sometimes Dad is the one who insists on things staying the same while relegating the work to Mom. Either way, it’s a bad scene.
The reality is, kids eat time, and they can use up 24 hours quite easily. Especially newborns and toddlers. You don’t even know where all that time went. You just know that all of the sudden it seems impossible to do the normal household chores you are used to handling without too much stress.
Why do Parents Hang on to that Perfect Environment Habit?
The reason is simple. A clean, uncluttered, organized and spacious environment is emotionally soothing. For some of us, it really can be calming and create both mental and emotional space. By cleaning up and organizing your outer world, you do the same for your inner world. Nothing wrong with that at all. I ascribe to it myself.
It’s just that when you have kids, especially younger kids, and definitely kids under 3, you have to let go of some of that if you are going to enjoy those younger years and give your kids what they need from you both practically and emotionally.
I think it is important to say to yourself and accept that for the time being, you are going to let go of some of your more perfectionistic trends in the house. When your kids get older, you can return to some of those habits, although it never stops entirely until they leave home. But that is part of the joy of having kids!
So my advice is:
If you have a choice between mopping the kitchen floor and getting on the floor to play with your child for awhile, pick the play.
It will go a long way in enhancing your relationship with your child, but also help her to develop. When you’re older and your kids have left home, which activity will you remember fondly? I’m pretty sure it won’t be mopping the kitchen floor! But you will remember those moments with your kids and so will they.
Now onto perfect parenting.
Perfect parents just extend the need to have everything just right in their environment to having perfect interactions, communications, and behavior toward their kids.
Let me ask you: Have you never gotten so upset with your child that you either said or did something that you later regretted? If you didn’t, congratulations. You have obviously reached sainthood!
"It is human to err". Remember that one? Of course you do, because it is true.
No one can be a perfect parent nor should you expect it of yourself.
There is a wonderful phrase coined by a psychologist named Bruno Bettleheim (How’s that for a memorable name!). He calls it the “good enough parent.” He has actually written a book by that name.
The title says it all. Your goal is to be as good as you can be, but what you are striving for is “good enough.” That means most of the time you are in control of your behavior and decisions regarding your children, and you know how and why you do what you do. Great!
But when you are overly stressed, exhausted, have way to much on your plate, and your child is on your every last nerve, you may snap and yell or raise your voice or lose it as they say. That’s the time to just take a break and leave the room and give yourself a few moments to calm down and reassess. It is not the time to beat yourself up or decide you are the worst parent on the planet, because you are not.
Ditch the Guilt and Repair Instead
You can repair situations. You can later apologize to your child and reaffirm your great affection for him, and let him know you were wrong. You can figure out what to do differently next time you get stressed or angry. You can find a way to take some time for yourself and recharge. There are all kinds of things you can do to repair, but there really is no place for excessive guilt.
What’s most important is that kids see you struggle and then get to watch how you handle that. That is a great lesson and one that is true to life. Life is challenging and no one has it all under control all of the time (except those saintsJ). So give up the perfectionism and make use of those situations to grow and learn, and model for your kids how to grow and learn.