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Are You the ‘Perfect’ Parent?

Do you strive to be a perfect parent?  Or often have lamenting thoughts that you’re not?  Barb and Sarah discuss the truths and fallacies of ‘perfect’ parenting.

Sarah:

Being in the actively mothering years of my two children, I am surrounded by mothers (and a few fathers) and children much of the time. Discussions between parents are multi-faceted but often negative. Topics range from the difficult aspects of child-rearing and children’s behavior to our own insufficiencies and regrets as parents. If parents are spending even a little time focusing on negativity, it begs the question: what are our expectations of parenting? Is there an ultimate goal for which we are striving? What does perfect parent look like?

Barb:

My kids are all grown adults in their 20’s so my phase of mothering is completely different than yours. I’ve learned more from my mothering adventure than from any other avenue of growth in my life, including formal education, work, adult relationships and marriage. My kids have taught me that life is an ever changing, roll with the punches roller coaster of experimentation, introspection, joy, anger, doubt, withdrawal and full on engagement . . . and it’s largely unpredictable. My kids have taught me that letting go is the most important thing I can do for them and for myself at any stage.

I understand the word ‘perfect’ but I reject it. Just as I would not wish for one millisecond that my children be perfect, even for one millisecond, I don’t expect that from myself. There is no such thing because any given perfect moment is only so in the eyes of the beholder and there are typically lots of beholders in any one person’s life. What I do strive for is upgrade. No matter how great my life might be, I know I am capable of improving it … and I do … unless I don’t. But when I want to I can, whether I do it instantaneously in a given situation or over time when I want long term growth and upgrade. Example: my grown child is not returning my phone calls and I am worried. Of course I can get even more concerned, get angry, take it personally, etc. I can let it mess with my life and overcome my thoughts. Instead, I trust that the messages I have left are being received and that my adult child is simply not ready to talk – maybe life is so great and busy, maybe they are not ready to share something that’s going on, maybe it’s… whatever. I trust that their life is flowing just as they wish it to and when we do connect it will be the right time. Now my life is easy too and I can go on with other things I am involved in, letting go of my attachment to some notion of my child needing me or me needing them to improve mine.

Sarah:

You touched on something really important here – the fulfillment of the parent hinging on the behaviors and actions of the child. This, in my opinion, is one of the most detrimental aspects of the parent-child connection (or any connection, for that matter). Not only do most parents feel a heavy reflection of their children’s activities on themselves and the external assessments of this but their happiness and sense of fulfillment often comes from the expectations they hold of the child they envision – not necessarily the child they have.

I used to feel there was a place as a parent that I would ‘reach’ and then everything would be alright. There would be a sense of ‘perfect’ peace; I would always know what to do in any situation; and my children would flow along smoothly with me. That’s not the reality of the human condition. And if it were, there would come a time when we would stop learning. Without continued growth and understanding, why am I here? People get angry, joyful, sad, elated, bewildered, amazed, etc., etc., etc.! Living together in relationships in a constant state of flux of independence and need (as in the parent-child connection), we are bound to experience shifts, discomfort, and new awareness. Conflict, anger, strife- all things to which we attach negativity- are normal parts of life. How we navigate them with a sense of compassion and understanding for everyone involved may be a challenge at times. It is also what sweetens the moments of joy, love, intense connection, and inspiration. I am allowed the full range of emotions of which I am capable as are my children. We are always learning together… and separately.

Barb:

I absolutely have learned that I can share my life and time with my child 24/7 (because my kids did not go to school) and not only have great opportunity for teaching them the things they ask me to teach them (this is critical, they ask me) but expand my own interests, abilities and knowledge in the things I continue to develop curiosities about. We can all share space in a very organic, ever-changing way – learning to be honest with each other, support each other, provide for each other levels of unconditional love that allow for all things to be expressed and shared.

So that this doesn’t sound like a sugar coated life, I will add that such an environment naturally allows for lots of angst, fits of anger, dark times and opportunities for regret, regression, change and growth. There is no perfect life. Life is a process of figuring it out one step at a time, with a commitment to love and tenderness, honesty and vulnerability, a full range of emotions, experiences, mistakes and progress, all on one’s own terms.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. What an interesting discussion.

    I’ve worked hard to be a positive parent, always building on the strengths I see in my kids rather than trying to make them who they aren’t. I’m learning that parenting, like anything else in life, reflects back both light and shadow—-and this is a gift of authenticity if we’re open.

