So You’re an Imperfect Parent. Relax. It’s OK.

When we mess up as moms and dads, the kids don't mind as long as we keep these three key tips close at hand

Parents, most of you will know by now that your role is far from a walk in the park. I’m sure most of you would agree that at times it can feel more like you’ve been shoved down a hill, lobbed through bushes and pine cones and face-planted in the dirt.

The reality is that a lot of parents expect themselves to be perfect and, as a result, feel as if they’ve failed on a daily basis. They feel they have to have the perfect house, perfect marriage, and even perfect kids, even though we know that model is completely unrealistic. So how do we fight the notion of this “Stepford” family?

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My good friend and president of Focus On the Family, Jim Daly, just released a new book titled “When Parenting Isn’t Perfect.” Jim has a powerful, redemptive story about how to persevere in the face of a less-than-perfect home life, and embracing empowering parenting strategies. We had a very insightful and wonderfully encouraging conversation about how parents can have fun in their role (yes — fun) and raise kids well without constantly feeling the stress for perfection.

For those of you who find yourself constantly at odds with the imperfections of parenting, here are a few tips to let yourself breathe:

1.) Don’t let mistakes trip you up. We parents have a great talent for lingering on mistakes we’ve made with our kids. And the truth is, we’ve all made mistakes as parents, and we’ve probably made the most (and largest) ones with our first-born or with the child who most reminds us of ourselves. It’s very important to go and apologize to your kids when you’ve screwed up, but it’s equally important to forgive yourself. We can be our own worst enemy with that condescending or shaming voice in our head that says we “should have done better” or we “should have done that instead” or “my kid wouldn’t be in this mess if I hadn’t ____.”

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We feel responsible for everything our kids do or don’t do. I’ve said it many times before, kids love to forgive and they are OK with your messing up. We cannot let our mistakes hold us back. Get over that old hurdle and leave it behind you.

2.) Focus on getting the big stuff right in parenting. Oh, how we love to get caught up in the details as parents! Should I feed them this, should they have a cell phone at this age, should we discipline for this, should our kids be allowed to do that, etc. Truthfully, what really shapes who and what our kids become are the big things that we do. And believe it or not, those big things come in day-to-day life.

For example, Dad takes his son out to the backyard to play ball, mom takes the kids for ice cream, mom and dad are both present with the kids at the dinner table and everyone talks. These may not feel that grand to you as adults, but to kids, these little things become big foundational moments for them. The best part of your parenting comes when you get the big stuff right. Show them that they are really loved. That’s what will change your child.

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3. Give yourself some kindness. We try so often to be kind and giving to other people, but a lot of times we never extend kindness to ourselves. Every single parent wants so much to be “better.” The truth of the matter is, you’re already better. You’re already great. You just haven’t forgiven yourself for your mistakes or you’re not willing to show yourself some kindness. Don’t make excuses for the mistakes you’ve made, but do confront them and forgive yourself for them.

Perfection is the enemy of parenting. And, as Jim Daly said in our interview, parenting also isn’t formulaic. It’s not A + B + C = D. It is much more art than science, so it’s crucial that you give yourself grace. It’s not only important so you can free yourself (and have fun) in your parenting, it’s also an important model for your children. Modeling being kind and forgiving to yourself is healthy and important for kids to see. They will learn that forgiveness is a healthy part of life and that in return, parenting can be fun and a great joy in life.

Related: Dads, Step into Your Hero Role — Kids Need It

Parents, I encourage you to take a deep breath, give yourself some grace, and embrace the beautifully imperfect but immeasurably beautiful journey that is parenthood. I hope you pick up a copy of his book, “When Parenting Isn’t Perfect.”

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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