The Myth of the Perfect Parent
It’s a good thing others can’t hear our inner dialogues. As parents, that inner critical voice can sometimes weigh us down, telling us we’re not good enough or that what we’re doing for our kids isn’t enough.
Even the most confident of parents occasionally has that annoying inner critic.
It’s the one that says things like, “How did I not notice the kids have outgrown their shoes? Their toes are hanging over their sandals! All the other moms remembered to get new shoes for their kids for the summer.”
Or how about: “Why can’t I get my act together like my neighbor? They eat dinner together every night at 6 o’clock. And I never see her kids argue and fight!”
We’re all going to sometimes compare our families to other families. It’s human nature. But when we let our insecurities take over, it can cause further anxiety and gives us the feeling that we’re not good parents.
But here’s the thing – the idea of a perfect parent is a myth.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
And even though we may know Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” it’s become increasingly difficult to take to heart when comparison is all around us. We no longer have to even leave our homes to compare ourselves and our kids to others. There’s the mom with the cool, minimalist style you follow on Instagram. The dad on TikTok who has trained his kids to become elite soccer players. The parents on Facebook who make parenting look not only beautiful but easy.
It’s the reason social media influencers with relatable lives and real-life parenting problems can be such a breath of fresh air. But you don’t have to look to parents you don’t actually know for validation. Seek out those who are living out their principles, while letting their kids be themselves and trying not to worry about what others think.
Positive Parenting In Action
It’s something Jessica and Erik Block, parents of Ben, Rachael, Hannah and Marlo have given thought to. Their kids range in age from 6 to 13.
“There are many sources of pressure for perfection all around us, and we don’t want our home to be another source of that,” she said.
Jessica Block recognizes that her children are different, individual human beings and she treats them as such.
“So long as they are safe and healthy, we try to support the choices they make for what clothes they wear, how they want to style – or not style at all – their hair and which extracurricular activities they want to be a part of,” she said.
This style of positive parenting has been shown to create healthier, kinder, more empathetic kids. A comprehensive 2014 study by a group of clinical adolescent researchers found that positive parenting actually predicts the development of adolescent brain structure.
For these researchers, positive parenting was defined, in part, by parents who show children love and warmth, with encouragement and an overall message that they are loved and good enough.
Critical parents, who send the message to their children that they aren’t good enough or that the family unit isn’t living up to the dreams they had conceived, are inadvertently sabotaging the positive parenting approach.
Well-intentioned parents who want the best for their kids can sometimes subvert that goodness by telling their kids (in straightforward or sometimes subtle, even unspoken, ways) that they aren’t as good – in sports, in school, in morals or in looks – as their peers. In turn, these kids often find it impossible to meet the high standards set by their parents.
“It’s really important to me that we place more emphasis on our kids’ hearts and souls than on their physical or neurological attributes,” Block said.
And concentrating on their hearts is likely to give them a better pay off than worrying about perfection.
Good Enough Parenting
It’s an idea that’s addressed in the book Good Enough Parenting by Timothy A. Cavell and Lauren B. Quetsch. The authors delve into the idea that parents’ worries can take a toll on the parent-child relationship. There are so many ways parents feel pressure to be perfect – from what they’re feeding their children to sleep schedules to kids’ grades and acting out in school. It can leave a parent feeling exhausted.
The foundation of the “good enough parent” is the idea that parents learn the importance of accepting their child for who they are, while also stepping up to lead and guide the child. The authors assert that accepting that perfection is impossible and that comparison is unhealthy will ultimately help children become emotionally healthy and more successful adults.
How to Avoid Competitive Parenting
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that being a parent has changed over the years. “In my grandmother’s day, she thought she was doing a good job if her children were reasonably clean,” she writes. “But nowadays, parents are told that they are responsible for fostering their children’s success in a wide range of areas: academic, social, musical, athletic, spiritual, artistic, etc. Many parents are afraid to do anything less than everything possible to ensure their children’s success…”
Kennedy-Moore warns that “competitive parenting puts tremendous pressure on children, because the underlying message to kids is: ‘You need to achieve in order to prove that I’m a good parent.’”
Kennedy-Moore gives the following practical ways to avoid being pulled into competitive parenting:
Go to your high school reunion
Some of your former classmates who were unexceptional in high school will now have interesting and satisfying careers, whereas others who were high school stars might not have lived up to their early promise. Seeing the range of grown-up outcomes will convince you that there’s no such thing as a straight and narrow life path that’s right for everyone.
Resist upping the ante
When a friend brags about her child, just smile and say, “Congratulations!” or “That’s great!” Know that you don’t have to match or top her statement.
Allow your child to experience healthy struggles
It’s hard to watch our kids suffer, but if we step in too quickly to solve problems that they could solve themselves, we steal their opportunity to learn important life skills. Offer lots of empathy and maybe some guidance, if needed, but give your child room to discover that setbacks are unpleasant but tolerable and often temporary.
Focus on building skills
Being able to work hard, communicate clearly, cope with fears and frustration, and get along with others are fundamental life skills. It takes a lot of practice to learn them. When we help children develop these, we equip them for their journey.
Trust your child
We don’t know what lies ahead for our children, but one of the most generous things we can give them is our trust that they will create a life that is meaningful and satisfying to them.
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three – 12-year-old twin girls and an 11-year-old boy. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.