There is a billboard I can see on my way home from work that says “You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be A Perfect Parent.” The billboard is by AdoptUS Kids and I believe the intent of the advertising campaign is to encourage people to consider becoming foster and adoptive parents. I don’t have any quarrel with that, but I keep struggling with the phrase “perfect parent.”
I’m struggling because I really don’t know what it means to be a perfect parent. I’m not even sure that being a perfect parent is a good goal, because it seems designed to trap a parent into insanity. Take today for example. Today was a snow day. Unfortunately, I was essentially trapped in the house with my broken ankle (trying to get around in the snow with crutches or a scooter seemed like an unwise choice, likely to result in falls and further injuries) and the regular Wednesday activity my husband and daughter do was closed. My husband tried to take our two year old out to play in the snow, but she lasted about 10 minutes and came back in announcing “I don’t like snow.” I don’t blame her a bit. The morning went okay with lots of reading books, coloring and playing with toys. However this afternoon my husband and I were each working on a project after my daughter’s nap, and she wanted someone’s attention.
So here’s the parenting dilemma: Would it have been more perfect to pay attention to her? After all, when we give her positive attention we increase her sense of self-esteem and confidence, right? We strengthen our bonds and form good memories, correct? We help her learn by interacting with her and encouraging her exploration, isn’t that the theory? Or would it have been more perfect to encourage her to play on her own, telling her mommy and daddy were busy? We shouldn’t spoil her by too much attention, right? We should teach her the importance of respecting limits and accommodating other people’s wishes at times, correct? We should encourage her independence and creativity by letting her play on her own at times, isn’t that the theory?
You see? How can you be a perfect parent when one situation generates two opposing options that both have some solid reasoning behind them? When you have a very small baby, the answer is simpler. You know that you need to respond when a small baby cries because a small baby has no ability to do anything herself, not even calm herself down. Not that this is always simple to actually do, since babies almost always need something and parents become exhausted. It’s just that the course of action is usually a little clearer. Toddler parenting, while easier in some respects, is more of a push/pull tug of war between setting limits, encouraging your child to do things herself, and doing things for her. So far, no matter how hold my daughter is, I think I mostly just do the best I can in the moment and hope that in the long run it’s good enough.
Today we opted to encourage our daughter to play alone (in the same room – we all spend most of our time in our living/playroom area) which seemed to work out relatively well. She would play for a bit and then bounce between us periodically trying to get us to play. We tried to be patient, friendly and gentle in our redirections. She seemed unscathed emotionally and I know we were both relieved to get our respective projects finished, putting us in a more cheerful frame of mind for dinner and bedtime routines. Tomorrow we may decide to do something different. Which is why I am really dubious of the idea of being a “perfect parent.” It’s too much pressure, too much confusion. I think I will continue to aim for "good enough."