The Amazing Benefits of an Imperfect Parent
The October 26, 2015, issue of Time Magazine published a cover story entitled “Help, My Parents are Millennials.” The author of this article referenced BabyCenter’s findings from a survey of 2,700 US moms between the ages of 18 and 44 years and completed in February. One finding in particular caught my eye. According to the BabyCenter’s survey, 80% of millennial moms (18-34 years old) felt it “important to be ‘the perfect mom.'” The same was true for 70% of moms in “Generation X” (35-44 years old in this survey). Let me restate that: 70-80% of moms between 18 and 44 years old strive to be “the perfect mom.” Unfortunately, this means that 70-80% of these mothers experience extreme self-doubt and “a lot of guilt” about falling short on the impossible and mythical task of “perfect parenting” (read 6 Myths of the Perfect Parent). There is no such thing as a “perfect parent”…and that is a good thing! Don’t get me wrong. I do not condone intentionally selfish parents or uncaring abusive parents. However, when parents strive to do their best job as a parent and fall short (which they will), their children will benefit from their shortcomings. Children gain amazing benefits from their imperfect parents. Let me explain by noting a few of the benefits children receive from imperfect parents.
- Children of imperfect parents learn how to manage stress and frustration. Studies suggest that effective parents remain “in sync” with their children about 20-30% of the time. Parents and children just can’t be perfectly “in sync,” in tune, all the time. Life carries too many distractions. That means parents are “out of sync” with their children 70-80% of the time, a frustrating experience that may leave children feeling unheard, unappreciated, or insignificant. These minor breaches in connection allow children to learn ways of managing frustrations and stresses in a healthy manner. Times of being “out of sync” with a parent encourages children to learn independence, how to soothe themselves, how to meet their own emotional and physical needs, and how to wait, go without, or modify their goals as appropriate.
- Children of imperfect parents learn to accept and love in spite of flaws. In general, our children experience our love and affection, justified anger, appropriate discipline, and emotions that make sense in a given situation. However, life is filled with distractions. In the midst of life’s messiness, we will miss the mark, fall short, misunderstand, feel misunderstood, disagree, have bad days, get tired, feel overwhelmed, get hurt, etc. At those times, our children may experience another side of us—a less attractive side. They may experience unjustified anger, irrational sorrow, or even our intrusive overwhelming preoccupation with their well-being. They will learn great things from such shortcomings. They will learn that everyone has good and bad qualities, healthy and “not-so-healthy” reactions. They will learn that our love is greater than our mistakes. They will learn to accept us in spite of our flaws, love us in spite of our shortcomings…just as we accept and love them in spite of their flaws and shortcomings. And, by learning to accept us in spite of our flaws, they will learn to accept themselves as well…warts and all.
- Children of imperfect parents learn to forgive and be forgiven. Sometimes we will need to apologize to our children for our mistakes, to ask their forgiveness for our wrongs. This provides a powerful lesson in forgiveness. Our children learn that everyone can humble themselves to admit a wrong and ask forgiveness. They also learn the grace of offering forgiveness and the joy of restored relationships. If we, the parents, can seek forgiveness, our children will learn to do the same. When parents forgive, children learn to forgive.
Perfect parents are a myth. Even more, the myth of the perfect parents is dangerous. It adds stress and pressure to an already difficult task. And, perfect parents hinder their children’s opportunity to grow. But an imperfect parent…now that’s a different story. Imperfect parents strive to parent more effectively but realize their own imperfections. They focus on developing a parent-child relationship filled with acceptance and repair. In so doing, their imperfections become opportunities of growth, maturity, and intimacy with their children. (Read Open the Door for Change to learn how relationships promote growth.)