I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the parenting trend called Positive Parenting that’s become very popular over the last decade or two. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Positive Parenting approach, its roots are based in the Positive Psychology movement. People who practice Positive Parenting promote gentle understanding and guidance vs. punishment and strict discipline with children.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Having said that, it appears to me that we may be taking this Positive Parenting trend to a whole new level. I see so many parents, especially those of us who are overachievers at work and in life, moving away from Positive Parenting and more toward a new version: Perfect Parenting.
All over Facebook, in mommy groups, and even among people in my personal network, I’m seeing parents criticize themselves for “losing it” with their children. They feel guilty for putting their child in time-out when they’ve just had enough. Or they ask for support because they’re so ashamed that they (gasp!!) yelled at their children.
I think this is a dangerous trend, and one that I feel compelled to discuss since many of the resources I share are related to Positive Parenting.
Why Is Positive Parenting Popular?
The research shows that engaging with your child in an authoritative way rather than an authoritarian way helps to build self-worth, autonomy, confidence and empathy in our children as they grow into adults.
In general, I use Positive Parenting (essentially an authoritative approach) with my son as often as possible. I’ve found that our interactions are more loving and I am more effective when I try to see an issue from his perspective. I am better able to guide him through difficult emotions without judgment, and simply allow him to be an energetic and complex toddler without trying to prevent the fallout that can come along with that.
Positive Parenting is also in alignment with my general style in life overall, so this approach has just always felt natural for me.
Having said that, I’m no saint. There are plenty of times when I get frustrated with my son. I yell at him sometimes. I’m not always entirely patient or kind. I am typically pretty respectful to him, but he’s quite familiar with time-out, and he’s definitely seen me lose my cool on occasion. According to this new wave of Positive Parenting gurus, I need to pull it together, go find my balance, and re-engage with my son when I’m calmer and more patient.
Can we be real for a minute?
While I am all for self-improvement, and trying to live in peace and harmony in my life, I’m DONE trying to be perfect. As a reformed perfectionist, I spent the majority of my life trying to be perfect in all areas of my life. Around the time I turned 30, I began to realize just how toxic my need for perfection had become. Since then, I have instead learned to embrace the messy imperfections of life.
Then I became a mom, and the term “messy imperfections” took on a whole new meaning.
This trend away from Positive Parenting (something that provides a healthy foundation for our children and their relationship with us) toward Perfect Parenting (something that is simply unattainable and damaging to both our children and ourselves) worries me for several reasons.
Here are some of the biggest problems I’ve found in striving to be a Perfect Parent:
- It discourages authenticity.
When you try to “hold it together” for your children at all times, you’re modeling an impossible ideal. You’re teaching your child that big emotions are bad and should be avoided at all costs. They learn that natural responses to frustrating situations must be pushed deep down, and that the only appropriate response is to put on a mask of calm and tolerance. You’re showing your children that no matter how you’re feeling, it’s wrong to let it out.
Instead of trying to be some sort of Stepford parent who never wavers from being supportive, loving and kind, let’s encourage authenticity instead. Let’s show our kids that is OKAY to be imperfect and real. It’s normal to have both “positive” emotions as well as “negative” emotions. Show your child that you’re working through difficult situations in this life too, and you’re not always Little Miss (or Mister) Sunshine.
I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that parenting isn’t supposed to be executed with precision. We’re not supposed to model perfection for our children. That’s not the point of parenting.
The point is to be REAL. The point is to be authentic in each moment. The point is to grow and strive for more, but not to abandon our natural responses and inclinations just because we’re raising these little people. Yes, your child deserves compassion and respect, but not at the expense of your own authenticity. It doesn’t serve them to see you suppress your own emotions.
- It robs your children of an opportunity to learn HOW to handle difficult emotions.
When you pretend that you aren’t frustrated, angry, annoyed, or resentful (choose your own emotion), you are quite literally missing a perfect opportunity to show your child how to deal with those kinds of difficult emotions. Children learn from watching everything we do. If you can show them how to navigate a difficult situation, that’s a skill they will take with them into adulthood.
When you do something you’re not proud of, it’s okay to acknowledge it and apologize to your child. Children are incredibly forgiving and they don’t tend to hold grudges. Apologizing to your kids for being impatient or unkind teaches them a few things:
That it’s okay to be imperfect. Even mommies and daddies have a hard time sometimes.
That it’s not their fault you lost your temper, yelled, or was short with them. You can admit that you could have handled the situation in a better way (explain how), and remind them that even if they’re pushing your buttons, you have a choice as to how you respond.
They are worthy of an apology when they are treated unfairly. Receiving an apology when they’ve been wronged will enhance their self-worth. They’ll learn to expect fair treatment from others as they grow older.
How to offer a genuine apology to someone when you mess up. This is not a skill many people have (at least in my experience), but it’s a powerful one.
That part of being in a healthy relationship means taking responsibility for doing something that hurts another person, and then moving on with the understanding that you’ll try to do better next time. Relationships are complicated, and knowing how to give and receive forgiveness is important.
We are all acceptable and lovable, even when we aren’t perfect.
- We tend to shame ourselves when we fall short of impossible expectations.
Parents can be tough on themselves. Especially working parents, most of whom already battle that underlying sense of “working parent guilt.”
When we expect ourselves to be perfect at all times, we are going to fall short. We just are. It’s inevitable that you’re going to have hard days. You’re going to handle difficult situations poorly at times.
The thing about parenthood is that we’re always at the “beginning.” Parenthood is never something we master. Every child is different. Every stage of development is new, and with that comes new challenges. We’re always operating blind, because we just never know what’s going to happen next. Let’s stop allowing any particular parenting style to give you a reason to shame or judge yourself. You’re a wonderful parent…. even if you show your human side from time to time.
Stop trying to parent perfectly. Stop trying to side-step the messiness of life. Our role is to guide our child (and ourselves) through the messiness of life, not to avoid it. The messiness is the good stuff. That’s where the lessons are. You’re not accomplishing anything by being perfect, and instead are only hurting yourself and your children in the process.
Instead, focus on being authentic.
Just be yourself, in all your messy glory. Strive to be patient and kind and calm. This is a great pursuit in all areas of your life. But cut yourself some slack for being human. Let go of trying to control every response, every emotion, and just BE. Apologize if you hurt someone you love, and try to do better next time. You don’t get points for precision in parenting, so just enjoy the roller-coaster ride. Try to learn all you can from those moments when you’re not at your best, and then move forward.
When you stop judging yourself, when you let go of perfection, and when you stop pushing those feelings away, the world around you opens up. Show your children how to accept yourself exactly as you are and offer them the gift of a lifetime.
What could be more perfect than that?
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