Ep. 2 – It’s Time to Stop Trying to Be Perfect Parents

Introduction to the episode
Who wouldn't want to give their children the perfect lives? Who wouldn't want to be a perfect parent who is always attentive to her child and knows what to do?

And what are the prices that you, the parent, pay because of that constant need to do the right thing and achieve perfect parenting?

In this episode of The Apparently Parent Podcast, I'm talking about how this race towards trying to be Perfect Parents is both futile and damaging both for you and your children. What is the alternative? Being Good Enough Parent. In the episode, you'll learn where this concept comes from and what you can do in order to become a Good Enough Parent starting today.

You'll Learn

  • What's wrong with trying to be perfect parents
  • Who is Donald Winnicott and what he taught us about being Good Enough
  • How to stop the “Perfect Parenting” chase

Click here to listen!

Episode Breakdown

  • [1:18] The Curse of Perfectionism
  • [7:55] The Good Enough Mindset
  • [14:35] Accepting Our Flaws and Limits

Resources Mentioned in The Episode

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How good of a parent are you? Would you give yourself an A-plus? Maybe a B? B minus? What an annoying question it is, right? I guess its second-worst only two asking which one of your kids do you love the most. But if you're honest, don't you sometimes find yourself asking this question? “How good of a parent am I?”

So why on earth do we do that? And is it wise to do that? That and more after the intro, stick around.

Hello, this is Eran and you're on the second episode of The Apparently Parent Podcast. I am so happy that you joined me today. And today we're going to talk about why do we try to be perfect parents and should we do it at all.

Let's admit it: We live in confusing times. On the one hand, you may feel that our lives are simpler than those of the generations before us, you know, we have better health systems, we have better education, and we have the internet that can bring things to our doorstep in any minute of the day. Things are more approachable, things are more open. It's nice, right?

But on the other hand, it seems like our lives are much more complicated on so many levels. We have so many mirrors around us, and they show us how our lives look. And we tend to dislike what we see. Think about all the social media posts that you recently seen in your feeds. Think about magazine articles, even podcasts just like this one. It seems like everything and everyone is trying to tell us how we need to act in order to make our lives better. And if we don't follow those advice… let's not even go there.

And truth be told, I'm part of it myself. After all, the whole point of this podcast is to help you understand yourself and your children better, and learn how you as a parent can improve in your parenting. So one may say that I’m complicit in that game of perfectionism. But this is my exact message for you: there is no such thing, there is no such being as a perfect parent.

In fact, I believe that being a perfect parent can only hurt your children and yourself. When you do that, you're only setting yourself up for failure. Like a dog who's chasing its own tail, you'll run in circles and in the process, you will miss all that is going on with your family, the good stuff, the bad stuff, everything.

So I believe that what we need in this day and age of perfect social media posts and Instagram and etc, what we need is a voice that tells you how good it is to be just good enough. Because a parent that is good enough is exactly what your children need.

The concept of the good enough parent comes directly from the writings of the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. I myself, am a psychologist. I do not practice psychoanalysis, and I have a big beef with that. However, I do think that Donald Winnicott’s teachings made a huge impact on parenting, and we have a lot to learn from him.

At the time he wrote about it - we're talking about the 50s of the 20th century - he wrote in a time that child-rearing was totally regarded as the job of the mother and the mother alone. So he wrote about the good enough mother, but we're in the 21st century, so let's include everyone.

Okay, so we're going to talk about the good enough parent. But what did Winnicott mean when he talked about being a good enough parent as opposed to trying to be perfect? He talks about how mothers to babies try to fulfill the children's needs 100% of the time.

And you may ask what's wrong with that? And it’s the right question to ask because there's a helpless little baby and he has needs and we need to take care of them. But the thing is that even as your little baby needs your full attention and support, it's actually impossible to be there for them all the time. Right?

How many times the in your baby rearing days have they had to wait for the formula bottle to be ready? Or when you have to take care of one child's bath and the other one has to wait a little bit? Or, you know, what happens when you got to go to the bathroom and just as you close the door, one of your kids calls your name, okay?

