The Myth Of The Perfect Parent
By Marian Heaton
As parents the love we have for our children is intense and all
encompassing. We want so much for them to have a fulfilling, loving
life full of ease and joy and sometimes we turn ourselves inside out
we want for them so strongly. I remember when my children were
young, they are now nineteen and twenty-one years old I wanted to be
with them 24/7 to make up for all of the times I left for work. I
stopped doing long runs (too much time
away), interacted socially only with other parents over play dates,
rarely went out at night or spent money on myself that was not a
necessity. I read all of the parenting books out there and deeply
felt my children’s pain when a friend rejected them. Ah, the life of
the perfect parent.
Enclosed are some secrets I learned through my life experiences, my
training as a professional life coach, and from the thousands of
families and parents I have worked with through the years.
The way we treat our children is the way our children will treat the
How many of you take care of everyone else’s needs in the family but
often forget to nurture yourself?
Parents who forget to eat, sleep, or to nurture themselves
physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially and mentally will be
stressed and lose their temper more easily as well as be susceptible
to germs and illnesses.
Many teenagers that I work with in my individual coaching and
workshops are people pleasers. They have trouble asking for help or
for what they need. In fact they often do not even know what they
are feeling or what they need. They wish to be liked and they take
care of others to the detriment of themselves. The metaphor of
putting your own oxygen mask on first to be able to assist others is
important to remember.
We want our children to learn to take good care of themselves and
therefore it is important to model this for them.
Inquiry: What things/activities nurture you , relieve stress and
make you feel good?
For example, my list would include soaking in a warm bubble bath
with a candle lit, swinging on my glider looking up at the mountains
with the sun on my shoulders, walking my dog as the sun sets and
reflecting on my day, reading an inspirational book for even 15
minutes with my feet up, an early morning run/walk with a good
Make your list and post it somewhere where you are apt to see it
everyday. Help your child make a list of his or her own.
How many of you feel badly when you fail at something? I tried so
hard throughout my life to be perfect at everything. Not a horrible
thing you say but not a healthy way to live. Our value and our worth
does not come from our achievements. Many of today’s youth and many
in our leadership class feel that their value is in their successes.
They try so hard to get all A's, get into the best college, be a
star performer at sports. They compare themselves to others and rate
themselves as better or less than. Many successful children have low
self esteem and hide from the world the parts of themselves they
deem not acceptable, non-lovable, the non-perfect part.
This requires a lot of their energy and will affect their self
esteem and social skills. It is difficult to connect deeply with
another when you can only show your successes and cannot be your
full authentic self. It also makes it difficult for children to risk
in trying new things. We want for our children to be open to trying
new things, new ways, to make mistakes, learn from them and to jump
back up and try again.
Inquiry: Do you show your children your failures not just your
This gives them permission to be themselves and to love all parts of
who they are. None of the famous inventors in our world were perfect
in all areas. After all Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times
before he created electricity.
Celebrate your failure with your children. Celebrate theirs.
Express your feelings, the full range of them. This creates open
communication with your children and permits them to learn to
express their feelings. Remember to speak from the I position and
simply let your children know how you feel and what you need.
How many of you want to jump in and fix things when your child is
sad and upset? Sometimes this gives our children the message that
they aren’t capable and it denies them their feelings. Sometimes our
children just want to vent and need us to listen.
I remember when my first child went off to college and would call
home twice a week. When he called home and told me about his
experiences at school I felt this was my opportunity to get in all
of my advice before the next call. It did not take me long to
realize that my son was starting to call less and less. In fact he
often called his Dad’s cell phone instead of mine. I had to learn to
relax, to breathe deeply and to ask questions instead of always
offering advice. My son did actually know the answers in his heart.
Even with young children you can ask; What is the next step? How
could you handle that? Or ask… Would you like to know what I might
It is when children are not allowed to feel their feelings that they
overeat or turn to drugs and alcohol to numb these feelings that are
not acceptable. We are our children’s safe haven. We are the one
place that they can feel comfortable venting and expressing
Inquiry: How can you turn advice into a powerful question this week
to help empower your child?
My eldest child is a psychology major and informed me that he had me
on a pedestal growing up and saw me as perfect. He said this did not
allow him to be vulnerable. He too felt the pressure to be perfect.
Ah. What a relief it is to be a little older, wrinklier and wiser. I
can just be myself, strengths and flaws alike and so can my
Marian Heaton OTR/L is a nationally registered and state licensed Occupational Therapist in private
practice who has been working with youth and families in Arizona for 22 years. She is trained in
neurodevelopmental therapy (N.D.T.) She is also a professional life coach specializing in work with
families and youth as well as leadership development for service oriented professionals. She is an
active member of the Tucson Coaches Alliance, the ADHD Coaches Association, Arizona Occupational
Therapy Association and the International Coaches Federation. She graduated from Tufts University and
currently works with the admissions committee as chair alumni interviewer for southern Arizona. She has
been married for 24 years and has 2 children in college.