There’s an old joke among parents that compares the first child to the last child. It’s been the subject of adverts, comedy skits and parenting circles for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been at this parenting thing for 16 years now. The first child is a tightrope of exacting life, while the last is more of an “it worked out” affair.
While the above-mentioned examples tend to veer to the extreme in the depictions, somewhere deep down in the comedy is a lesson for every parent: it’s okay to not be perfect.
Believe me, I get it. I understand. The moment you find out that you’re pregnant, the onslaught of advice begins. Everyone has read a book, knows a doctor, has had a difficult child or has done extensive research and they ALL know what’s best for you and your family. I’ve been that person, and in truth I think we all have.
Coupled with the reality that we live in an Instagram world full of family photos filtered through the lenses of perfection, it’s very easy to stress the little things.
The weight of responsibility and love for our children makes us want to be flawless at everything. PTA? Sure! Scouts? Sign me up! Coaching too? Okay! Spotless home and organic meals from scratch? Of course! Career to model independence? Stay in shape and find time for romance with your spouse? A wonderfully coordinated, healthy lunch packed daily in BPA-free bento boxes and reusable straws? Hang on. How much can I possibly do?
The reality is more to the tune of: I have a Cheerio in my hair from the hasty dinner I fed my toddler the night before after they refused to eat the actual dinner that I cooked. I’m sitting with a crying baby at 2 a.m. wondering how I’ll focus on my deadline with so little sleep. I have to avoid toys on the floor as I make my way to the coffee pot and the laundry is in various piles of completion. Matching family outfits? In my house, we’re lucky if one of us gets matching socks. Fees for lessons, summer camps and hobbies mean working a little overtime, and dinner might be store-bought or the floors might not be shining. Some days I say a tired ‘Hi’ to my spouse as we go to bed, and little more.
And you know what? It’s fine. It truly is. Maybe more middle ground parenting is what we need. We’re not superstars, super models, super moms. We are just trying to do our best and raise decent humans.
Maybe the first stage of raising decent humans isn’t being blindingly perfect at everything, but modeling the example that it’s possible to fail at some things and still try your best.
After all, chances are your child won’t be a whiz at everything as they grow up. Middle ground parenting might look something like accepting the low C in a class they struggle in, or thanking your teen’s spontaneous effort to empty the dishwasher without mentioning their bedroom is a biohazard site. Middle ground parenting is the line between being perfect, and accepting that no one is.
Maybe, just maybe, our fixation on living perfectly is putting a little too much pressure on our children, who, as we know, have great big eyes and ears that notice everything. If they see us driven to the brink in pursuit of perfect, how are they to grow and accept their own flaws and imperfections? Isn’t learning to accept ourselves, imperfections and all, a vital part of being a fully functional adult?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that we excuse shortcomings without guidance and effort to improve them, for parents or children. I’m concerned that the pressure to always be 100% over-the-top is removing the possibility of even acknowledging them. We’re modeling to our children that perfect is the only acceptable state.
Maybe we should all relax just a little. We can be human beings with flaws and failings and still be good, worthwhile people. The best part is, we’ll be living examples to our children that they can, too.