The Pressure to be Perfect
I saw a mug a few years ago that said “World’s Okayest Mom” and I immediately sent a picture to my daughters and wrote, “This is perfect for me.” Their replies were both “Yes, true.” The truth is I am okay with that title (no pun attended). I remember a quote I read a few years ago, “I was the perfect parent…until I had kids.” Yes, exactly. Before, I had children I had this fantasy about how it would go. There would be quality time every day, enrichment activities, and healthy food at every meal. Then, reality hit. Within a span of 16 months, we went from a two-parent family with one child to a single parent family with two children. Well, that was more than enough to put the brakes on the fantasy of the “perfect parent.” Heck, just having children usually puts the brakes on that fantasy anyway.
As we start another school year, I want to let all parents, but especially grieving parents, that “okay” is good enough. I remember as my daughters were growing up being so relieved at the end of the school year …and then being so relieved when it started again. We would have high expectations for the new school year. We were going to be up and out of the house on time, homework would be done in a timely fashion while I cooked a nice home cooked meal, and we would be organized with all extracurricular activities. Those “perfect” parent ideals again. Well, needless to say it rarely worked out like the plans or if it did at first it was hard to sustain.
It turns out being the “good enough parent” is good enough. In his book The Group, about a widowed fathers’ group, Donald Rosenstein and Justin Yopp write about the “good enough father.” They base it on research done years ago by Donald Winnicott who wrote about the “good enough mother.” In a nutshell, Winnicott proposed that perfect parenting was neither possible nor most beneficial for children. Children will not learn to self sooth or cope with difficulties if parents meet their every want. Rosenstein and Yopp proposed to the group of widowed fathers that children can thrive with imperfect parents. He helped the men realize children need a warm, thoughtful, and loving parent, not a perfect one. In addition, recent research with widowed mothers shows that it is the connection and warmth of the interaction with the child that matters the most.
In my own journey, I realized that I could not be in two places at one time. Sometimes, I had to miss a soccer game to go to another game at another place. Bedtimes did not always go as planned and sometimes we missed reading time or even bath time. I realized that it was okay if my 7-year-old toasted a Pop Tart in the toaster and even made one for her 4-year-old sister as I got ready for work. We had to negotiate about what extracurricular we could fit in during the school year. It was also fine that in high school my daughters had to find rides to and from some activities on their own. They learned to keep their own schedules and many times reminded me when I need to be somewhere for them. I also learned to lean on friends and family. There were many times I had to ask for help. Yes, there were sometimes tear and shouting, but we were okay.
I talk to parents everyday who have either lost a spouse, partner, co-parent, or child. Sometimes it is a grandmother or aunt in new role as primary parent. They are so worried about their children and want to do everything right. They feel the need to be as “perfect” as possible. They feel their children have been through enough. However, the drive to perfection only creates more stress for the family. I advise parents to take a deep breath and look at priorities, communicate with their children, and most of all give themselves a break!
I would like to dedicate this piece to Zelda and Lucy who, almost 19 years later, are thriving young adults. They also know how to take care of themselves pretty darn well and I am sure still make a great Pop Tart.
The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life by Donald J. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp