Perfect, Imperfect Parenting
Last week we discussed the things we do to mess up relationships. This week, in honor of the grand opening of ParentDumb.com, the premiere parenting website from the same geniuses who brought you this incredible site, we will do for parenting what we do for relationships. Because let’s face it, more stupid things happen in the world of parenting than anywhere else. So let us welcome ParentDumb with open arms and refer all your friends, family and acquaintances to the party.
Lee says: As a parent of three with varying needs, I have been known to do stupid things. I am not ashamed to admit that I am not a perfect parent. I proudly claim that I am a perfectly imperfect parent. I am filled with awe with how mediocre to awful I can be sometimes. But that’s me. I am the mother of a smart, witty, 17 year old young lady who is visually impaired, hearing impaired, suffered a stroke at birth and has Asperger’s. I am also the mother to 6 and 3 year old boys who are brilliant, inquisitive, have no diagnoses and will probably be heart throbs/class clowns and jocks. These kids couldn’t be more different if they had come from a distant planet.
The biggest improvement to my parenting came when I realized I could not be perfect. Not only that, but I also had the realization that the ‘perfect parent’ was tantamount to saying smothering, overbearing and traumatizing. We know that ‘perfect’ is an ideal and that state is impossible to achieve. However, the kicker is that we still strive to get things perfect. We are a society filled with perfectionism. Marketing is directed at this golden ring. Drive the perfect car and live in the perfect neighborhood and work at the perfect job to attain the perfect life.
As a therapist, I have worked with many perfectionists. I have worked with perfectionists who were homeless, drug addicts, pedophiles and rapists. I know that offends your sensibilities to think that those types of people could also be striving for perfectionism but it is true. The need to line up all your shoes or dot all your ‘I’s’ came from none other than our parents. And, believe it or not, these people can usually go back to see that their dysfunctional behavior came from beliefs made from things their parents told them.
As a society we have this dichotomous understanding of children. On one hand, we believe that kids are sponges and can understand more than we give them credit. On the other hand, we think children are naïve and ignorant as to the ways of the world. The truth is that they are both. A child is innocent yet can be as or more intelligent than you. Intelligence is virtually static. Smarts is smarts. So as parents we baby talk them and then place them in situations where we, as parents, choose to behave in certain ways. We express to them sadness, disappointment and withhold love when there is failure, even if it is in the guise of false bravado. Children pick up meta-messages but cannot decipher them like us because of their ignorance and naiveté. These messages come in as ‘mistakes are bad’ and ‘I will be loved if I am perfect’.
To be clear, when I say withhold love, there are certain times as human beings where we know we should be doing something but emotionally are unable to. Sometimes we can’t find the energy or motivation to fake a good hug or focus on our kids the way they need. We are human before we are parents. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and can’t be genuine so even a hug can be interpreted as a pity embrace. When I say withhold love, I am not referring to slamming the door in their little faces and saying ‘I hate you’ or ‘you don’t deserve my love’.
If you find that you react a little to the ‘perfect parent’ label, perhaps you should look at that. Perfection is insidious, impossible and destructive. Passing that infection to your children is worse than a hereditary disease. So go get dirty, make a mess, screw up and hug your kid. Tell them they are imperfect and messy and gross and stinky and that’s all right.
Paul says: I’m perfect.