    I’m also realizing that the most powerful thing we bring to parenting is attitude. There are some interesting studies confirming what ancient wisdom has long told us—-what we perceive is who we are. Here’s some information about that research:
    http://lauragraceweldon.com/2010/08/04/i-know-you-are-but-what-am-i/

    October 26, 2011
  2. gunta #

    I’ve been contemplating the self-applied pressure of a parenting philosophy that differs from the mainstream range of approaches. One of the reasons to choose this path for me has been to become the best possible parent to my children. Differing from the mainstream this much (I’m in Finland with only about 200 home-schooled children, only a handful unschoolers, and attachment parenting did not have a name 6 years ago when my older dd was born) seems to come with perceived pressure of having to know what I’m doing, of less space for mistakes. After all, nearly everyone (in my case, pretty much all extended family and often also my dh, when under any kind of pressure or plain tired) seems to agree that the problems are created by my choices in parenting and the successes are good genes – or happen in spite of my parenting.

    Another aspect for me is that since radical unschooling has a strong emphasis on joyfulness, I personally sometimes feel like a failure for not being able to feel joyful most of the time. For me, there seems to be this image of an unschooling family where joy, learning, fun abounds – and it looks so different from my life, at least every now and then. My children seem mostly content and happy, the problem is me. I realize that meeting other unschoolers would help, and I would love to have some around! The closest family we know lives 4 hours drive away though.

    I guess, the hardest part for me is the loneliness when I feel stuck and would benefit from talking to someone who understands what I’m trying to do _and_ knows my children – btdt experiences would help, too!

    October 28, 2011
  3. mbh #

    I am incredibly imperfect and I have no shame over that.

    No parent is perfect and the sooner we realize that, the better. I have made a ki-gillion mistakes and my kid will actually survive. I do the best I can; I did the best I could.

    The best advice I ever received was when I was the single mom to a 2-month old baby. A wise woman said to me, “Your job is not to protect your child from all the pains of life; your job is to give your child the tools to deal with the pains of life.”

    October 28, 2011
  4. Yes, Laura! Love your post. Thanks so much for sharing. That exercise is very revealing. I feel very strongly that the aspects of our children that we find the most annoying, bothersome, or stressful, tend to be those which we (usually only subconsciously) note in ourselves. Only in working on our own behaviors can we release our children of the burden we create of our own self-loathing.

    October 28, 2011
  5. Gunta and mbh- thanks for your comments. I would even re-frame the discussion to consider that using the term ‘mistake’ implies that we are continuing to strive for perfection, for the quintessential parent award. The path of parenting and life is paved with the bricks of learning. Sometimes we lay a brick and decide we’ll not lay the next quite like that or that we’ll try an altogether new technique. Over on the Facebook page comments (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Rethinking-Everything-PARENT/219262894798461), Barb said it well- to the effect that guilt is useless and at least remorse encourages change.

    As far as radical unschooling focusing on joy, might it help to consider the alternative? For the rest of mainstream society who puts their kids on a bus with 30 others and a driver they don’t know off to a school they don’t trust to continuing living a life in which they’re not REALLY feeling? Yes, this is joy. We are living according to what feels real and true in our hearts and not allowing external decisionmakers to determine what is right for our children’s learning, growth, and development. And yet it’s life- full of change and emotion and… change. To know that we are consciously applying new knowledge and intentionally connecting with our children in ways that feel honest and kind is a high goal. There will continue to be times that we rethink a situation later. These are opportunities for mentoring and connection with our children as we discuss the learning that is occurring for us. My opinion is that radical unschooling is a more loving, honest way of living and interacting with our families. But life is not a Norman Rockwell painting. Expect shifts, swings, and changes and adjust accordingly.

    October 28, 2011
  6. Osie #

    Gunta, our family went to Sweden 4.5 years ago, family members there had never heard of unschooling or even homeschooling, they thought it was the craziest thing they ever heard! With such a homogenous society, must be even harder to step outside the mainstream. Have def btdt…gotten easier for me with time, confidence, and like you said, community. Are there any European unschool conferences you could aim for?

    Come to Barb’s fabulous conference here if you can afford it, an amazing place to learn and grow surrounded by love and community. I really, really enjoyed the 2-voice article, the comments, and the topic itself. I have struggled with this so much, the feeling of falling short. But my kids are generally happy, much happier than I was as a kid, funny, confident, respectful and expecting respect.

    Just thought too about getting a compliment from Sarah when dealing with a situation with my daughter. I realized I have way too much

    November 8, 2011
  7. Osie #

    Gunta, our family went to Sweden 4.5 years ago, family members there had never heard of unschooling or even homeschooling, they thought it was the craziest thing they ever heard! With such a homogenous society, must be even harder to step outside the mainstream. Have def btdt…gotten easier for me with time, confidence, and like you said, community. Are there any European unschool conferences you could aim for?

