The Illusion of the “Perfect Parent”

There is this myth that there are perfect parents out there. Guess what…it’s an illusion, one carefully painted by social media posts and fluffy Hollywood movies. No parent has it all, does it all or sacrifices everything, and that’s okay.

So you’re not the perfect parent? Congratulations, you’re human. Every parent wants the best for their child and doubts their ability some days because every day is different and every turn is uncharted, it can be daunting and overwhelming some days.

Yes, you want the best for your child and your aim is for them to grow up healthy, happy, kind and able to thrive in the bigger world. You being good enough, not perfect, will absolutely get them there.

This illusion of perfect parenting not only puts a lot of pressure on parents to perform at the highest level every minute of their child’s day, but it also places an expectation on parents to put all their personal needs on hold. This can stop parents from enjoying being part of their child’s life because they’re too caught up in judging themselves or their child’s behaviour.

The perfect parent is selfless and always puts their child first.

I’d really like to bust this myth for a lot of reasons. Firstly, by not looking after yourself and treating yourself as important you’re mentally and physically (dare I say spiritually?) drained. How can you offer your best to your children if you never allow yourself to be your best?

Perfect is never going to happen. Parents are human, raising little humans, and neither parent nor child will ever reach perfect status. It’s impossible.

The strain from attempting to be perfect (or appearing to be perfect) leaves you more vulnerable to illness and stress, which leads to more snappiness, frustration, unhappiness, and impatience, and more imperfect days. It’s a spiral that’s only going to lead downwards as you try ever harder for perfection tomorrow.

The guilt of not measuring up can take a toll. Choosing to go to work, have a hobby, take a child-free vacation, get take away for dinner because you are too tired to cook, or maybe too tired to go shopping and there is nothing in the house to cook with, all these things are totally healthy and allowed.

There will be sick days for everyone, there will be temper tantrums, fussy eating, clinginess, routines that get thrown out the window, there will be relatives, financial stress and relationship worries that get in the way of perfect parenting some days.

The question is this: What do my kids need to be their best? The answer is not a perfect parent, they need a role model, and in order to get the best experiences out of life, they need to know and understand how to handle a bit of imperfection, after all, they aren’t going to have perfect lives either. By allowing yourself to be good enough and unburdening yourself from perfection, you also release your kids from feeling they need to be perfect now, as well as in their adult lives. What a gift!

Donald Winnicott, renowned paediatrician and psychoanalyst wrote the book Playing and Reality, in which he coined the phrase “good enough mother”. In this book, he pointed out that as your children grow, what they truly desire is a “good enough” parent who can teach them resilience and independence, as well as love and affection. It’s your failings and actions after getting it wrong that give them their biggest strengths and understandings.

Giving a child everything they could possibly want and sheltering them from adversity prevents them from understanding what the real world is like, and also how to get through. It means that as soon as they are out on their own, reality hits, they can’t live up to perfect expectations, and they don’t know how to progress.

What is a good enough parent?

A good enough parent

  • Is loving
  • Meets their child’s needs
  • Gives their child focused attention every day
  • Doesn’t take mistakes and mishaps personally
  • Is able to preserve when things go off plan
  • Is forgiving of themselves and others
  • Lets go of expectations of how things should be and allows them just to be
  • Conquers disappointment
  • Is flexible
  • Acknowledges limitations
  • Asks for help
  • Looks after themselves
  • Is kind to themselves

Giving yourself permission to be good enough starts from the very first day. Being a good enough parent means give birth naturally if you can, breastfeed if you can, attend events and offer to help at school if you can, but let it go if you can’t.

That sounds great, but how do you actually be good enough? 

Go off plan

To really enjoy being a parent (and for kids to enjoy being kids), be okay to go off the plan, to be flexible and to be spontaneous. When you start to let go of the illusion of control, of how things must look and feel, you give your whole family permission to reach their full, unique potential and forge their own way forward. 

Learn from mistakes

When you look at every mistake as an opportunity to learn you can put a positive spin on your misadventures instead of having a negative reaction.

There is no cut and paste answer

Every situation, every child, and every circumstance is different. Look and apply the response you think is best at the time, knowing that might be a different response to yesterday, or seeing that what works for one child, might not work for the next.

Be firm but supportive

It’s important to have house rules and stick to them, but understand that in order to have your child feel supported and cared for, you might need to bend the rules from time to time.

Take a break

Having a bad day? Put your feet up. It’s okay to watch some TV with your kids, go for a lie-down, order pizza or give your kids cereal for dinner.

If you need a night off, call a baby sitter, ask a friend or relative to watch your kids while you go to the movies or have a sleep. Wanting to get out and be alone for a while is a good thing. You need time and space to get back to you sometimes.

Pamper session

Keep a list of things you love doing and make a point of doing them, just for you, every now and again. No one is selfless all the time, so cut yourself some you time and use it wisely.

Talk about emotions

Be open to discussing how your child feels, and be willing to talk about your own emotions. If you are experiencing sadness, anger or excitement or fatigue, be open and share your feelings with your child, it will help them not only understand your situation but also identify and express their own emotions.

Be unique

Every person, every child, and every family is different. What works for the Smith’s next door might not work for you. Embrace your child’s differences and celebrate who you are as a family by doing the things you love the way you love to do them, even if it’s not what everyone else is doing. Who knows, you might just become a trendsetter?

Give your kids some room

Your children are learning every day. In order to learn, they need to make mistakes and figure the world out. Give them room to be human, to make a mess, to form their own opinions, to be wrong, to break things. As long as they are healthy and safe, it’s far more important that they love what they do rather than do it the right way every time.

Perfection is an illusion. In reality, do what you can, look after yourself, and be flexible about what comes next. Your time with your kids is short. When you allow yourself to make mistakes, to learn and grow with your child, you will laugh more, have more energy, and be able to give more love, and so will they.

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