Why Perfectionism is the Enemy of Parents (and why ‘good enough’ is better).

This article is a little excerpt from my book: ‘How to be a Calm Parent’:

Time and time again I come across parents who feel that they are failing their children because they have flaws. They believe that if they are not always ready and able to meet their child’s needs, then they are not good enough. Each failure, whether small or large and however frequent or infrequent, is deemed an indication that they can never meet up to the high expectations they hold for themselves. Many parents live in a perpetual and tortuous cycle of shame, guilt, and regret, all because they uphold the unobtainable goal of parenting perfection. If there is one trait that holds us back from becoming calmer parents, it is surely perfectionism.

The sad reality is that those who focus on perfectionism are undoubtedly good parents, because they are so desperate to better themselves for the sake of their children, but that same perfectionism can also be their undoing. Perfection is nothing but an illusion, but when it comes to parenting, perfect seems to be the goal to aim for. If what we are aiming for is an illusion, we are all doomed to fail, yet the quest for perfection is rooted in the desperate desire to avoid failure. Thus, we enter a vicious circle of expectations and aims set too high, leading to unavoidable failure, leading to guilt, depression and dented self-esteem and confidence, causing us to once again assess our parenting skills and aim for the fallacy of perfect, each time driving our psyche down a little more, that nagging voice in our head whispering, “you’re just not good enough”. It is a toxic, debilitating, cycle that we must break if we hope to be calmer.

What underlies perfectionism?

A large majority of our behaviour as parents is rooted in our own childhood and the way we ourselves were raised, as well as the relationships and interactions we had with our parents and caregivers. The origins of perfectionism are no exception to the rule here and it is highly likely that your perfectionist behaviour is rooted in your past. 

It isn’t just our upbringing that leaves us vulnerable to perfectionism though, we live in a consumerist society that preys on our, perceived or real, imperfections and insecurities to sell things. If we all accepted our unique flaws and had confidence in our abilities, looks and lives in general, we would be much harder to sell to, in fact we would be a marketer’s nightmare. It is much easier to sell a product, or an idea, to an audience who feel insecure, who are constantly looking for that holy grail to reach the pinnacle of perfection. For this reason, then, most advertising is designed to undermine our self-esteem and contentment and we voluntarily surround ourselves with these toxic messages constantly.

What else feeds into our desire to be perfect parents?

Here we only must look at the value, or rather lack of it, attached to child raising today. Childcare isn’t valued, by society and especially not by our Governments. Those who work in the childcare industry are sorely underpaid and their choice of career is often deemed one for those who are unable to achieve higher paid, more intellectual, or qualified work. If you choose to be a stay-at-home parent, the media considers you to be lazy and a leech on society if you accept any state financial help. I can’t tell you how many stay-at-home parents I have met who have introduced themselves as “just a mum”, or “just a dad”, if asked what their job is. It’s almost as if we feel that we must apologise for not contributing to national productivity and the public purse. Raising a tiny human, although possibly the hardest and most complex job there is in the world, is considered as an easy, work-shy, choice. This lack of societal value attached to child-rearing, leaves us with the subconscious belief that we must somehow be perfect at it, to prove to the naysayers wrong and prove to ourselves that we are ‘worth it’.

As parents, it is imperative that we learn to fail with grace. We must learn that our failures are not just OK, but debatably more valuable than our parenting successes, because it is failure that is ultimately the precursor to learning and achievement, for both parent and child.

Why ‘Good Enough’ Should be Your New Goal

Sadly, the idea of ‘good enough’ is often associated with subpar parenting in our culture today. For some it is used as an excuse for repeatedly prioritising their own needs over those of their children, rather than a more balanced approach where both needs are equally considered. However, ‘good enough’ is not the same as ‘poor parenting’, it is not subpar, indeed it carries benefits that – if it were a real thing – ‘perfect parenting’ doesn’t have. We must let go of the fallacy of the perfect parent, or ‘the Nirvana parent’. Instead, we must be prepared to welcome failure, to make peace with it and to view it as a learning and grounding opportunity, because failure is unavoidable in parenting. We must raise our children to be ‘good enough’, so that they don’t carry with them our perfectionism.

Did you enjoy this excerpt?
How to Be a Calm Parent is part self-help book, part parenting book; aimed at parents who know that they need to be calmer to raise well adjusted, happy children, but who struggle with their own emotions and stress levels.

‘How to be a Calm Parent’ is out now

You can order HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.

Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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