    Come to Barb’s fabulous conference here if you can afford it, an amazing place to learn and grow surrounded by love and community. I really, really enjoyed the 2-voice article, the comments, and the topic itself. I have struggled with this so much, the feeling of falling short. But my kids are generally happy, much happier than I was as a kid, funny, confident, respectful and expecting respect.

    Just thought too about getting a compliment from Sarah when dealing with a situation with my daughter. I realized I have way too Much baggage about my shortcomings as a mom and a perfect unschooler, and hey, I am not too bad. Good at some things, not so much at others, but all in all, my family is a crazy but happy, love-filled place. To anyone feeling little joy, though, I have had some hard years and the isolation you feel can cause or exacerbate depression. If you feel like the joy has been replaced by drudgery, consider whether you might be depressed, I know how hard it I to be a good and happy mom with a case of the blues.

    Hth

    November 8, 2011
  8. Hmm. Now that’s something I’d not really thought about with regard to homeschooling/unschooling in other cultures. Given that our American society has so many different cultures melding and a variety of different levels of ideals, religions, and social expectations at play, does this give homeschooling/unschooling/respectful parenting a ‘leg up’ in terms of it being another potentially acceptable avenue? In cultures in which the society is more rooted in a particular ethnic history, religion, etc., is it more difficult to step into a ‘new’ or different way of educating and parenting?

    November 9, 2011
  9. Oh and with regard to the compliment I paid Osie- I perceived her as giving off a very calm and gentle energy in a situation with one of her children that I wondered how I, myself, would have been able to be so calm. We had a great conversation about that but it really amounts to our ever-higher expectations of ourselves and general need to compare ourselves to others. Or is it me? 🙂 The self-deprication needs to stop. Appreciate. Ourselves. Others. Every situation. It’s all learning.

    I second Osie’s suggestion to evaluate our own emotional needs. Depression clouds our vision and impairs our ability to connect with each other and our children. It is important to assess our capacity for joy and address ways to assist with that.

    November 9, 2011
  10. gunta #

    Osie, I intend to come to RE conference one day! I’m so thankful for Youtube that is helping my 6yo and 2yo to learn English so they get to interact with people with words, too. I know that one does not need common language to do cool stuff together, though, btdt many times over, lol!

    Sarah, I hear you on the looking around at others part. I know that this is the better way for my family, I see it practically every time we are out and about. I do believe that every child would benefit from unconditional love and support. That does not change the fact that here where I am it feels lonely. Maybe even more so because I am a foreigner in this country (with 5% foreigners altogether) and always will be in a sense. My family is bilingual and -cultural, thus making us stand out by default. I’m certainly developing my skills of following my heart despite the circumstances🙂

    I think I can see the pitfall of even striving to be a perfect parent, it’s setting ourselves up for failure. I still want to be the best possible parent I can though. I know I’m doing my best, constantly evolving, learning, rethinking. My biggest fear is that what if that is not enough?

    November 10, 2011
  11. What a great conversation! I am raising 8 children, age 24 down to 5 (had the last one at age 45). I homeschooled them, and then unschooled in recent years … but divorced this past year (I could no longer be a “chid” myself), and while we have joint custody, they live with their father (he, the one who worked outside the home, has more income ability — I had to pull a resume out of thin air, and have worked at poverty level the past 6 months).

    I have been away from them for 6 months – though I bring them to my apartment every other weekend. Due to the misery of this situation, I am returning to the town where they live, and am trusting that the rest of my life falls into place.

    I am NOT a perfect mom. I’m not even close. If you, or I, listen to and believe the stories, I am the “bad mom” … the “abandoning mom” … the “selfish mom” … I could go on and on.

    I know the truth, but it stings … and my heart aches.

    I honestly believe that we all “flunk” parenting. I believe it’s even a divine set-up … that no one escapes childhood unscathed. Even the best-intentioned parent will STILL be interpreted through the mind of a child to have “failed” them in some way … I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t harbor a story of “I’m just not good enough” somewhere in their heart, even if it’s covered over by all manner of distraction, noise, numbness or denial.

    Anyway, I believe we ALL do the best we can, with what we have … and I believe that Love Wins.

    Meanwhile, yeah … may we all rethink, UNlearn, and have compassion on ourselves, and all others.

    Yeah … and trust.

    Trust.

    November 14, 2011

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