So of course when they're really really little when they're really little babies and they're so dependent on us, we are there almost all the time, or we try to be there all the time. But as they grow up, we can relax a little bit and give some responsibility to them, etc. But the point is that trying to be this kind of perfect parent that is 100% of the time on top of everything is impossible, even with little babies and that's okay.

Because trying to be a perfect parent is similar to what you may know is helicopter parenting or another name for that is lawn mowerl parenting. And those types of parents are known to employ a hands-on approach that is so hands-on that it's like you're all over the place.

Those are the parents that have a need to linger around and make sure that everything is okay and the coast is clear, and there are no frictions and no hardships for the children. They are trying to remove every possible obstacle from the way of their children. They tend to get really stressed when something may go wrong in the lives of their children, and they do whatever they can to protect the children from dealing with any hardship.

And again, you may ask what's wrong with that. And it does sound like this is the heart of soul of every parent: I want to protect my child from any harm. I want to take the pain away from them and take it into me if I can do that. And I know that you may have found yourself in that description of the helicopter parent. And that's totally fine because, you know, it comes from the best of intentions.

However, this kind of parenting helicopter, it may do a disservice for your child because by trying to remove every pain and every obstacle, by trying to be always present and always there and remove any pain point for your child, you don't give the child space and the opportunity to grow in this world.

Imagine a tree, a beautiful little tree that you planted in your garden and you want to protect it so much from birds or other animals that may try and eat it. So you put a cage around it and eventually you know the tree will grow a little bit and then it will reach the cage and it will never have the chance to fully grow to its full, beautiful potential.

So Winnicott talked about how the good enough mother is there to see and absorbs the child's needs, but not in a perfect way. Because you know, you can’t be there all the time. So sometimes the baby must wait before getting fed; or sometimes they have to wait a little bit before getting their diapers changed. Sometimes a toddler must wait a little bit before his parents can come and help him with, I don't know, play with him or something like that.

And as Winnicott saw, in those situations when the child has to wait a little bit, this is his or her chance to grow a little bit to learn how to live with imperfection and to learn how to rely on him or herself a little bit. And this is why the good enough parenting model helps your child grow.

But for me, it goes a little deeper than that. I want you to think about your mindset as a parent because being a parent today is really it's confusing as hell. There's all those books and blogs, and magazines, and Instagram stories, and you always get a reflection from the world. And in that reflection, you look like shit. So you want to feel better about yourself and you try harder and harder to be the best parent and you try to do whatever you can to be on top of everybody else.

You may put your child in extra after-school classes, or maybe you force her to study Mandarin, or you do your best to cook amazing looking healthy dishes, only to find them almost untouched, after another evening of plain pasta for dinner. This is my daughter's favorite dish, plain pasta.

You try and you try and you try to be on top of every need your child has. So they will never, ever feel disappointed. But it doesn't work for you. Right? It doesn't work for me, that's for sure. Because we are left exhausted and anxious. And I'm pretty sure that being exhausted and anxious doesn't work for children as well.

So what does it really mean to be a good enough parent? It means that you accept your limits. It means acknowledging the fact that we cannot and should not do it all. And yes means accepting yourself as an imperfect individual with nicks and flaws, just like everybody else. It means accepting that our children are imperfect individuals with nicks and flaws just like everybody else. And regardless of what lies we see on the social media feeds, we accept that we are not so perfect and we acknowledge that they who post those images and stories they're not so perfect as well.

So how do we do that? How do we start to accept our limits and acknowledge that we can be imperfect and actually enjoy being kind of imperfect parents? We start by taking care of ourselves.

Do you know those in-flight safety movies that show before the takeoff? They always say that in the case of losing air pressure in the passenger cabin, oxygen masks will fall from the compartments above your head. It always tells you that the parents should put the mask on themselves first, and only then on the child. Why? Because a non-functioning parent who cannot breathe cannot take care of his child. And that's exactly right. Also on the ground, okay, if you do not take care of yourself as a parent, it will be so hard for you to be there for your child.

