Nov 10, 2009

Posted by in Articles, Self-Care | 0 Comments

Letting Go of Superwoman: There’s No Such Thing As A Perfect Parent

Letting Go of Superwoman: There’s No Such Thing As A Perfect Parent

When you love someone as much as you do your child, you want to do your best for them. If you’re not careful, you can start dreaming of being a “perfect” parent, whatever that might mean for you. It’s worth remembering that this is not possible. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. And the pressure to be perfect can easily bog a person down and make life more difficult, anxiety-ridden, and stressful (and if you checked out our last post, you know that the last thing we need is more stress).

Even more troubling, our children see the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, and they learn (whether we want them to or not) that perfection is a goal they should seek themselves. A new book by Rachel Simmons, called The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, found startling evidence that girls are putting so much pressure on themselves to be perfect that it is making their lives much more difficult, and making it hard for them to express themselves authentically. She says, “[t]he Curse of the Good Girl erodes girls’ ability to know, say, and manage a complete range of feelings. It urges girls to be perfect, giving them a troubled relationship to integrity and failure. . . . [it] cuts to the core of authentic selfhood, demanding that girls curb the strongest feelings and desires that form the patchwork of a person.” Far from making a person dynamic, strong, and resilient, seeking perfection can lead to a sort of shutting down that author Abby Seixas calls “the quiet deadness of perfection.”

Where are the girls Simmons studied getting this idea from? Simmons found that the mothers of the girls she was working with at the Girls Leadership Institute were, themselves, holding themselves to such ideals of perfection that they were avoiding conflict, scuttling negative emotions, negating their own needs, and backing down from requests of their children in order to “keep the peace” at home. These actions were, Simmons found, exacerbating the effects of the already weighty cultural expectations of girls and women.

Letting perfection go is important not only for our own sanity, but for the lessons it teaches our children

Simmons has a surprising answer for what mothers can do to help empower their daughters (and, I would argue, their sons as well): be real, whatever messiness that may entail. “[T]he best thing a mother can do for her daughter is to be herself, with all the challenges that being real entails. Being real means taking up space and having needs; it means drawing the line and saying no. Being real means walking into every room as the same woman, whether you’re in a conference room or a family room. And being real means not just tolerating the messiness of relationship but embracing it as the raw material of a family’s growth and development.”

This is good news for all of us, because seeking to be real is a whole lot easier than seeking perfection (let’s face it: trying to be happy all the time, please all people, look fabulous, have a perfectly clean home, achieve “success” in all the ways our culture expects of women is both exhausting and impossible.) Showing our daughters and our sons what it looks like to be real will serve them well long into the future. Not to mention all the good it will do us.

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