The case for Imperfect Parenting

Why is it impossible to be perfect parents?

We often look at kids who are excelling in everything they do and wonder what it is that makes them so. Is it their IQ and drive or is it that they have perfect parents?

All of us with children would love to be perfect parents. When we look back at our growing up years, we can clearly point out some of the things that we wished our parents had done differently with us. Then we think we would have turned out to be perfect.

Now that we are parents ourselves, we try to act the way we would have our parents behaved with us. Some of us give up our jobs or take up a part-time job or work from home so that we can be available to our kids at all times. We juggle and struggle to volunteer in their school’s Parent Teacher Association just to see a cheery smile on their faces when they see us at their school. We want to cook their favorite food, drive them to various classes, enroll them in activities that we think will help them develop intellectually and socially, all in an effort to ensure that our kids are not wanting. We even go to the extent of seeking other parents whose children we think will be good as friends to our kids.

All this we do so that we can be perfect parents to our children.

We realize, much later, that being “perfect parents” is a myth. We were not brought up by perfect parents and intrinsically we are not perfect. Both nature and nurture cooperated to make us imperfect. We are either short-tempered or hot-tempered, shy or timid, super intelligent or super eloquent and such. We all have emotional scars and are continuously fighting our own demons. We are all hard-wired to behave in a certain way. Sometimes even if we know that our behavior is not conducive to being a good parent, we are unable to change ourselves and continue behaving in a way that is not perfect. Our children learn from observing us. We may give them all the knowledge and wisdom in the world, but their behavior is driven by how they see us behave.

Since we are not without blemish, how can we be perfect parents to our kids?

Life throws at us many hard rocks such as sickness and death, job loss and other failures which are tough on us emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. These events distract us, as does our work and other commitments which prevent us from being completely available to our children. The conundrum is that even if we make ourselves available, we may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to guide our children appropriately.

Common sense says that if parents are highly educated and successful, they are more likely to be perfect parents because they can guide their children congruously. However, that may not be always true, for even if these parents are able to guide their children professionally, they may not necessarily be able to meet their emotional, mental and physical needs and demands.

And wait. Do we even have an all-encompassing definition of a perfect parent? Dictionary says that perfect means “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be”. But is there a consensus on what these desirable qualities are? Some parents think that a child should make their decisions themselves and learn from experience, whereas others think that a child needs guidance. Some think that a tween should be able to play with their friends in the park without adult supervision, whereas others think differently. Some parents think that shuttling kids from one after-school activity to another is good since it keeps children out of trouble. Others think that children need fewer activities and a lot of free time. Some think that academics should be the main focus whereas others think that extracurricular activities that develop a child’s personality are more important. Some parents are for sleepovers and some against. Some parents are overprotective and some are hands-off. So there is no one thing we all agree on.

So really, it all boils down to – becoming “perfect parents” that are perfect for our children.

To be perfect parents to our children, we need to figure out what our children need and how best we can provide it to them. This is an iterative process requiring constant revision, spurred by our evolving experiences and changing situations.  This noble goal of becoming a perfect parent becomes a moving goal, constantly demanding unabated effort.

When reaching for this goal, we will encounter many obstacles and failures, both internal and external, on the way.  These hindrances, as frustrating as they may be, provide a platform for us to grow, both as a parent and as an individual.  This is the time to pace ourselves, to take a deep breath and to be kind to ourselves. This is the time to courageously ask for forgiveness from our children when we inadvertently cause them hurt or when we make a mistake.  This is the time to continue to focus on ourselves so that we become good human beings and a good role model for our kids.

As a famous saying goes “There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Be a parent who is willing to grow.”

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