Perfect Parenting is NOT the Goal
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
As parents, there is so much pressure on us to try to do everything right, perfectly, or as well as possible as we raise our children. I think this has a lot to do with how much information there is regarding parenting and child development that we have access to. Additionally, there has been a shift culturally with people relating challenges they experience in their life to the parenting they received as a child.
As a therapist, this connection between past and present is often a topic in my sessions both with adults and often young adults. It certainly has been a topic of my own personal therapy sessions! Interestingly, since my clinical work also focuses heavily on parenting, and since I have become a mom and felt this immense pressure on parents myself, I also have a slightly different perspective on this tendency to expect parents to be perfect.
I fundamentally believe that it is impossible to parent perfectly. I also don’t think that it is a goal we should even have, and not just because it is impossible to accomplish but also because it is actually not helpful for our children to have perfect parents. I know this might sound strange to some of you, particularly if you don’t read my blog often, but our children are not served well by being led by people who are doing things perfectly.
You see, how to repair things with the people we love after we mess up is one of the most important things we figure out in our lives. How can we possibly learn how to do this if we have parents who never mess up and as such, never need to repair?
So, parents, a crucial part of parenting is acknowledging and accepting that you will not be perfect and that you will inevitably screw up, possibly in big ways. Once you can accept this, you can hopefully also open yourself up to learning how to repair with your child when you do mess up. Perhaps you mess up by yelling in response rather than calmly explaining things to them. In this situation, the best thing to do is to reconnect and repair with your child once you feel calm.
These moments are surprisingly simple, but can be challenging not to fill in with unnecessary words and emotion. The best strategy is to take a compassionate yet matter of fact approach and to explain, “yesterday when I yelled at you, I was wrong. I am so sorry and imagine you may have felt scared, upset, or sad. You have every right to feel that way. I am sorry for doing that and will try my best to speak to you calmly in the future. I love you and you do not deserve to be yelled at.”
Another way to handle things in the moment is to stop yourself, slow down, and simply explain that you do not like the way you are responding to them and ask if you can “restart.” If you can easily reconnect, go for it! If your child is reluctant to reconnect and restart, allow them time to feel their feelings and find time later to acknowledge what happened and that you messed up, similar to the above situation.
For many of us who had parents who never apologized or acknowledged their challenges, this is likely to feel very uncomfortable! The good news in this current parenting culture is that we are doing things differently so that opens us up to consider what we might have appreciated or what might have helped us as people when we were kids. Then, we can simply try our best to do that. And for those of us whose parents did not apologize, just imagine what it would feel like if your parent truly acknowledged the mistakes they made, your feelings, and allowed a conversation about that now. It would do wonders for your healing, growth, and relationship!
We all have an opportunity to create this kind of family climate from this point forward.
Let’s do it - imperfectly of course.
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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