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.
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?
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.
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.
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.