“Perfection is the lowest standard any human can have.” — Heather Forbes
Think your child deserves a perfect parent? Not. In fact, your quest to be perfect gets in the way of loving your child unconditionally, because you can’t love yourself unconditionally. That’s right, unconditional love means dropping that list of ways you need to be different before you’re good enough in your own eyes.
Let’s reframe perfection. It’s not something you want to aspire to. In fact, perfection is the lowest standard a parent can have. We aren’t going for perfect. We’re going for love!
1. Become a recovering perfectionist. If you recorded the chatter in your mind, you’d think you were supposed to be perfect: “That was dumb… Now you’ve done it….What an idiot….If only I were a better mother…..What have I done wrong that she’s acting like this….Have I damaged him for life?…I should have known better…”
Guess what? You aren’t perfect. You never will be. You’re human. But don’t worry, the goal is not perfection. The goal is expanding your heart and creating more love in the world. Trying to be perfect doesn’t get you closer to perfect. It pushes you away from love.
2. Change your internal chatter to support and reassure yourself. Transform that inner critic into your own fairy godmother. (We all need one!) As Anne Lamott says, “Take yourself through the day as you would your most beloved mental-patient relative, with great humor and lots of small treats.” I personally swear by this approach.
Every time you notice self-criticism, remind yourself that your goal isn’t perfection. Your goal is loving yourself and others
“Nobody bats 1000….You can handle this….Two steps forward, one step back still gets you where you want to go…Easy does it…This too shall pass….Two steps forward, one step back still gets me where I want to go….I love you…..I am more than enough.”
3. Notice the fear, and cultivate trust instead. Unfortunately, our minds are programmed not to keep us happy, but to keep us safe. So they worry constantly and find fault with everything. Our minds WANT us to stay on our toes and keep striving to make things better! So they keep us in fear that we aren’t good enough and are making a mess of things.
The only way to stop this vicious cycle is to retrain your mind. When it starts catastrophizing, change course. “Don’t worry, it will be ok in the end…..I am more than enough…I don’t have to be perfect…My child is getting better parenting than I got, LOL; he will be ok….I don’t have to know what to do, I just have to love him through it….I can trust my instincts….Love never fails.”
4. Choose love. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that life holds constant choices. Should you be harsh with your child because you’re frightened that if you aren’t, he won’t learn? Should you point out to your spouse that you were right? Should you let yourself stop cleaning and take a bubble bath?
At core, every choice is between love and fear. Choose love as often as you can. Your life is the sum of your choices. You’ll make bad ones, sure. But those mistakes you’ve already made? They don’t matter in the long run. Because you get new opportunities every single day to turn your love ratio around. No one can go back and change the past, but anyone can start today to make a new future.
5. Forgive Yourself. Ok, you made a mistake. That’s not because you stopped striving for perfection, it’s because you’re human. We all make them, all the time. Really. Can you still have a happy, responsible, fabulous life and be a good parent? YES! The key is to forgive yourself, so you can accept your imperfections graciously. That makes it easier to admit when you mess up, and to make amends. You can’t be compassionate to your child when you’re beating yourself up inside. Just commit to doing better, and take a step in the right direction.
6. Make Reparations. So you’re mature enough to see that you made a mistake and you’ve created a problem. What a terrific role model you are for your child! Focus on solving the problem you’ve created, not on blame and guilt. As long as you can forgive yourself, you’ll be find a way to repair those little rifts with your child, a way that strengthens your relationship. Your child will survive your mistakes. In fact, when you acknowledge that you messed up, and apologize, and work to repair the relationship, your child learns some of the most important lessons in life.
7. Don’t even try to be a perfect parent. Try to model graciousness while being humanly imperfect. Your child will never be perfect, because she’s human. So having a perfect parent would be a terrible role model. If your child sees you as perfect, she’ll feel worse about herself, since she knows she’s not. And if your child sees you as imperfect but not willing to admit it, what are you modeling?
We’ve established that it would be terrible for your child if you were perfect. (Liberating, huh?!) What your child DOES needs is a role model for how to graciously acknowledge when we miss the mark, how to apologize, and how to make amends. So give up on perfection. Forgive yourself for being human. Heck, APPLAUD yourself for being human and live as fully as you can. That means you’ll make mistakes. They aren’t mistakes if you grow from them and repair any problems you create. They’re opportunities to love more. Starting with yourself.
8. When you notice you’re criticizing yourself, change gears and find something you appreciate about yourself. Appreciation is the antidote to shame and guilt. It keeps your mind on a positive track and gives you access to more love. Nothing to appreciate? You can shift that. Just start with “Even though…”
“Even though I sometimes get annoyed at myself, I deeply love and accept myself…..Even though I sometimes lose my temper, more and more I am patient with my child…..Even though I make mistakes, I am good enough just the way I am….Even though I don’t always know what to do, I keep listening to my inner wisdom so I can hear it better….Even though I get scared and tired sometimes, I love my body’s strength and energy….Even though I’m tired at the end of the day, I’m so grateful I have my kids, my home, my health, a bed to sleep in, and a fresh start tomorrow.”
9. Try a forgiveness practice. We all judge ourselves harshly. A forgiveness practice can heal that tendency, help us to atone for times we’ve missed the mark, and increase our compassion for ourselves. Every religion and wisdom tradition has one. My personal favorite is the Hawaiian (Ho’oponopono) prayer: I’m sorry…Please forgive me… I love you… I thank you.
Try repeating this prayer to yourself for self-forgiveness. (Because it is actually harder to forgive ourselves than anyone else.) Try speaking it to anyone in your past or present who occurs to you, even if you aren’t quite sure what you are asking forgiveness for. You don’t even have to think about what’s being forgiven. Just forgive it all! See it as repairing any damage. Speaking from experience, using this little mantra for a few minutes daily is very powerful.
If you fill yourself with love, it will automatically overflow to everyone around you. Go ahead. Nurture yourself with infinite tenderness. Let your heart stretch past its boundaries. There is nothing you need to change or do to deserve love. There is nothing to forgive.
You’re already more than enough, just the way you are.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University and has worked as a parenting coach with countless parents across the English-speaking world, both in person and via phone. You can find Dr. Laura online at AhaParenting.com, the website of Aha! Moments for parents of kids from birth through the teen years, where she offers a free daily inspiration email to parents.