This is the final week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.
These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgement.
In this final post of my “parenting observation series” I want to leave this as the major takeaway: we, as parents, are enough for our children. If we provide food, shelter, clothing, comfort, and education, no matter how imperfect it may be, we are enough for our children.
There is a lot of outside pressure on parents to be perfect and have it all: have the perfect house, job, relationships, food, clothing, education – the list goes on and on. No parent can ever win the external societal judgement game. The standards for good parenting as dictated by outsiders is so high that it can drive us bonkers.
For those of us with the added obstacle of a disability, seeing what parenting without a disability looks like can be even more discouraging. But our children rarely see the disability in the same way we do.
We must practice self-compassion and ignore everything the outside world has to tell us about our parenting abilities. The only people who need to be in our minds is our children and how they view us.
And surprise: our children will love us no matter what and overlook any perceived imperfections we think we might have. They are, at this point, incapable of seeing our imperfections.
Remember how you viewed your parents in early childhood: one parent was stronger than Superman and the other was the only perfect source of comfort. Sometimes both aspects manifested in one person.
Our children view us no differently. They don’t see the same flaws or recognize what we cannot do. What they see is what we are capable of doing and how that relates to them.
Nota bene: This post will be using the universal “you/second person” pronouns throughout, so while it may not speak to your experience directly, it may apply to someone else you know.
Being the Perfect Parent is Overrated
One of the biggest issues I have as a parent is worrying that I won’t be perfect enough for my son. I push myself to the point of overload trying to be perfect on a daily basis, so it would follow that I would want to be the perfect parent to Jai.
This is not possible.
In fact, it is strongly discouraged to be a perfect parent for a child. Making sure that everything is done for them, they get all that they desire, the house is immaculate, and they get perfect grades every single time (so you help them out) – all lead to a dysfunctional relationship and stunt a child’s abilities to manage the real world in a healthy way.
If children do not learn about the world, how to manage adversity, and how to critically think through various problems if the perfect parent is doing everything for them, they will struggle as adults on their own. Learning about disappointment and how to manage it is a valuable lifeskill that gets lost if a parent avoids exposing a child to conflict as part of their perfect parenting routine.
Attempting to be the perfect parent can also create bouts of depression in the parent striving too high. This is not surprising because the attempt to be perfect outside of parenting raises a person’s chances of being depressed (I currently suffer from perfectionist paralysis in my own life).
By attempting to be perfect for Jai, I am setting myself up to be less able to help him if I am too depressed by my need for perfection. It’s a vicious cycle.
We want to fail as parents from time-to-time. It humanizes us to our children and helps strengthen any relationship that develops once they are adults. Providing a healthy example of failing in an adult and focusing on what they can learn from us and from their own failings will help promote long-term success in their own lives.
It requires a level of self-reflection that may be hard to swallow, but in the end it helps us grow as adults too.
Saying “I am Enough”
All of this isn’t to say that we should go out and purposely fail, but to acknowledge in a gentle way that it will happen and that’s okay.
Focus not on any failings you might have such as “I could have done this differently today,” or “I could have handled that situation better,” but on what they teach you and all the positives you did throughout the day. Our brains are wired to focus only on the negative, so it is important to rewire them to allow the positive in more often.
If something happens that makes you feel like a failure, try these steps to work through it:
- Apologize to your child if necessary even if they are too young to understand. It’s a good habit to get into and makes it completely normal for them when they are aware of it.
- “I am sorry I yelled at you when you took off your diaper and got poop all over the floor. I was upset over the smell and the mess I would need to clean up. I understand that you are not aware of how much I dislike poop, so I am not upset with you, just upset over the situation.”
- Figure out what you could have done differently and create a plan of action should the incident happen again. Spoiler: it probably will.
- Take a few minutes to breath and comfort yourself. If you are tense or stressed out, make a cup of tea and allow yourself a few sips before continuing about your day.
- Forgive yourself for that failure. Remind yourself that you are not perfect and that is okay.
- Find a couple of things that went right during your time with your child. Focus on them any time you start to think about something negative.
- “We sat and read three books, one of them being my favorite. I could tell my little one really enjoyed my favorite as well.” or “We ran around the chair for 5 minutes laughing at each other over how silly we were being”
- Repeat to yourself: “I am a good parent/caretaker, I do the best I can, I am enough for my child.”
All of this will take some time because we have to undo years of bad habits, but starting off slow will help build confidence and self-compassion in our abilities as parents. These examples will benefit our children in the long run. It’s really about focusing on what we are able to do – not what we can’t do.
And remember: you will always be enough.
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