Surviving the myth of the ‘perfect parent’

  • By Paul Schoenfeld Special to The Herald
  • Monday, April 13, 2015 3:29pm
  • Life

When my oldest daughter was 3 years old, I had my first (pre)school conference. The teacher kindly explained to me that my daughter was “shy,” but otherwise was “no problem.”

I was stunned. My entire parental life flashed in front of my eyes. She must be shy because we moved when she was 6 months old. Perhaps I was too strict, or maybe not strict enough? What had I done to make my daughter shy? I must have done something wrong. I was wracked with self-doubt.

After a few hours and more than a few gray hairs, I recalled that I was shy as a child, too. My natural shyness didn’t ruin my life. In fact, it helped me to become more introspective and reflective — qualities that I value.

So, I reasoned, my daughter’s shyness was not the death knell for her future. In that moment, I realized that my beautiful, magical daughter wasn’t perfect. And, I wasn’t going to be a perfect parent.

As parents, most of us are brutally critical of ourselves. We blame ourselves for all of our kids’ shortcomings and faults. All of their strengths and resources must come from somewhere else. We are really hard on ourselves.

Often we admire other parents who seem to have “perfect” children. Those kids never seem to misbehave at the supermarket, never interrupt adults, always make their bed, and pick up all of their toys. They have perfect table manners. Their parents combine discipline and forgiveness with complete confidence. They always seem to keep their cool. Oh, and they never feel self-doubt. Ah, if only we could be like them, instead of the poor imitation of competent parents that we seem to be.

So rages the myth of the perfect parent. But we’re all in the same boat. From the first moment that our little one is born, we are filled with anxiety, insecurity and self-doubt. We are afraid that we will not live up to our own high expectations.

How can we face the challenges of parenthood with a sense of humor and hope? Here are some tips:

Accept and honor yourself for who you are. Don’t compare yourself with other parents. Just as your child is unique, so are you. Value all of your strengths, abilities, and resources. Your challenge as a mom or dad provides the seeds for your growth as a parent.

Be patient with yourself. As you are trying to be patient with your children, learn to be patient with yourself. Expect to make the same mistakes more than once. I know, “perfect parents” never become frustrated, lose their temper, or find themselves in a debate with a 3-year-old. But then again we as parents and our children don’t have to be perfect. We grow up with our children. As they grow and develop, so do we.

Be forgiving of yourself. It always amazed me how forgiving my children were of my foibles. Sure, they got mad at me. But a couple of hours later, all was forgiven. Moms and dads are quick to forgive their children too. Extend that spirit of forgiveness to yourself.

Work on your own growth as a person. If you want your children to be calm, you have to be calm. If you don’t want your children to lose their temper, you must learn to control yours. Children learn from watching you, not from listening to you. Be the person that you want them to be.

Keep your sense of humor. Kids are funny. They say and do the darnedest things. But it’s equally as important to laugh at some of the silly things that we do, too. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Celebrate the small victories. The ultimate goal of parenting is to see your children grow into mature, responsible independent adults. It’s hard to know if you are doing the “right thing” until years later. Whenever things are going well and you see the fruits of your loving labor, celebrate.

You earned it.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health and has been a clinical psychologist for more than 30 years. Read more of his blog at the Family Talk Blog at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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