Perfectionism doesn’t discriminate. The desire to do things just right finds its way into all areas of life, from health, career, romance, friendships. Parenting is no different. If anything, the pressure of caring for and raising a child, a small being who is completely dependent on you, fuels expectations of doing everything the right way.
Are you placing sky-high expectations on your partner, your child, or yourself? Are you comparing your parenting style to others? Whether you’re a first-time parent or a seasoned pro, there are certain parenting myths worth knowing. Understanding misconceptions around parenting perfectionism will, at the very least, ease pressure one of life’s most powerful experiences. Let’s explore.
Myth 1: Parenting should be natural
A good place to start is the number one assumption that parenting should be a natural process. After all, we follow generation after generation of ancestors who raised children. Parenting is in our DNA. Won’t it be an instinctive process? Won’t you just know the right approach?
The myth that parenting is natural (or even easy!) applies to all stages of your child’s development, from the early days of newborn tears to aging through childhood and adolescence. This ranges from intuitively knowing what your child needs, to understanding the best ways to communicate in all situations.
By assuming things should be natural, it can prevent you from reaching out for support, or add unnecessary pressure to your approach to parenthood. But parenting isn’t natural for everyone! It takes courage to acknowledge the times you feel out of your depth; know that this is common. Rather than expecting to know “the way” instantly, approach parenting from the angle of an ever-evolving, ever-learning process.
Myth 2: There’s a ‘right way’ to parent
That being said, if you do reach out for support, appreciate people have different approaches to parenting — that includes you and your partner if co-parenting. A common form of influence comes from grandparents who wish to pass on advice. After all, they raised you, so surely they know what’s right? In addition, you may receive advice from friends or acquaintances who have had children or become overwhelmed by the endless stream of articles and guidance online.
It pays to keep an open mind, but build conviction in your style of parenting. Be flexible, keep an open mind, and look at how to learn and evolve. That doesn’t mean being complacent, as consistency is important: studies have found “authoritative parenting” has a positive effect on a child’s self-esteem compared to other parenting styles.
This is a parenting style that is defined as being highly responsive to children’s needs, whilst having reasonable demands and expectations. It’s warm but disciplined. It promotes a loving connection and support whilst encouraging the child’s independence.
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Myth 3: You have to sacrifice your needs
Encouraging a child’s independence is also beneficial to you as it encourages you to retain your independence! Raising a child is a sacred act, and it’s easy to become so lost in the role of “mother” or “father” that you lose a sense of yourself and neglect your needs. The same universal rules apply; to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of yourself.
That means finding a decent balance of making sure your needs are met. Oh, and that also means setting boundaries with your children. “Your child won’t thank you for saying no,” psychologist and author of Kid Confidence, Eileen Kennedy-Moore, writes on Psychology Today, “but sometimes a no is the best thing you can do for your child.”
Myth 4: Good parents don’t mess up
When expectations are unrealistic, it breeds an inner-environment primed for self-criticism. If you expect perfection, how will you respond to yourself when things don’t go to plan? Most likely, you’ll be frustrated and experience the emotional charge of perfectionism: guilt, shame, or disappointment. This is where practicing self-compassion is vital.
You will mess up! This is guaranteed. Embrace these imperfections and when you make mistakes, create the intention to learn, but be kind to yourself. To boost your parenting skills, consider a meditation practice or a process such as journaling. If your inner-critic is overly harsh in response to making mistakes, learn to rewrite the script to be more forgiving and kinder (and have patience, as this can take time.)
Myth 5: Success is hard to define
What does it mean to be a successful parent? Believing in the myth of the perfect parent can obscure what successful parenting looks like, be that the relationship you have with your child, how they behave, perform at school, treat other children, even their emotions. Remember your child won’t be happy all of the time, this isn’t a reflection of you, and this is okay!
Psychologist and founder of Honest Parenthood, Jessica Michaelson, PsyD, told Psychcentral it’s healthy for children to experience the full spectrum of emotions and to “be able to feel and deal with all of them.” Think about it: life is hard, and the better you’re able to provide a supportive environment for all emotions, the better your child’s emotional regulation becomes as they mature.
Parenting is a process of learning. By doing the best you can, always looking for ways to learn and grow, and keeping the wellbeing of your child in mind (whilst encouraging their independence) you will do right by your child or children. And think about it: being a role model isn’t about being perfect.
The best way for your children to learn how to treat themselves with kindness, and how to embrace imperfection and flaws, whilst looking to improve, is to see you embody these qualities. So be flawed, be imperfect, and do your best. It won’t be perfect, but it will be enough.
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