Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

I'm not OK & You're not OK, but that's OK!

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."
-Leonard Cohen

Imagine that guilt is like a red light blinking on your dashboard. When you see it, you:

a) Redouble your efforts to attain perfection, even if it’s giving you a headache.
b) Flog yourself.
c) Pull out the wire so it stops blinking, and go have a drink.
d) Thank the guilt and tell it to take a break. Then use the opportunity to check in: Instead of berating yourself, how could you support yourself to be the parent you want your kids to have, while at the same time being kind to yourself?

Not surprisingly, research shows that (d) works best, particularly when you give yourself a pat on the back and accept that you're doing the best you can at the moment. Ignoring the problem (c) doesn't work. Beating yourself up (b) doesn't work. And perfectionism (a) doesn't work.

I know, you're no angel. Neither is your child. Join the club of humanity!

Most of us think that trying to be Super-Parent makes us better people. But if you pay attention, you'll see that your quest for perfection isn't good for your family. If we’re always scanning for what’s not quite perfect, we're always finding fault with ourselves. We're giving our children the message that they aren't quite good enough. We're not giving ourselves unconditional love, so we can't give it to our kids, either.

But once we accept that "I'm not ok, and you're not ok, but that's ok!" we’re more loving and compassionate, more forgiving of our own and others’ humanity. We stretch our hearts, so we become more peaceful parents, and happier people.

So just say no to the Perfect Parent Myth and lose the guilt. Remind yourself that what kids really need is for you to model how to be a gracious, loving human in the face of our inevitable human imperfections. Your children won't remember what you wore, or whether your house was picked up. But they will remember how you apologized for your mistakes and tried to understand when things got tough between you.

Go ahead. Get messy in the autumn leaves with your child. Serve peanut butter sandwiches and carrots out of the bag for dinner. Just say no to another school committee meeting and spend the evening making sweet moments with your family. Spend all day Sunday in pajamas with your kids, laughing while you make pillow forts and start pillow fights.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes and say the wrong thing to your child sometimes. (It’ll happen whether you give yourself permission or not!) Instead of beating yourself up, take one step in the direction you want to go. Walk away when you're mad, instead of yelling. Step back from a power struggle and reconnect. Try to see things from their perspective.

You'll find you're letting go of trying to be perfect, and of needing to be right. Instead, you're modeling for your child how to reconnect, heal, and deepen your relationship.

You’ll be surprised how much more perfect your child thinks you are.

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