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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 parenting.

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 even imagine!!).

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 these...

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 best.

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 unconditional love.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 guiding principles.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.



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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 http://www.dreamkids.ca



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