And stopping the chase after being perfect is a great place to start taking care of your care of yourself. Now, you may think to yourself something like, “I don't want to be a neglecting self-centered parent, I want what's best for my child”. And I'm sure you do. Actually, I know you do. After all, you're now listening to a podcast about parenting. But the point is that being good enough doesn't mean giving up on taking good care of your children. It doesn't mean you're giving up on being a mindful, positive, engaged parent.

On the contrary, it means accepting your flaws and limits without succumbing to them, without judging yourself. It means recognizing and accepting the fact that we cannot do everything and we can't be everywhere for our kids, and actually, that they do not need us to be.

It's like the Serenity Prayer. You know: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And that wisdom is so important to know where you should and can influence your children's lives. And when you should maybe take a step back and realize that maybe you should not do everything for them.

I have a little story as an example, and again, I'm going to use my boy for this example. So my boy is six, six and a half years old, actually. And he likes to read - not a lot but he does like to read - and he likes to visit the library. And we have a library really close to our house and sometimes we go there after school.

There's a box display box with special books that you can ask the librarian to open because it's locked in, and have a look at the books over there. And he really likes those books. And the first time when we came there, he always nudged me and asked me to talk to the librarian and to ask her to open the box for him. And he was kind of shy. And time after time I did it. I took him with me and I asked them to open the box. And they did and I thanked them. But in every visit, I kind of tried to step back a little bit to encourage him to do it on his own. Because I realized that I can't always be there for him and you know, talk with service people and shop owners and other people for him.

And this reminds me of a child that I used to treat in my clinic, who had a really, really severe social anxiety. She really had a hard time talking with shop owners or a waiter in a cafe. When she went with her parents, she couldn't say a word. And we worked on encouraging her and helping her to speak up and practice how to say what she wants. And it's not exactly the same issue. But it reminds me of the same concept of not doing everything for your child because her parents had to learn to not do everything for her but to let her grow by challenging her.

This is what I did for my boy, I challenged him because I knew that if I wouldn't do that, he wouldn't grow into being able to ask things for himself like that. The last time we went to the library, it was a week ago, he went by himself to the library, and he asked her to open that display box. And then he put the books away and he told me that he was finished and then we took some books home and he told her his name, he didn't need me at all. And it was lovely to see.

And through this process, I know that it's going to be hard for him at first, and I have to be willing to accept that this may cause him some discomfort and that I'm the source of that discomfort at that moment.

And what helps me deal with that is remembering that I'm raising the adult his going to be. Not only who he is now. So by being not perfect, quote-unquote, okay, as a parent not doing everything for him not taking care of every pain point for him, I am helping him to grow up and feel more confident.

So being a good enough parent means we accept the things that we cannot do for our kids, such as removing every obstacle from the way. And it also means we find the courage and the commitment to do the things we can even if it seems too hard. Like in that example, I helped him grow up a little bit by not doing everything for him. And it was not so easy for him and for me. Fortunately, it was not too hard.

And let me give you a different example. And this one may be familiar to you. Sometimes when I'm handling both my kids by myself, I know that I can’t be in there for them both in each and every minute, okay? He's six years old, she's two years old, they have different needs, they have different capacities. And after all, I'm yet years away from figuring out how to be in two places at the same time. So sometimes I have to accept the fact that now I'm going to put them both in front of the TV, although I rather do something else with them, or I'd rather have them do something else while I prepare dinner for them. So I let one of them watch TV or play with the tablet while I was the other one. And even if it doesn't seem exactly right with my wishes for them at the moment or my values as a parent, I have to accept that I cannot do everything for them all the time.

