You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be a Perfect Parent

You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent (AdoptUSKids.org)

For some reason the recent billboard campaign of the Adopt U.S. Kids organization really hit home with me. Anyone who knows me, understands that I have always taken parenting seriously. It’s the most important, challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

And both my daughters turned out fantastic despite the complete parenting ignorance of this die-hard perfectionist.

I recognize my same perfectionist tendencies in them both.   Most of the time these traits serve us very well.  It dawned on me the other day, however, that being a perfectionist doesn’t exactly foster or create a good team player. Rather, it brings to mind the old adage “if you want it done right, do it yourself”.

Lately, I have come to realize my perfectionism is more than part of the reason I didn’t initially want children.  Children are a lot of work.  They are selfish and messy and needy.  I couldn’t possibly parent by myself.  I wouldn’t come close to getting it right.  I had exactly zero idea of what I was doing and would most certainly be setting myself up for failure.

So imagine my surprise when, a couple months into dating my husband-to-be, I remember thinking “Wow. I could have children with this man because he would help me raise them”. I know that sounds calculating (and I love him for so many other reasons) but it was evident from the very beginning that he would be a good father.

I honestly don’t see how single parents survive…unless they are way more prepared to be parents than I ever was.

I can’t tell you the number of times I would walk in the door just home from a long day at the office and one of the girls would unknowingly press one of my “buttons”.  It was usually something simple like, “I need 35 cupcakes for my class tomorrow” but when faced with making dinner after a long day, the idea of making 3 dozen cupcakes before bed was enough to throw me over the edge.  Of course, we’d never dream of buying cupcakes.  I was just too thrifty for that.

My husband would calmly lead me away and suggest that I have a little alone time before starting dinner.

I now realize that when I used to look at other people’s children (silently vowing that I would never have any of my own) I was missing a very important element in the equation – the innate bond between a parent and child; the bonding that happens between the time that you become pregnant and the time they’re old enough to actually do any damage just by being themselves.

Yes, they are a lot of work.  It’s some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.  Yes, they are selfish and messy.  They are learning a LOT of new stuff in a very short amount of time.  They’ve got to concentrate.  Chances are they’re going to color a little outside the lines – and they really aren’t that concerned  how you feel about it.  They are trying to pick a pea from their plate with their fore-finger and thumb, for goodness sakes!  Can you imagine the muscle co-ordination?!? And, yes – they are needy.  They. Need. You.

When visiting friends with children or sitting next to them at a theatre, you really have little reason to like them.  They are strangers to you and you do your best to be polite.  But let’s face it.  If an adult sat down next to you and began making a game of tossing slightly damp cheerios into your lap most people would promptly start looking for another seat.  If it’s a child, however, what you will have missed is how proud she is that she can feed herself and the realization that she is thrilled to be sharing her contraband movie treats.

When something happens (and it usually will) you just don’t have the kind of love for them that would for your own child.

Yes, you become much less judgmental once you become a parent yourself.  You may relinquish your prime position in a check-out line to the mother with 4 kids in tow.  With a knowing smile, you quietly slip to the next line at airport security when you see travelers with a stroller, baby carrier and multiple diaper bags. You reach for your partner’s hand and actually smile when you hear a small voice break the silence just for the sheer joy of making sounds.

I’m sure there are times when most young mothers look at their child-less friends with some degree of envy.  As a parent you come to learn early-on not to wear the nice clothes. You put away your hand-blown goblets that were a gift from someone else’s trip to Italy.  And you learn not to offer anything red whether it’s juice or Jell-O or Gatorade.  Seriously, even sippy cups stay in the kitchen area, off the carpet – until the child is old enough to juggle.

And yes, there will be days when you and your ego-self feel downright awful.  Many a night I cried myself to sleep thinking I would never get it right – only to be reminded by my husband that tomorrow is another day.  Sounds trite but it’s true.  You really do get another day to start all over again and try to get it right.

So give yourself a break. If your child is old enough you might consider actually apologizing. If they’re too young to understand, do it anyway.  Apologize to the gurgling, angelic being that loves you unconditionally. Forgive yourself while you’re at it.

Then set down your new rules and hold yourself to them – to the best of your ability.

I recently wondered if my daughters even remember how I reacted to spilled milk – so I decided to ask.

In my mind, I was awful. I would push back from the table and race for towels and Windex, acting like the house was on fire.  As much as I tried to prevent it, someone would inevitably spill at the dinner table.  A waving arm would dramatically propel a glass across the room mid-story or the sippy cup would topple while someone was trying to be helpful and get their own refill (why are those cups narrower at the bottom anyway?!?). Milk had to be cleaned up with soap and water (right then) or it would dry sticky (and stink).  I was usually tired (and cranky) – and I always allowed it to drive me crazy.

Guess what? Apparently I did not scar them for life 🙂  In fact the daughter I asked doesn’t even remember this happening once.

What it boils down to it this:  You just have to be the bigger person.  As much as I used to tell my daughters this as they were growing up – they hated having to be the bigger person.  Truth be told, they were the ones who taught me this.  Parenting helps you grow and mature and learn to occasionally put the needs and desires of another person before your own.

I know you can get there.  Hopefully you have someone who will listen and help you get there when you just can’t seem to do it alone.

Believe me, it’s not the long journey it appears to be when you are in the middle of the situation.

Just forgive yourself.  Take a good long look at your sleeping child, re-dedicate yourself to being the best parent you can be. And start over.  Tomorrow is indeed another day.

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