News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.      The Myth of the Perfect Parent

  Remember the days of “B.K.?” Before kids?! Many of us closely watched our friends and relatives parenting their recent additions. How exciting and maybe a bit strange as well to witness them in this new role of mom or dad! Analyzing their developing strategies and techniques, we may have found ourselves inwardly forming judgments that perhaps lead to our own commitments to “do it just like she did” or to “never treat my child like that!”

  Some of us developed lists, on paper or in our minds, of numerous do’s and don’ts that we planned to follow once our own precious bundles arrived. One of my absolutes was to never put my children in a playpen. How cruel, I thought. Why would a parent ever do that?? Needless to say, I eventually had a playpen and regularly used it!

  “We’re always perfect parents before we have kids!,” Barbara Coloroso quotes in her book, Kids Are Worth It! It seems we create an image or images of what is “right” when it comes to parenting. Heidi wants to raise her kids just like her parents did because she has such great memories of her childhood. Yet her children are so different from herself and her siblings. Wendy felt crushed by her parents’ high standards. Husband Bob thought his parents were far too permissive. Together they have decided that a middle of the road style will be right for their kids. But their oldest son continues to break the rules. Each is struggling to discern whether their parenting is “good enough.”

  There are no easy answers or fixes just as there are no perfect parents. Yet we often feel the pressure to be like those other parents who seem to “have it altogether.” TV commercials show smiling, well dressed, close knit families that make it look so easy. Magazine articles and some parenting books describe what seem like sensible solutions to our recurring problems. For example, just put her in time out for five minutes and she’ll behave better next time. NOT. Or perhaps yes, she’ll act responsibly for a brief time, and then, the negative behavior reappears. What do you do? At the mall or in the grocery store, we see parents whose children hold hands, walk right beside their parents, stay next to them in the check out line, and even cooperate when asked to help out. Where did they come from?!

  Comparing ourselves to others can lead to discouragement. Usually we are basing our conclusions on only a small piece of the whole picture. No matter how “good” we think someone else may be at this demanding job of parenting, we will ALL make mistakes along the way and disappoint ourselves with our lack of information and poor judgment. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than is healthy. So where does that leave us?

  Each of us as parents needs to address the “good enough” question for ourselves. Standards are important for any job, including parenting. Research has shown that “conscious parenting” produces healthier children and families. To “fly by the seat of our pants” can lead to kids who do likewise. But we also need to be realistic. Here are some suggestions to consider in assessing your own standards.

  ·    Protect yourself from unsolicited advice. Our relatives and friends who do not live with us can be quick to judge and let us know how we “should” parent our children. Respectfully set boundaries to let them know you appreciate their concern and will consider their suggestion.

  ·    Don’t dwell on the past. Recognize mistakes, make amends if needed, then forgive yourself. Berating yourself for using unhealthy limit setting with your toddler and now not setting boundaries for him in his pre-teen years will not help him to recognize the consequences of his behavior. Do what your children need in the present rather than trying to undo what you think may have been mistakes years before (or days before).

  ·    Seek out parenting information and support. Find better ways to respond if you feel uncertain or guilty about the patterns that have developed between you and your child. Our children keep growing and changing. A skill that was helpful in the pre-school years may not be as effective several years later. Openness to learning models a lifelong skill for our children. It is never too late to learn, grow, and change.

  ·    Congratulate yourself in those moments of wonder, connection, laughter, learning, cooperation and signs of maturity. My own son just asked me what I needed him to do before he could play a video game. WOW!! It is a moment for which I can take some credit after our discussion last evening about following through on tasks without the need for so many reminders. I am smiling! J

  The myth of the perfect parent may trigger anxiety about our parenting. Or it can challenge us to do the best we can and stop beating ourselves over the head trying to find the one right way. Good enough parenting means good enough for your child to feel secure, competent and lovable for the most part, and remembering that parenting, like any human effort, is a bit imperfect. I hope your own standards enable you to feel “good enough” in your ever- challenging role as a parent.

By: Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator

Apr. 2002
Vol. 4/ No.6
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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