So I have to choose my battles and acknowledge that I'm doing something that in the long run is good for them. And eventually being a good enough parent boils down to being more mindful of yourself. You should take the time to observe yourself your thoughts and emotions and decide what's right and valuable in every moment, then you can make decisions that you can live with instead of reacting automatically. If I would react automatically to my child's distress in front of the librarian, I wouldn't be able to help him deal with little shyness, a little fear. I made a decision that I could live with for the long run. And this is what helps you lead a more informed, more relaxed and more valued based parenting.

And there's a special bonus to being a good enough parent because we are not only doing it for ourselves, we are actually teaching our children a valuable lesson that they themselves, they don't need to be perfect, that they are worthy of love, even if they have flaws. And this is something that is so valuable to learn at an early age because this really builds up confidence. Confidence doesn't come from being perfect or perfectionist. Confidence comes by acknowledging where I'm not so good at something go but I'm still worthy of acknowledgment and love and respect, and I can fail and try again. It's the belief that it will be fine.

Now in the next episode of this podcast, we're going to talk a lot more about mindful parenting. So you can go there already. And listen to the third episode and learn about mindful parenting and how you can utilize it in your own parenting. But you can also go to the show notes for this episode, at apparentlyparent.com/2 and download a guide, a mindfulness practice guide that I prepared for you.

Okay, so just to recap, this concept of the good enough parent, by looking at people around us, especially through social media or the media itself, we can feel that we are not doing a good enough work for our children. We could look at other people and look at their perfect life and it's all kind of a lie. And trying to be a perfect parent is actually one of the worst things that you can do for your children because if by being perfect, you try to remove every obstacle, remove every pain point, remove every challenge from your children's lives, they will not grow up, they will lose confidence they will not earn their confidence. So this is really a disservice for your children. And by being a good enough parent, you accept that you cannot be there all the time and you choose when you can be there. And when you cannot, you accept that you cannot be there all the time and you help your children grow through it. It's not about throwing your children into the water like that and not helping them learn how to swim, but it's about helping them by letting go of a little bit, and even letting them fail a little bit and then helping them work their way up after they fall down. And by doing this, by ending the silly pursuit after being a perfect parent, we are really helping ourselves get free from the anxiety and the stress. And we are helping our children learn that they then don't have to be perfect themselves and that they can rely on us even if we're not there all the time.

And this is what secure attachment is based on. And just to end this, I think one of the most helpful things is trying to be a more mindful parent, which means getting to know our inner selves and being more mindful of our own thoughts and emotions about our children and about our parenting. And this is what we're going to talk about in the next episode of this podcast, and you can listen to it already because it's already on the air. It's episode three. And if you go to the show notes of this episode in apparently parent.com/2, I'll put a link to the other episode and I also put a link for you to download a guide about mindful parenting.

So that's it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to this show. Really, really means a lot to me. Please subscribe to the show if you didn't do so already so you'll never miss an episode and please share this podcast with whomever you think will find it useful. And if you'd be so kind please go to Apple podcasts search for this podcast the apparent demand podcast and leave me a rating and review whatever you feel like honestly good or bad It will help you get in front of more people and I will learn more about what you want to listen to and hear about in this podcast and I want to make the best show for you guys. So that will be really really helpful. You can also reach out to me on Instagram. I'm at @apparentlyparent, DM me whenever you like I'm there I will get back to you. And that's it. Again, if you want to learn more you can go to apparently parent.com forward to as to and I'll see you in the next episode. Bye!

About The Apparently Parent Podcast

On this show, I share with you my perspectives and experience of parenting and psychology.

Enhance your understanding of the relationship with your child and yourself by learning about attachment, mindful and playful parenting mindset and techniques.

Listen to me sharing my knowledge and experience both as a parent and a therapist, as well as interviews with parenting experts from around the world. 

Eran Katz - Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor

Your Host

Eran Katz

First, I’m a father of two kiddos. But I’m also a Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor specializing in Attachment Theory and Experiential, Emotional Focused Psychotherapy. I believe that parenting is one of the most important things we ever do in our lives. This is why I love talking about it and helping parenting just like you and I find their best-parenting-selves.

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