The Myth of the Perfect Parent

Remember the Days of “B.K.” (i.e. Before Kids)?!

mother holding newborn

You may have closely watched your friends and relatives parenting the recent additions to their families.   How exciting – and maybe a bit strange as well – to witness them in this new role of Mom or Dad! 

Analyzing their developing strategies and techniques, you may have found yourself inwardly forming judgments that lead you to determine to “do it just like she did” or to “never treat my child like that.”

Some of you developed lists, on paper or in your minds, of numerous do’s and don’ts that you planned to follow once your own precious bundles arrived. 

One of my absolutes was to never let my children eat something that had fallen on the floor.  How unhealthy, I thought.  Why would a parent ever do that?  Needless to say, I very quickly let go of that rule!


Image of the Perfect Parent

I, like so many of you, had been the perfect parent before I had kids.  Future moms and dads create images of what is “right” when it comes to parenting.

  • Single mom Heidi wants to raise her kids just like her parents did because she has such great memories of her childhood. Yet her children are so different from her and her siblings.

  • Wendy felt crushed by her parents’ high standards.  Husband Bob thought his parents were far too permissive.  Together they have decided that a middle of the road style will be right for their kids.  But their oldest son continues to break the rules.

Each is struggling to discern whether his or her parenting is “good enough.”


There are No Perfect Parents

There are no easy answers or fixes just as there are no perfect parents.  Yet you may often feel the pressure to be like those other parents who seem to “have it all altogether.”

  • TV commercials show smiling, well-dressed, close-knit families who make it look so easy.
  • Magazine articles and some parenting books describe what seem like sensible solutions to your recurring problems.

For example, just put your child in time out for five minutes and she’ll behave better next time.  If only it were that easy.  Or perhaps yes, she’ll act responsibly for a brief time, but then the negative behavior reappears.  What do you do?

At the mall or in the grocery store, you see parents whose children hold hands, walk right beside their parents, stay next to them in the checkout line, and even cooperate when asked to help out.  Where did these kids come from?!

Make no comparisons.

Comparing yourself to others can lead to discouragement. Usually you are basing your conclusions on only a small piece of the whole picture. 

No matter how “good” you think someone else may be at this demanding job of parenting, everyone will make mistakes along the way and disappoint themselves with their lack of information or poor judgment.  Sometimes you are harder on yourself than is healthy or helpful. 

So where does that leave you?


Learn to Be a “Good Enough” Parent

You will need to address the “good enough” question for yourself.  Standards are important for any job, including parenting.  

Research shows that people who are thoughtful about their parenting decisions are more likely to raise emotionally healthy children than those who “fly by the seat of their pants.”  But you also need to be realistic and kind to yourself. 

Here are some suggestions to consider in assessing your own standards:

Protect yourself from unsolicited advice.

Relatives and friends who do not live with you can be quick to judge and let you know how you “should” parent your children.  Respectfully set boundaries to let them know you appreciate their concern and will consider their suggestion.

“Thanks for the idea. I can tell how much you care and are trying to help us.” Then change the subject.


Don’t dwell on the past.

Recognize mistakes, make amends if needed, then forgive yourself. 

Berating yourself for using excessive limit-setting with your toddler and now not setting boundaries for him in his pre-teen years (to make up for your harshness ten years prior) will not help him to recognize the consequences of his current behavior. 

Do what your children need in the present rather than trying to undo what you think may have been mistakes years (or days) before.

Seek out parenting support and information.

Don’t underestimate the value of support.  Sometimes just knowing that other parents are experiencing the same frustrations that you are can give you an emotional boost.

Find better ways to respond if you feel uncertain about the patterns that have developed between you and your children.  Since they keep growing and changing, you may want to look for new ideas if a skill that was helpful in the pre-school years is no longer effective. Openness to learning models a lifelong attitude for your children. 

Remember – it is never too late for you to grow and change.

Give yourself credit for all that you do.

Congratulate yourself in those moments of wonder, connection, laughter, learning, cooperation, and signs of maturity. 

My own son just asked me what I needed him to do before he could play a video game.  WOW!!  It is a moment for which I can take some credit after our discussion last evening about following through on tasks without the need for so many reminders.  I am smiling as I write this!


A Parting Thought

The myth of the perfect parent may trigger anxiety about your parenting.  Or it can challenge you to do the best you can and to stop beating yourself over the head trying to find the one right, perfect way. 

“Good enough parenting” means good enough for your child to feel secure, competent, and lovable, at least enough of the time. Remember that parenting, like any human effort, is a bit imperfect.

I hope your own standards enable you to feel “good enough” in your ever-challenging role as a parent.


Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator



For more information about parenting, check out the following books. Purchasing books from our website through supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.

Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Faber and Mazlish Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel The Whole Brain Child by Dan SiegelParenting by Heart by Ron Taffel

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