I was recently at the Happiness Festival, hosting a booth and running a session about the challenges of parenthood. It became even clearer to me that we, as parents, struggle with a desire to be perfect. This desire sets us and our children up for failure and guilt. Therefore, it is important that we strive to be “good enough” as opposed to perfect parents. We need to teach our children to learn from failure, instead of fearing it. This lesson will give them the tools they need to be resilient and successful now and later.
Our desire to be perfect starts before our children are even born. We pledge that we will only ever feed our children healthy food, dress them in clean and coordinated outfits and never let them watch TV. We also have strong ideas about how we will parent. We vow to always be fair and never yell.
These goals come from a good place. Many of us are motivated to recreate the magical moments of our childhood while insulating our children from the difficult ones. We quickly learn that these goals are unrealistic, but our quest for perfection remains. This leads us to feel guilty when we inevitably fail.
Our guilt is compounded by what we see on social media. For example, we might order pizza on a weeknight because we didn’t make it to the grocery store or have no energy to cook after a long day. As we dig in, we see our friends posting their elaborate and healthy homemade feasts on Instagram. We automatically compare ourselves to our friends, the “parents of the year” who prepared that meal. Next to them, we are failures. We feel bad because we think that we let ourselves and our children down.
Please remember that what we see online is a carefully constructed, filtered version of that person’s life. They have ordered pizza too. They have skipped bathtime too. They have become frustrated with their kids too. But they will never post about that – and if they do, it will be a staged and stylised version of what actually happened.
Let go of your desire to be perfect and use those imperfect moments to teach your children to be resilient. This is an important skill for them to have as they grow up.
Resilient children have better coping strategies and problem-solving abilities. These skills make it easier for children to navigate the complex social, emotional and cognitive changes that they experience throughout their lives. Resilient children are also more likely to have a growth mindset, which emphasises grit (passion and perseverance) over innate abilities. Research by Dr Carol Dweck, a psychologist and professor at Stanford University, shows that children with a growth mindset tend to try harder and ultimately achieve more.
In the meantime, talk to your children about the adversities that you have faced in your life. Tell them what you have learnt from those difficult times.
Make it clear that you don’t expect them to be perfect either.
Don’t be hard on them when they do fail. Emphasise the importance of grit and hard work instead. Encourage them to be kind to themselves as they try again. Talk to them about what they see on social media, reminding them that it’s not entirely true.
This type of connection, support, and respect is what your children need from you. Many studies, including my peer-reviewed research on parents and families, have consistently found that strong parent-child relationships make it easier to navigate individual and family challenges. Therefore, I encourage you to stop chasing perfection for you and your family. You are “good enough”.
Dr Sarah Rasmi is a social psychologist and professor at United Arab Emirates Universit who specialises in parenting and families
On Twitter: @DrSarahRasmi