“Everyone is a perfect parent… until they have kids” -Unknown
. One of my first memories is being angry that my aunt wouldn’t let me, an exuberant four-year-old, hold my newborn cousin, so I couldn’t wait to have one of my own.
I got my first baby a few years later, when I was seven. Technically he was my brother, but as he was my mom’s third child, she was happy to let me change diapers, feed him, and drag him out of his crib when he awoke at the crack of dawn. But then he grew up and started school and didn’t want his big sister mothering him, so I realized I’d have to wait a while to be an actual mom.
Once I was married, the time had finally come. But a year went by, and then another. Twenty-four disappointing periods. Then came ovulation predictors, and a dozen more disappointments. Doctors, invasive tests, pills, the modern equivalent of turkey basters, but another year without a baby. Daily shots, multiple medical procedures, high hopes, devastation, and just when we were about to give up, I finally carried a pregnancy to term.
I’d walk into the nursery that had sat empty for five years, and look at the baby in the crib. I couldn’t believe she was really mine.
I loved her even more than I’d known I could. And I knew I couldn’t mess this up. So, I studied every book I could get my hands on. I had to do things right. I had to be the perfect parent.
Using embryos from the first retrieval, my second daughter arrived two years later, and then boy/girl twins joined our family a couple of years after that. During that time with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and two babies, just making sure they were fed, safe, and reasonably clean was a challenge. But I wasn’t going to settle for that. I exhausted myself trying to wash cloth diapers for three babies while, determined to avoid preservatives, baking homemade bread.
And I worried about discipline. Was my spunky three-year-old a bit too spunky? Was my well-behaved five-year-old exerting her own will? Maybe she wasn’t spunky enough.
In my desire to do things right, I became a Love and Logic trainer and went through a program to become a certified parent coach.
But, at the end of each day, I’d still go to bed and question my decisions? Were my kids in enough activities? Or were they in too many activities? Did they have enough downtime?
Then a couple of months ago, when my oldest daughter turned 13, I joked, “I can’t have a teenager. When I was a teenager, my parents were old; I’m not old.” Although I was just kidding, I started thinking. When I was 13, my parents were five years younger than I was at the time, so they had been pretty young.
I realized that when I was a kid, I’d thought that parents should have all the answers because they were… parents. But my parents had just been people, in their 30’s, doing the best they could.
And, then, maybe for the first time, I realized that I, too, am just a human doing the best I can.
And that’s okay. Even though I’m a parent, it’s okay not to be the perfect parent.
And I finally started to believe for myself what I’ve said to so many other parents. There is no way to be a perfect parent, but there are a lot of ways to be a good parent. And that’s true even for me. Even though I always wanted to be a parent, that doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. In fact, there’s no way I can be.
And, if I am continually disappointed in myself for doing the best that I can, not only am I making myself unhappy, but I’m modeling that for my children. I would never want my children to be disappointed with themselves for doing their best. I want to treat myself like I’d want my children to treat themselves, because they are watching me and because I deserve it. We all do.
I’ve decided to give myself a break, make that a lot of breaks, to be less than perfect. And, although it takes me a lot of reminders, sometimes multiple reminders times a day, I’ve become happier. And, now that I’ve let go of the burden of impossible expectation to be a perfect parent, I’ve, ironically, become an even better mother.