Parents are allowed to be imperfect

Are you feeling pressure to be the perfect parent? The good news is that you already are perfect — as an imperfect parent.

Ideal family

How many of you are perfect parents? None? Well, how many of you have perfect children? Still none? The real truth is that there are no perfect parents — nor perfect children.

Imperfection is allowed and expected

Why do so many parents act as if there is such a being as the “perfect parent” or “perfect child?” To illustrate, try completing the following sentences.

Just say the first thing that comes to mind:

  • A good parent always…
  • Good children should…
  • As a parent, I must…
  • My children ought to be more…
  • If I were more like my own parents, I would be more…

If a parent falls short of these standards, they are left with the belief that he or she is a “bad” parent. These beliefs are responsible for why parents feel so out-of-control and powerless in their parenting roles. Parents need more realistic beliefs about parenting.

Realistic beliefs about parenting

Beliefs are expressions of parents’ values about themselves, other people and the world. Unrealistic beliefs create a feeling of demand that pushes and drives parents unnecessarily, where realistic beliefs create a feeling of inner stability — even when circumstances aren’t always stable.

One way to create more realistic beliefs is to evaluate the evidence for your unrealistic thoughts about parenting. Ask yourself these questions: What law states that a child will always listen and be respectful? What evidence really suggests that all parents must be available to their children at all times? What edict states that I must be perfect?

Make a parenting plan

For one day, make a list of all the negative thoughts that come to mind as you go about your parenting duties. At the end of the day, look over the list and write out alternative, positive counter-thoughts. Whenever the negative thoughts come up, immediate state the alternative thought to break its power over you.

If it is too hard to remember them all, pick one or two of the negative thoughts that create the most interference in your parenting and counter those only. Do that for about a week and then move down the list to the others.

Changing what you say about your parenting will change how you feel about your parenting. Try this experiment: Complete the following incomplete sentences and notice the emotional difference between these and the first list.

  • A responsible parent always…
  • Good children sometimes…
  • As a parent, I can be…
  • I desire my children to be more…
  • If I were like my own parents, the positive qualities I would like to have…

Only one word was changed in each of these sentences, yet it dramatically changes how you think and feel. If you are going to accept the fact that you are imperfect then you will have to eliminate “perfection” language from your thoughts and words. You will need to accept the fact that you are acting “good enough.” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for more out of yourselves or your child. Self improvement is not the same as expecting perfection.

The courage to be imperfect

It takes courage to be a “good enough” parent. This is what the child psychiatrist, Rudolph Driekurs, calls “the courage to be imperfect.” While there are plenty of perfect parenting standards to fail short of, there are no rules for how to be an imperfect parent.

Here are 10 un-commandments for developing the “courage to be imperfect.”

  1. Children should be encouraged, not expected, to seek perfection.
  2. Accept who you are rather than try to be more than or as good as other parents.
  3. Mistakes are aids to learning. Mistakes are not signs of failure. Anticipating or fearing mistakes will make us more vulnerable to failure.
  4. Mistakes are unavoidable and are less important than what the parent does after he or she makes a mistake.
  5. Set realistic standards for yourself and your child. Don’t try correcting or changing too many things at one time.
  6. Develop a sense of your strengths and your weaknesses.
  7. Mutual respect, between parent and child, starts by valuing yourself. Recognize your own dignity and worth before you try and show your child their dignity and worth.
  8. Unhappy parents are frequently discouraged, competitive, unrealistic in their standard for themselves and their children, over ambitious and unbalanced in their love and limits.
  9. High standards and expectations are frequently related to parent’s feelings of inferiority and lack of adequate parenting resources.
  10. Parents need to develop the courage to cope with the challenges of living, which means, they must develop the “courage to be imperfect.”

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