October 1, 2015/by Sharon Youngman
This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program launched during the fall of 2015.
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Question: Since my marriage failed, I have an overpowering need for perfection and sometimes I think this may be unhealthy for my children. Isn’t it okay to want to be the best parent possible especially in light of the circumstances?
Response: I, too, am in love with the idea of perfection. I love the sound of the word; a perfect evening, perfect weather, but when it comes to parenting, striving to be a perfect parent or having a perfect child doesn’t work. Clearly no person, young or small can be perfect and marriage can’t be perfect either. Perfect doesn’t even exist.
Many moms and dads live in environments where children are compared and judged. They worry, should I have stayed married for my children’s sake. Or they may be concerned and wonder are my children popular, smart, athletic or beautiful?
At the Emmy awards a few years ago, Stephen Colbert thanked his mom for not worrying about him. Imagine what that meant to this comedic icon. His parents had enough confidence in him that they did not need to worry. Parenting whether in an intact family or one that isn’t, leads one to ask, “Does knowing that one’s parents worry about us impact us as a child in a negative way? Does it lower one’s confidence level because mom or dad has a concern?
Co-parenting with someone you are no longer married to adds a challenge that may be best addressed by adopting a system of communication with that person that eliminates placing the child in the middle. And even in the best of circumstances, worry, perfection and comparisons go hand in hand. Our idea of perfection is related to the standards we observe. We may worry when our children are not reaching those standards. Comparing your child with other children will ultimately cause you and your children stress. If you have concerns about developmental delays, seek a medical opinion. However, children have different talents, interests and strengths. Help your child identify theirs and support those things that are challenging and rewarding. Acknowledge that his or her strengths and interests may be completely different than others, even yours.
We all have hopes and dreams for our kids, but they may not be in line with their pursuits and ultimately, their happiness. If a parent’s expectations are too high, children may suffer emotional burdens or give up. If they are too low, they will not feel the thrill of accomplishment. It’s a balance that parents seek. Further, parents who feel proud of their child’s accomplishments need to be aware of the temptations to have too much personal stake in their child’s success. Comparing your child to others and linking your self-esteem to theirs will have negative consequences for both of you.
Won’t it be wonderful when one day your grown up child thanks you for not worrying about them and showing them that you had confidence in their abilities and judgment? That will be perfection.
Sharon Youngman is an educator and the founder of Good Parents, GREAT Kids, an organization striving to help families elevate their parenting skills in a proactive way. Learn more