Why It’s Impossible to be the Perfect Parent

May 05, 2017

Let’s get real for a moment. We all would love to be the perfect parent but raising kids gets down right messy. You are either in the trenches in the muck or watching from afar.

There was a time when I thought I was the perfect mom and perfect wife; working from home running a successful company with my husband as a stay-at-home dad. I volunteered at Sunday school, baked for school bake sales, went on great vacations – life was good.

I was positive everyone was happy – a smiling family in color-coordinated outfits pictures hung throughout the house to prove it. Truth be told, I was completely exhausted. I was running on little to no sleep and way too much coffee but it was okay – I had a happy thriving family whom loved me and felt loved so it was worth it. Right?

I could not have been more wrong.

A few years ago, I was asked to come in for a conference for my son, Kyle. His teacher, Miss Woodford, was an advocate for the kids in her class and had previously helped me get my son get into a special reading program. We reviewed the progress my son has made and then she pushed a folder across the desk. In it was Kyle’s new year resolution: “I hope my mom loves me someday as much as she loves her work.”

I cried. Miss Woodford cried.

I thanked her and left having absolutely no idea how to fix the mess I created.

Giving Up the Quest to be a Perfect Parent

I made a pact with my son and asked him to give me a few months for me to “get it together” and I promised by the summer, our family life would be different.

By August, I had fired my clients, moved to another state, and started working for a company that created early learning products for preschoolers and early elementary. I started to live in the moment, left my laptop at the office at night, and gave up my quest to be the perfect parent – or perfect anything.

Talk about irony… I now work for a technology company whose core product, Net Nanny, helps family manage screen time.

Why Do Moms Feel the Need to be Perfect?

It is no wonder in this Facebook age, that we feel the need to always put our best version of ourselves. We compare our life to everyone else’s life on Facebook… Are they happier? Thinner? Richer? We judge ourselves and everyone else in our quest for perfection. Chastising ourselves when we don’t measure up to impossible standards.

Research shows that on average, women experience higher levels of stress than men, with perfectionism being one of the biggest sources of stress facing women today.

At a young age, we start to receive messages that our behavior, appearance, and performance need to be perfect. According to a survey conducted by Yahoo and Seventeen Magazine, 74 percent of young women between the ages of 13 and 21 feel pressure to be perfect. Women’s need for perfection negatively impacts both our confidence and ability to take risks.

Teach your Daughters to Be Brave, Not Perfect

Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, gives a powerful TED Talk requesting parents to embrace teaching girls bravery, rather than perfection.

In her presentation, she points out that girls learn early on in our culture not to try anything unless they can do it flawlessly, not to make mistakes or take risks. “We’re raising our girls to be perfect, and we’re raising our boys to be brave,” shares Saujani.

There are two very different realities for boys and girls, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off head first. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.”

It’s within this divide that the negative impacts of perfectionism create obstacles for women, and the positive effects of bravery in men take hold.


Saujani closes by pleading with every woman to, “be comfortable with imperfection, because when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.”

Even Princess Kate Battles “Mom Shame”

why its impossible to be the perfect parent princess kate2

Maintaining the aspiration of being the perfect parent is not only impossible but unhealthy.

Even the best of us judge others who parent differently. Ohio State University recently released a study stating that new mothers who worried how others viewed their parenting skills showed less confidence in their ability to parent.

Princess Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, the mother of Price George and Princess Charlotte, admits she suffers a lack of confidence over pressure of being a perfect parent. The Duchess recently stated, “Nothing can really prepare you for you the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother. It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love, and worry, all mixed together. Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual to suddenly being a mother, first and foremost. And yet there is no rule book, no right or wrong - you just have to make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family.”

If Princess Kate, with a household of help, battles her own parenting insecurities, maybe the rest of us need to cut each other a little slack too?

Let’s stop overanalyzing everything we think we have done wrong, and focus a bit more on what we are doing right. If we let go – just a smidge – of the “mom shame” and the anxiety it encompasses, we might have the ability to be even more present with our children and enjoy life’s precious moments.

Take the Pledge to Be an Imperfect Parent

We all are works in progress, but together we can strengthen our relationships with our children and our family by embracing our imperfection and practicing compassion to ourselves.

  1. Before beating up on ourselves, ask if there was anything you could have done differently. If so, set a goal of adjusting your parenting style so you learn from the mistake and change the negative narrative.
  2. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend if they made a mistake. You would probably give them a hug and tell them it would be better next time. You deserve to give yourself that same leeway.
  3. Give yourself permission to rewrite the script that ‘Imperfect is the New Perfect’. Be a role model for perseverance your child. Not everything will always work out perfectly, in fact, sometimes we don’t just come in first but we actually lose the race. It’s not about winning, but how we get up if we are knocked down. Do we sit there paralyzed or do we brush ourselves off and try again?
  4. It’s okay to say “No” to others so you can say “Yes” to you. That includes your children. Need some help? Try this: “I am so sorry but I won’t be able to help with XYZ, but definitely check with me next time.“
  5. Breathe. We are not going to know all the answers and it’s okay to just sit with the questions unanswered.

Being a mother is one of the greatest blessings in my life. This week, as we look forward to Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate the imperfect mothers in our life, who balance joy, sorrow, skinned knees, fears, and being the #1 cheerleader as the foundation of family life.

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