Finding our best in the age of perfect parenting

My husband has no filter, and it’s one of the things I most love about him. We were driving in the car as a family the other weekend when I was taking advantage of this quality time to let him into my world of stay-at-home motherhood; Sharing the mental load is so important to bridge our otherwise drastically different roles.

So I started rambling about some of my latest reads and thoughts on our newly-three-year-old.  I said something to the tune of, “I think we need to be more patient when he starts doing …” That’s when my husband’s lack of filter interrupted.

“I think we are already doing a pretty good job. I mean, yeah. That’s interesting. But, don’t you ever get tired of scanning outside research in an effort to keep perfecting everything?” 

Something I thought was helpful became something that made him feel critiqued. This exchange stuck with me and made me hyper-focus on how much “expert” advice was shaping our days. And the answer was boat loads, but that’s not surprising. It begs the question, though, at what point does the stuff that’s designed to empower us teeter on the line of disempowering us?

I like to think that the information I rally around my mothering is nothing but empowering, but I do think there’s something to be said for too much of it. Out of curiosity and to entertain my husband’s question, I spent an intentional three minutes a day saving whatever parenting-related posts arose while randomly scrolling my newsfeed. Here is what just a few minutes a day on one social media platform fed my brain in a couple of days that I was organized enough to keep track:

“There’s always a reason for the way our kids act. It’s NOT random. Get Kids to Listen the Right Way.” 

“Get those kids gardening! 7 Reasons Why Your Child Should Garden” 

“At what age did your kid know their colors?”

“There is zero evidence that weighing our children in school leads to improved health. We are creating a fat-phobic society. Let’s Smash weigh-ins and teach kids body positivity.” 

“Phones and Tablets causing mental health issues in kids as young as two.” 

“Instead of saying hurry up. Try we are on cheetah time today and need to move fast! 20 phrases to use when your child isn’t listening.” 

“Rising Our Kids Near Their Cousins is the Greatest Gift We Could Ever Give Them.”

“1 in 7 parents think they’ve made a terrible mistake with their baby’s name. Baby Name Regret is More Common Than You Think.” 

Connection before correction. How to correct a child’s bad behavior with positive parenting”

Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of a child’s future happiness and success. Introducinging our Time-in Toolkit. 

Raising a Positive Child in a Negative World

Don’t let your preschoolers forget how to play!

Why Is Your Child Behaving This Way? 

I can’t imagine how long this list actually is when factoring in the fact that I tend to spend more than three minutes a day online, in an effort to stay connected to friends and family and catch up on news. Seeing these headlines aggregated in a list makes me realize how corrective in nature sharing our parenting online has become.  On an individual basis, it’s easy to find it harmlessly interesting. It’s tempting to hold onto gratitude as a village-less mother and say how wonderful it is to have so many resources at my fingertips. But, it’s one thing to be able to access parenting advice when I have a question – as I genuinely love to do being a bit of a research nerd – it’s another thing to have advice become our daily norm in moments where we weren’t even asking questions.

Is the cumulation of all this framing us to strive for perfection by way of know better, do better? Is doing the best that we can with the information we have at the time now an impossible standard because we can gain massive amounts of new information each week?

When picking up my son from school the other day, he asked me a series of “why” to the simple fact of wondering why we were going home next. I gave many answers. Until I ran out of answers, and ended with a, “Well, because I said so, sweetie.” I immediately thought in my head, and then again later when navigating everything I could’ve done better that day, “Oh! Jenna, you just listened to a podcast on why that phrase does not work. Geeze. Don’t say that.” 

Sometimes my internal dialogue is as corrective as that list. And on those days, that might be my signal of too much. 

If perfect parenting exists at all, I think it is simply the balance of being confident in what comes naturally while staying curious about what doesn’t – and then being respectful of the fact that this balance will vary family to family, chapter to chapter. As much of an advantage as it can be to parent with access to tons of often-corrective information, it’s good to remember that we weren’t born needing correction.

Being my best self as a mother isn’t about how much I know and can bestow upon my kids; it’s about how open I remain to learning alongside them, and that comes from my intuition, my own kids, friends and family, and sometimes an outside expert with some good science. Most importantly, it comes in time.

I have always valued personal growth as a mother, but I’ve learned how important it is to separate this from the trap of perfection. Parenthood was not designed to thrive with perfection. Parenting will thrive where there is humility, empathy, compassion, trust, respect, confidence, understanding, grace, resiliency, consistency, safety, encouragement, guidance, honesty, and lots and lots of love. And often, there is plenty of room – and benefit to –  imperfection through all of this.

Imperfection means it’s good to ask questions, but it doesn’t mean we find the answers through perfection. As my former editor once said, “There IS a such thing as a stupid question.” 

This stuck with me, especially after a lifetime of being told, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” But he’s right. This has taken on new meaning for me. Sometimes, too much asking, too much talking can lead to doubt instead of just trusting the journey, embracing mistakes and learning through experience. 

Thank goodness my kids don’t actually need me to be perfect. They just need me to be me. That, I can do, so long as I don’t lose sight of that as enough.

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