Many parents admit to wanting to be the best possible parent for their children, and this desire to be good parents fuels an entire industry of parenting books, gimmicks, products and programs designed to either teach parents how to interact with their children or control children so that parents feel like they’re doing their job and doing it well. However, taking the desire to be a good parent to the extreme and trying to be a *perfect* parent is more problematic. What does it mean to be a perfect parent? Is it even possible? If it were possible, would it be a good or healthy thing to be? Here are 5 reasons to be glad you’re not a perfect parent.
Being perfect prevents your children from learning how to deal with mistakes.
Doing everything perfectly leaves no room for making mistakes, but no matter which way you slice it, making mistakes is part of life. Children benefit from watching their parents make a mistake, recognize it and work to correct the mistake. Everything from “Oh no, I dropped my favorite mug and it broke!” to “I’m sorry I yelled at you, that was a mistake. Next time I feel angry I will take a moment to calm down before we talk about things,” demonstrates to children that mistakes are normal and teaches them ways to cope with them.
Being perfect stops you from learning new skills.
Not wanting to do something badly at first can be a major obstacle to learning new skills or trying new things. A perfectionist parent who can’t venture out of his comfort zone to try new things and possibly do them badly will easily get stuck in habitual ruts of discipline and ways of interacting with his child. Parenting is a practice that is constantly changing, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out, your children go and grow and change and you’ve got to figure out what to do next. This takes a lot of flexibility and trial and error.
Mistakes are opportunities for growth and discovery.
Nobody likes making a mistake, but being able to see that you are doing something badly and figuring out a new, better way of doing things is an opportunity to grow and change as a person. Making mistakes and then putting them right is the foundation of building integrity and good character, and is one of the most important things parents need to teach their children. This means making mistakes and fixing them while our children are watching, and allowing our children reasonably safe opportunities to make their own mistakes and learn from them too. Being overly perfectionistic ourselves or overprotecting children in order to prevent them from making mistakes of their own inhibits the process of growth and change.
Being a perfectionist about housekeeping means kids miss out on messy play.
Fretting about disorganized toys, sand in the hallway, playdough on the floor, paint covered fingers or a t-shirt that’s seen an afternoon spent making mud pies is energy that could be better spent in other ways. Children are naturally messy little people, and they also LOVE to gather, arrange, explore, squish, splat and whack whatever they can get their hands on, especially toddlers. Why not just accept that life with kids means that the house isn’t perfect? Sure, being able to have a reasonably tidy space helps everyone feel comfortable at home and children do need to learn how to tidy up after they’re done playing. But in general, happy kids add so much more value to life than a spotless house.
Perfectionism can easily become martyrdom.
I see this happening sometimes in the Attachment Parenting community, and it makes me sad when I hear moms complaining about how they suffer from striving to provide the perfect environment of support for their children. Yes, children do need support, and a strong emotional attachment is the best way I know of to foster children’s growth and development. But that doesn’t mean that mom should never get more than 2 hours sleep together for 3 years running. You don’t need to become a martyr in the pursuit of being the perfect parent. One of the most important tenets of Attachment Parenting is balance – keeping everyone’s needs in balance means that the entire family benefits. Moving a toddler into her own bed, night weaning, asking your child to walk up the stairs himself – these things are a normal, healthy part of parenting with balance. They don’t mean you’re failing as an attached parent because you cannot co-sleep, nurse and babywear indefinitely. AP is a frame of mind, not a specific set of behaviours.
Admitting I’ve made a mistake is hard to do, but I know it’s far better for myself and my kids when I recognize that I’ve made a mistake, admit it and work to put things right than it would be to pretend I never made the mistake in the first place. Being gentle with myself when I make a mistake is also excellent practice for being gentle with my kids when they make mistakes. Mistakes are signposts along this journey of life that tell me when I’ve gone off course, and they help me notice when extra effort is required to get back on track. I’m not perfect, but I’m making the most of my mistakes.