Do you strive to be the ‘perfect’ parent?
Confession time: I used to. I’ve always been something of a perfectionist. In my academic career and then in my working life, although it was a ‘trait’ I knew I probably needed to address, it actually always served me well. I routinely went the extra mile to achieve the best results; late nights, stress and pushing myself to the limit seemed worth the sacrifice to reach those goals. My achievements seemed like tangible evidence that perfectionism ‘worked’.
It’s only natural then, that when my first son Dylan was born, I applied the same exacting standards to my new challenge – parenting. I didn’t just want to be a good parent; I wanted to be the best parent I could possibly be.
And who wouldn’t? The trouble is, holding myself to such high standards was exhausting. I was trying to do so much, and do it all brilliantly, that of course it became unsustainable when my second son Noah was born. By the time my third son Luca, closely followed by my fourth, Max, came along, and the demands of work had escalated, I realised that the standards I had set for myself were unattainable. I was trying (and failing) to do things that actually weren’t necessary for raising happy, secure and able children. Perfectionist parenting had brought me to a point of complete overwhelm.
In my quest to reset my life balance, I’ve since discovered that, if we want to win the battle for balance, to reduce overwhelm and conquer guilt, we parents need to invite a little more ‘imperfection’ into our lives. So that’s how I parent now. Imperfectly. And being an imperfect parent plays a huge role in helping me balance my life.
If you too ever feel overwhelmed by the demands on your time as a working parent, or experience the dreaded parental guilt that you’re not doing enough for your children, then I’m here to help you take a step back, relax, and to embrace being ‘good enough’. Welcome to my imperfect parenting world!
So what is ‘imperfect’ parenting?
Here are just a few of the highlights from my long list of parenting imperfections:
- I don’t bath my kids every night.
While I am committed to bathing my kids on a Sunday night, week-time bathing is occasional at best, depending on whether I remember or if we have time and/or I’m not too exhausted.
- I feed them sausages, often.
Sausages are my emergency meal. Nothing imperfect about that right? Except that there are some weeks when those emergencies happen a little too regularly…
- I let them eat sugary cereal every day.
It’s a zoo in my home in the mornings. Cheerios, Country Crisp and Wheetos are the sugary breakfast staple in our house.
- I don’t respond to school emails.
It seems I am notorious for this. I remember Noah coming home and telling me he had overheard the PE teacher saying to another teacher – “Mrs Flanagan? Oh, good luck getting a response from her!”. Most unfair. I reply to some!! Of course I blame this on the challenges of having 4 kids in 4 different classes spread across the years, but the truth is I’m appalling at email.
- I allow TV bingeing at the weekend.
I blame Netflix!
- I almost never check whether they’ve done their homework/spellings.
I know I should do this. But I don’t. Because there are always so many other things going on, and because by the time I realise it needs checking, it’s way past bedtime and I’m suddenly in a panic that they won’t get enough sleep! It does help that they are all doing well at school. Somehow they seem to just get on with it. So when Noah’s teachers say to me “whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it”, or Luca’s teacher tells me, after I confess to never having seen a spelling book, that he is one of the top spellers in the class, I count my lucky stars and carry on with my imperfect ways.
- I don’t do swimming classes.
5am swimming sessions, three times a week? Swimming drills every Friday night at 9pm. All day galas on Saturdays and Sundays? With 4 kids? No thanks!
- I’ve never volunteered to be class rep.
Every year it’s the same. The request goes out. There is a fleeting moment of guilt as I shuffle from foot to foot, staring at the floor, a quiet voice in my head saying ‘shall I do it? I should do it, I really should’. And then, mercifully, the voice of reason that intervenes and says “4 kids, a husband, a business to run, a needy dog, a house to manage, family and friends you struggle to see.. Are you insane?”
And these are just a few! Want to see the full list of ways I parent imperfectly? Download this week’s freebie where you’ll see not only the list, but also a step by step guide to embracing ‘im’perfectionism yourself.
But how, you may be wondering, do I, as a self-confessed perfectionist, live with this imperfect parental self?
