Good parent vs perfect parent

Do you set your parenting expectations so high you find you often can’t reach them and then feel guilty about being a ‘bad parent’? Clinical Psychologist, Rebecca Daly-Peoples, says there’s no such thing as a perfect parent and that ‘good enough parenting’ is actually good enough.

We live in a generation where we believe we can have it all and get things in an instant. With this comes a raft of new pressures that previous generations of parents never had to deal with. We are also being inundated with information designed to help us tackle the challenges of parenthood while at the same time we have become less reliant on our ‘parenting’ gut instinct.

There is no quick fix to parenting and certainly no-one is handing out prizes for the ‘best parentof the year’ award. So, what is the perfect parent?

The reality is, there’s no such thing! Rather, we create it in our minds, either through our own experiences of how we were raised as children or what we perceive to be parenting perfection. Perfection might include the ability to effortlessly balance parenthood and a successful career, being 100 per cent attentive to our children’s needs at all times, raising perfect childrenwho never throw tantrums, having a spotless house and passionate relationship, and feeling perfectly happy and satisfied as a parent all the time.

All of this then leads us to become anxious and guilt-ridden when we can’t meet these unrealistic expectations.

Perfection origins

The world has changed dramatically from that of our parents and grandparents. Historically, extended families in small communities raised children together. Today many parents raise children on their own, grandparents are often geographically further away, or still working or living their own active lives, and, for many families, both parents work outside the home. While our parents and grandparents relied on gut instinct and advice from family and friends, today we are overwhelmingly bombarded with parenting advice from varying channels. The pressure to keep up with the latest research on how best to raise our children can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry about whether we’re parenting ‘right’.

Rather than respond to the individual needs of our children, we are instead encouraged to followone path to the desired result. But ‘one size’ does not fit all and we’re bound to experience ‘failures’ along the way. Instead of focusing on the parts we are getting right, we become preoccupied with how we’re not ‘perfect’ parents raising ‘perfect’ children.

There is also a trend for parents to be having children later once they have established their careers and financial independence. A common misconception among career women is the belief they can run their family as efficiently and effectively as they can organise work. But, childrencome with individual personalities that don’t always run to schedule! This can undermine a parent who’s used to being in control of their day, leading to feeling out of control and inadequate – a long way away from perfection.

Under pressure

Research has found many mothers feel they’re either doing something wrong as a parent or feel they’re not doing enough for their children. Many of these mothers also express a mixture of guilt, anxiety and resentment, mostly about working and not spending enough time with their children.Research also identified stay-at-home mums typically experience feelings of guilt, often succumbing to the belief that they must entertain their children endlessly, then feeling guilty when they resent the demands on their time.

What we model as parents, our children will imitate. If our children see us constantly striving forperfection, they may feel the pressure to achieve perfection themselves. They may also start believing that ‘less than perfect’ is unacceptable.

It is important children learn that not everything is perfect, that not everything works out as expected and that it is okay to not get things right every time. Failure is as much part of real life as is success. Constant perfectionism is emotionally unhealthy and is linked to a range of problems, including unhealthy body image expectations and eating disorders, anxiety, depression and difficult peer relationships.

What really matters?

The first step towards working out what matters to you when it comes to parenting is to determine what is most important to you and your children – not based on others’ ideas.

Consider how you were parented (as this has a significant influence on your own parenting style), and decide whether there are elements or strategies from your experience you would use to raise your own children, and what things you would choose to do differently.

Set reasonable expectations for yourself, your partner and your children. There are only so many hours in the day. You need some time for work, time for your children, time for your relationship, for yourself and time to sleep! There’s no set amount of time you ‘should’ allocate yourself, but it helps to be selective about your priorities.

Most importantly, create balance between your needs and your family’s needs, work and commitment, and fun and play. Enjoy the time you have with your children and celebrate the fun aspects of being a family.

Good parenting tips

• Avoid comparisons. All children are unique. Rather than comparing your child’s achievements or behaviour with others, focus on your child’s strengths. And remember, all parents are different, too.

• Focus on your strengths. Instead of dwelling on what you don’t get right as a parent, concentrate on qualities you feel good about as a parent.

• Be honest with other parents about not being perfect. Often parents who can’t admit to struggling are fearful of how others will judge them, so if you fess up, others are more likely toopen up and admit their own imperfections, too. Friends can give good advice or simply talk about their own experiences of what works or not for them.

• Watch negative self talk. Thoughts such as, “If my baby cries I’m failing as a parent,” or, “When she throws a tantrum, I know everyone will think I’m a bad mother” serve only to undermine your confidence. Focus on the positive elements, no matter how small, so you don’t feel constantly overwhelmed.

• Have reasonable expectations of yourself and your child. Accept you’re not right all the time and that it’s reasonable and normal to sometimes lose your cool or express irritation as a parent.

• Connect with your child. Find 15 minutes each day to fully connect emotionally and physicallywith your child with loving affection.

• Involve your child. You needn’t constantly entertain your child, rather involve them in dailyactivities such as tidying up, doing the laundry, vacuuming the house. Being helpful builds children’s self esteem.

Remember, all children misbehave, get upset, throw tantrums and whine – it’s a normal part of children’s development and is not a reflection of your parenting skills. Being a good parent is about being able to accept you make mistakes and letting go of imperfections. This is the perfect place to start on the path to ‘good enough’ parenting.

Rebecca Daly-Peoples, Clinical Psychologist.

This article was originally published in Littlies Magazine, Issue 66.