Beating the guilt of imperfect parenting.
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
I remember the days before becoming a parent where I often thought about all the things I would do when my bundle of joy entered the world. The “perfect” parenting methods that I would employ to ensure my child had the best start. I also remember my child turning three and reflecting back on this thought pattern…oh how I laughed!
You see, I aimed to be the mum that breast fed her child until tiny gnasher's prevented her from doing so…that didn’t happen. I aimed to be the parent that only feed her child fresh foods and had a strict weaning plan…that didn’t happen. I aimed to be the mum that never lost her shit when her much-wanted little angel threw a terrible two's tantrum…hahaha…that CERTAINLY did not happen! Now, as my bright and talented little lady closes in on her teenage years, I often think of all the things I had planned to do but that did not happen, the ways in which I “failed” and although I can now look back on these times with almost comical reflection, I cannot overlook the gut wrenching guilt and inferiority that I felt (and sometimes still feel) on an all too regular basis.
Parental guilt can be relentless. The feeling of not doing enough, providing enough or being enough. Coupled with the fact that society bombards us with images and scientifically researched ideals on what perfect parenting should look like and how to raise the “model child”. This invokes a level of expectation that places great pressure and judgement (perceived and real) on parents as a collective. Furthermore, exposure to social media, with it's highlights of families engaging in stress-free frivolity and accomplishment, can often lead us to think “where am I going wrong?”
The all to obvious answer to this will often be, you are not! And yet this can feel like a lie when we are going about our daily routines, just trying our best to make it through the day.
Often, it is the realness of parenting imperfections that teach our children the most valuable of all life lessons. Most life skills are learned through practical example, what we do, how we act and rarely through what we say and instruct. Therefore, it is of great importance for our children to see our imperfections play out in all of their glorious goodness. Resilience, courage, vulnerability, compassion (for self and others), congruency and volition to pick yourself up and move forward, are not learned in picture perfect moments. They are learned in moments when we as parents are fallible, when we face tough and challenging times and somehow messily and inelegantly find our way through them. In these moments, our children observe our grit and determination, the skills and techniques, and bank them to one day face those challenges themselves. They learn that perfection is not a prerequisite for life or for self worth.
I have often talked about my adversity towards perfectionism and how it contributes hugely to ill mental health, procrastination and low self-esteem. The reason being, a person will never truly feel enough or feel wholly worthy, If they are trying to attain the unobtainable. When we relax into the knowledge that our worth is not defined by perfection, by 5 a day fruit and veg, by a clean house and baking on Sundays, by being a stay at home mum or a full time worker, by having the perfect body, or by buying all the latest gadgets and gizmos, we begin to feel enough. We also show the little eyes that watch us, that they too are worthy, that they are enough in their simplicity, fallibilities, mistakes and imperfections. Shame, self loathing and inadequacy, cannot live in the same moment as worthiness and self-acceptance, for you or for your children.
Therefore, my only tip this week is this. Be kind to yourself! If you are struggling as a parent with your commitments, with guilt over striking a work life balance, with whether you should breast feed or not, having a child in your room at night or not, or any of the million thoughts that may be inducing shame or guilt on you as a parent, remember parenting isn’t about being perfect, it is about being real in the complexities of our lives and allowing our children to learn from these experiences to thrive as adults. Furthermore we are a tribe, be kind with others! Judgement or agenda pushing is often hugely discouraging.
I have yet to meet a single parent that has not felt helpless, hopeless, frustrated, exhausted, vulnerable, inferior, guilt ridden or shamed, at some point throughout their parenting journey. None of us are perfect and none of us are impervious. And yet as a collective, we still manage to raise well adjusted, functioning adults…go figure!