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Doing Away with Perfect Parenting (Did I Say that Out Loud?)

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I’ve taken a whole lotta parenting classes in the last few years.

I started out excited and fiercely determined to apply everything I was learning. Bring on the tantrums, I was ready to respond in a whole new, “enlightened” way. Hahaha.

But, at some point, my excitement waned and I started to question, even resist, doing everything the teachers said.

It turns out that my resistance had less to do with the teacher, and more to do with me.

I had unknowingly been trying to perfect my parenting skills. Expecting myself to do the “right” thing all the time, and then, inevitably, heart-wrenching disappointment when I fell short.

It became too much to bear…. Trying to control the uncontrollable. Trying to make magic of the mess. Trying to be something that I’m not, nor will ever be.

When I discovered the old story of perfectionism, I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I didn’t have to continue down this path.

Where am I today?

Well, I haven’t magically, completely stopped asking too much of myself.

But, I’m mostly able to remind myself that parenting is hard. Each day is different. Some days I have energy and a noticeable ability to be present and perceptive, some days I’m moody and tired. Some days the kids and I are totally out of sync with what we want and need. Some days we’re on the same page.

Generally, I’m better able to go with the flow, without forcing the stream of things to be different.

And, generally, I can hear the harsh-finger-pointing-voice before it hurls me into unhealthy levels of dumpiness and disappointment.

As parents, we naturally want the best for our children, and we’re committed to doing our part to raise healthy, happy adults.

But, it seems helpful to make a distinction between expecting a lot of ourselves and expecting too much.

Expecting a lot means we reach slightly higher than we’re comfortable with while knowing there’s no guarantee we’ll succeed. And, since we’re not attached to a specific outcome, we give ourselves a break when things don’t go as well as we’d hoped.

Expecting too much means we aim for perfect, and because perfection isn’t possible, we always “fail” –  or, so says the voice upstairs that doesn’t hesitate to let us know when we miss the mark.

I’m convinced that examining our own stories around perfectionism may be some of the most important work we can do as parents.

I’m quite sure that being less uptight about doing things a certain “perfect” way gives us more energy to connect meaningfully and authentically with our children.

I’m also quite sure that children need to see their parents make mistakes. Modeling this, and being willing to talk openly about our mistakes, lets them know it’s OK to be imperfect.

Kids today feel an insane amount of pressure to do things right – at school, on the sports field, and at home. Even if they appear un-phased, they’re not. We learn at a very young age to look like we have it all together in order to keep the people we love happy. But that’s a topic for another time.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few questions that are on my mind and in my heart.

  • What if making peace with our own imperfections alleviated some of the expecting-too-much-pressure that we unintentionally put on our children?
  • What if relaxing our fears about doing something wrong helped our children relax, have fun, and be the best, most creative, version of themselves?
  • What if we could talk honestly with children about our mistakes? And, what if these openhearted exchanges became a safe haven for our children to also share their disappointments and setbacks? 
  • What if our children grew up to be comfortable – and happy – with good enough?  (Good enough isn’t the same as lackadaisical. Rather, it’s having the WISDOM to know when to change directions or stop something altogether.)
  • What if we all courageously accepted that being imperfect is where it’s at??  #imjustsaying!

It takes a lot of courage to let people see the vulnerable, flawed beings we truly are, but, together, we can create new social norms that celebrate these qualities as strengths.

Breon Michel

About Breon

Mindfulness teacher, compassionate community leader, entrepreneur, writer, stress reduction aficionado, hope igniter, adventure seeker, mountain biker, devoted to others

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