Surviving the myth of the perfect parent
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 too, was also shy. 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 someplace else. 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. Their parents combine discipline and forgiveness with complete confidence. 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 are all in the same boat. From the moment 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? Now that my children are grown, I would answer that question like this:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Remember that you are still a work in progress too.
- Celebrate the small victories. The ultimate goal of parenting is to see your children grown 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 deserve it.
What are your self doubts or if you have older children, what would you advise those parents just starting out who doubt themselves?