Parenting from Perfect to Great: Five Parenting Tips to Avoid the Perfect Parent Trap
By Dr. Kelly Pryde
Many parents today have fallen into the "perfect parent trap" --
they put too much focus on always doing the right thing with their
children. This trap leads to stress and pressure in the family and
causes parents to lose sight of what's really important. Dr. Kelly Pryde offers insights on the causes of the perfect parent trap as
well as five key ideas on a more positive and realistic approach to
I recently took my daughter to see Cheaper by the Dozen 2 with Steve
Martin and Bonnie Hunt. If you are unfamiliar with this series, the
story is about the Bakers –- a family of 12 children –- and the
challenges the parents (Martin and Hunt) face in trying to raise 12
kids while dealing with the challenges of everyday life (if you can
At the end of the movie, Steve Martin's character comes to a
realization about parenting and makes the comment: "It's impossible
to be a perfect parent, but there are a million ways to be a great
parent." I loved that comment as it reminded me how important it is
not to get caught up in trying to be the "perfect parent." Here are
some insights on what I call "the perfect parent trap" as well as
some ideas on a more positive and realistic approach to parenting.
I don't think any parent intentionally sets out to be "the
perfect parent," but I think many of us stumble into the perfect
parent trap when we unknowingly set unrealistic expectations for
ourselves. Unrealistic parental expectations most often come from
two sources: 1) our own hopes and dreams for our children and 2)
cultural messages about child-rearing. Let's take a closer look at
1) As parents, we all have hopes and dreams for our children –-
we want them to be happy, successful, and have a good life. I mean,
how can we look into those little faces and not want those things?
Our hopes and dreams lead us to focus on doing what's best
for our children. Although the intention here is a good one, the
expectation is unrealistic as it is impossible to know or even
measure what is "best." And if you can't identify or measure
something, how can you ever live up to it?
2) There are tons of books and expert opinions available that
offer advice on proper child-rearing techniques –- boost your
child's self-esteem, validate her efforts, be authoritative, not
authoritarian, etc, etc. The message we receive is that there are
certain things we *should* be doing to shape successful children.
The danger here is that anytime you feel like you should be
doing something, you're indirectly telling yourself that what you're
currently doing is not good enough.
The perfect parent trap gets set when we get caught up on one or
both of these expectations. We tell ourselves: "If I do all the
right things, I'll have the right kids."
Unfortunately, focusing on doing what's best, what's right and
what we should be doing does not leave any room for mistakes. As a
result, we end up blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up for
things that don't turn out the way we think they should.
When my daughter was born I remember reading about so many things
that I should and shouldn't be doing that I often found myself
questioning what I was doing – Am I reading to her enough? Am I
stimulating her enough? Should I be giving her more time on the
floor each day? Should I be feeding her more? Should I, shouldn't I...?
You can drive yourself mad when you constantly strive to do what's
When we try too hard to do what's right and what's best
with our children, we lose sight of what's really important. We
don't connect with them as deeply, we don't see or hear what they
really need, and we end up acting out of fear of failure rather than
The reality is that parenting is challenging and child-rearing
very often does not go the way we think it *should*. I have found
(and continue to remind myself) that the key is to focus on all of
the things that are working –- the successes you do have as a
parent, the special moments with your children, and the fact that
you have everything you need to be a great parent. Most importantly,
if you strive to make choices that are motivated by love rather than
perfection, there's room for mistakes.
Here are five parenting tips that you can use to avoid the perfect parent trap and move
yourself from perfect to great:
Give yourself a pat on the back for something everyday. No
matter how terrible your day has been, take time everyday to give
yourself praise for something, e.g., teaching your child something
new, effectively dealing with a temper tantrum, preparing your
family a nutritious meal, or simply for making it through the day.
Focusing on the things you're doing well is an important step
towards being a great parent.
Pay attention to your goals and expectations. When you catch
yourself trying to do what's best or what you should, ask
yourself: "Are my expectations realistic?" "Am I acting out of
love or fear of doing the wrong thing?" Shifting your focus to a
more realistic and positive expectation will alleviate a lot of
stress and pressure from both you and your children.
Limit your exposure to experts. By all means seek to learn and
educate yourself as a parent, but avoid over-relying on expert
information. The more you rely on expert information to make
decisions, the more you will *should* yourself and be less likely
to make decisions that make the most sense for you and your
family. Learn to make decisions based on your own values and
Connect with your children. More than anything, children want
and need your connection. Spend quality time with your children
and listen to what they want so that your goals and expectations
are in sync with their needs. You may be surprised to learn that
what you think is *best* for them is not actually what they need.
Enjoy the moments. One of my favorite sayings is "Life is not
measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of
moments that take your breath away." Take the time to set apart
the special moments you have with your children –- these are the
little things that really matter.
Dr. Kelly Pryde is the President and Founder of DreamKids -- a
company dedicated to celebrating, inspiring and developing the
potential of children from birth and up. A consultant, teacher and
mother of two, Kelly holds a Ph.D. in Psychology with expertise in
child development and learning. To learn more about celebrating and
developing your child's potential, visit