It’s true that, despite these parenting ‘transgressions’, I’m not actually burdened by guilt and self-loathing. I sleep well and my conscience is clear. Why? Because I put a huge amount of effort and energy into getting some aspects of parenting right – the things I think really matter about bringing up kids.
- I make sure they feel safe
- I make sure they feel loved
- I listen to them
- I laugh with them
- As often as i can, I inhabit their world
- I encourage them
- I believe in them
- I challenge them
- I praise them
- I expect them to do their absolute best at schoolwork
- I keep my promises
- I say sorry when I mess up/get things wrong
- I manage their expectations
- I make them take responsibility for their actions
- I insist on good manners
- I encourage gratitude
- I ensure pockets of device free family time are preserved which forces everyone to communicate and spend time together
- I hug them every single day (even Noah and Dylan who are already taller than me!)
Ultimately, when I asked myself ‘what makes happy and secure children?’ I knew that the answer came from working on these ‘value’ goals – not making sure they had their hair washed three times a week. And I am proud to say that I am mostly getting these things right. By concentrating on the important things, and not wasting energy ‘sweating the small stuff’, being an ‘imperfect’ parent plays a huge role in how I balance my life.
- I can co-exist with the unresolved.
We live in a world where there’s always something we should be doing, we never ‘finish’ tasks or empty our inboxes. There’s always something out-standing. Whereas previously I stressed about this, felt inadequate and guilty about how much I hadn’t done by the end of the day – now I simply accept it because I know I’ve done all I can.
- I’m less exhausted.
I am becoming an expert at letting things go, at caring less about things that don’t really matter and delegating tasks that could be more efficiently done by someone else. (Are you still doing things that you should be delegating? Have a look at my blog on accepting help here.)
- I am kinder to myself.
Many of the imperfections above are not intentional. I don’t deliberately ignore school emails (honest!). I genuinely do have good intentions every single day to respond and reduce the 999+ notifications in my inbox down to a heavenly sounding O. But until that happens and for as long as emails go unanswered, I don’t beat myself up about it. I remind myself I am not perfect and endeavour to do better next time.
- My kids know I’m human.
I like that my kids see me being imperfect. Our relationship is better as a result (they definitely do not put me on a pedestal!) and they learn that it’s ok to make mistakes.
- My kids are independent and self motivated.
Being hands-off helps my kids take responsibility for themselves which is great for me and even better for them. While friends of mine stress over their 15 year old who is addicted to Fortnite, or an 11 year old who just isn’t interested in school, I experience a silent inner surge of pride towards Dylan who will not waver from his self-imposed 6 week revision timetable, or Noah whose homework standards leave even his teachers lost for words.
- My kids are relaxed and happy a good deal of the time…
..because I’m only hassling them SOME of the time,
- I’m relaxed and happy most of the time…
…because I only have to hassle them SOME of the time!
- I am more patient and tolerant.
Knowing how imperfect I am as a parent means I am more patient and tolerant of their mistakes and imperfections.
- My marriage is stronger.
Being at ease with my imperfections makes me more tolerant and forgiving of my husband’s. No longer do I hold him up to an impossible standard of parenting that neither he or I could ever reach, and vice versa. So we avoid many of the points of tension that some other couples encounter regarding their kids.
Imperfect parenting seems to help my family sustain balance and stability – but will it work out in the long run? Only time will tell, but what I do already know is that my sons are amazing, well-mannered (mostly!), fun, clever, creative, happy, curious, inspiring and confident boys. And that’s good enough for me!
Could imperfect parenting work it’s magic for you? Download this week’s freebie “How to be an imperfect parent” and find out. And if you have some imperfect parenting secrets of your own, come and share them in Being Babyproof, our closed Facebook group.
I is for imperfect. How to be an imperfect parent. This post is part of our blog series, The A to Z of Being Babyproof, a celebration of the attitudes and behaviours it takes to balance career and family – because “babyproof” is not a destination, it’s a blueprint for having it all and making it work.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com