This is a really helpful tip for two reasons. One, there is no such thing as a perfect parent anyway. And two, if you live every day with the challenges of mental illness, the very last thing you should be trying to achieve is perfection. My general standard is to aim for whatever-it-takes parenting rather than perfection. I tend to aim for something along the lines of the-best-parenting-I-can-do-without-falling-apart. Let me explain.
People who never even knew they had an issue with perfection, suddenly develop one when they become a parent. When it’s just us as single students, or starting out career-folk, we tend to be not so stressed out by being perfect all the time. On the contrary for many of us as students and in our twenties we were going for the opposite of perfection. But when we have babies suddenly this overwhelming need comes over us to be the very best parent there ever was, to raise idealistic children and do everything exactly right. There is an intense need to show no weakness, to have the best of everything to offer your child, to be across the very latest trend in parenting before anyone else is, and to have your perfect child be the envy of all other parents.
It’s even worse for people with chronic anxiety or other conditions that make you worry about what other people are thinking. This kind of environment puts regular anxiety into some kind of supernova.
And because we are telling ourselves that parents must be perfect, we are unwilling to show any weakness to the other parents. Our greatest fears are that something we do, which will show up our lack of perfection, will reflect on our child. We are terrified that if we do something wrong, or weird or different, that other children won’t want to associate with our child. We are worried that other parents will not encourage a friendship between our child and theirs because they don’t trust us to not be crazy, and they think that our child will turn out to be the same. Here is a very non-exhaustive list of all the things I have worried about getting perfectly right:
- That my child had the right shoes
- That my child had the right hair-ribbon
- That my child looked neat on photo day, not for the photos but because everyone else’s child looked so neat
- That my child didn’t get invited to someone’s birthday party (Was it my fault?)
- That my child’s lunch isn’t healthy enough
- That I’m using snack packs for convenience when I should be putting everything into tiny matching Tupperware sets
- That I’m not baking all my child’s treats from scratch
- That I didn’t read my child’s reader with her last night
- That I’m not volunteering at the school canteen/fete/working bee
- That I haven’t memorized all the teacher’s names (or the parents, or the children)
- That my child is eating breakfast in the car
- That I can’t tell other people’s children apart
- That I’m not dressed appropriately for school drop-off
- That I let my child play Pokemon or Minecraft or whatever game is not educational
This concept of perfection is self-perpetuating, and as parents we are the cause. We are actively giving everyone else the impression that we are perfect when in truth we are not, and we are actually struggling a bit. And if we came out and admitted that, 95% of the parents would be instantly relieved and know exactly where you’re coming from. And the 5% that continue to pretend they are perfect you don’t really want to be friends with anyway.
For example my son who is eight when I write this, goes through the knees of his school pants like it’s nobody’s business. Every few months he needs all new pants bought for him, not because he’s grown (although he does do that pretty fast too), but because the knees are worn through. If I patch them, he develops whole new holes around the patches. My first thought in the past would have been ‘I can’t let him go to school looking like that! What will the other parents’ think? They will think we are too lazy or too poor to put our son in decent pants.’
The truth is we are too poor to keep our son in pants. And if you talk to anyone with boys aged 5-10 you will find out that all of their pants go the same way, and no one can afford to keep up with that. You are not a perfect parent, and your son is not a perfect son. On the contrary he’s a very normal son. So because I don’t want to keep buying new pants, I send him to school with holes in his knees. And I have embraced that I don’t care if the other parents think I’m poor; I have embraced that I am teaching my son the value of a dollar as well as to not judge a person by their appearances, and reducing the ridiculous used clothing landfill we create in the Western world every day.
So the aim is to embrace your imperfection. It will make life a lot easier for you and for all the other parents around you.
Perfection is completely unattainable, and aiming for it is only going to end you up in trouble. You need to focus instead at doing what works for you and your family, what keeps your family happy and healthy and functioning. Focus on being good enough, and then accept what is left.
Ask yourself which of the things that you are currently worried about are actually of any importance to your child. Tell yourself that by loving and openly accepting imperfection you will show your child to be a kinder and more compassionate person, both towards themselves and towards others.
I worried about being the perfect parent so much that I was afraid I wasn’t, so I didn’t go to things at school at all. I worried so much about what the other parents thought of me that I wouldn’t go into the schoolground at all. My child started to miss events like movie night and maths fair because I couldn’t make myself go. And no matter how imperfect you may think you are, your child just wants you to be there, and doesn’t want to be the child that misses out.