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Thoughts on Perfect Parenting — from an Imperfect Mom

I am an imperfect mom.

Like all parents, I have my good moments—even some exceptional ones, but I also have my bad moments—moments that revisit me when I’m trying to fall asleep at night and leave me riddled with mommy guilt. Mostly, I’ve learned to live with this reality: I’m not a perfect parent, because no one is a perfect parent. I’d learned to live with it—that is, until last week when something happened that challenged that thinking.

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Over the holidays, my six-year-old pushed a little boy down at the playground and made him cry. When we got home, I sent him to his room. Because it was the holidays, I had a house full of people, so they all got to hear me raging to my husband about my son’s lack of empathy, his obstinance, and his complete lack of regard for anything I say to him. Then, last week, someone who was in my home at the time called me out (via text) for that slightly darker parenting moment. At first I was offended. What did they think qualified them to judge my parenting? My old justification came back to me: I’m not perfect! No one is perfect! I fired off an irritated response: “I know I’m not a perfect mom, but I’m doing the best I can!”

Despite my righteous indignation, that exchange sat with me. It nagged me. I couldn’t shake this thought: there is someone in my family who thinks I am a bad mother. I’d never considered that before; I’d always thought of myself as average—being mildly proud of my good moments, trying not to beat myself up for my bad ones. The incident for which I was criticized was, in all honesty, not even one of my worst moments as a mother. I can think of five worse ones right off the top of my head! So why did it bother me so much?

The answer came to me as I was brushing my teeth last night. My humiliation wasn’t about being called out for one bad moment. Instead it had everything to do with all of those moments that I regret later. Yes, it is embarrassing that someone else saw me at my not-so-best, but my children see that side of me all the time. The reason that text struck a chord with me is because I lied. I’m not doing the best that I can. I have been using the argument that “no parent is perfect” to keep me complacent in my own subpar parenting. And I want more. After all, I would never accept “no one’s perfect” as an excuse from my kids when they don’t want to practice piano or learn how to read or be kind to one another. I would never use “no one is perfect” as a justification to be lazy in anything else that is important to me—my career, my hobbies, my marriage. And truly, there is nothing in this life more important to me than my children. There is nothing I care about more than being the best mother that I can be. I put the toothbrush down and stared at myself in the mirror, foam dripping from my mouth. “I cannot use ‘no one is perfect’ as an excuse for not trying to be the best mom I can possibly be,” I thought. “I can decide to strive for better. I may not ever reach it, but I can strive for perfection.”

It wasn’t kind or fun to get a text message criticizing my parenting. But it was the wakeup call I needed. It’s not some random family member who determines my worth as a mother. It’s my children. And it’s me. It’s true—I am not a perfect mom. But that’s an incomplete thought. The rest of that sentence goes, “…but I’m going to come as darn close to perfect as I possibly can.”

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