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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.

Secret #1:

The way we treat our children is the way our children will treat the world.

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 friend.

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.

Secret #2:

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 strengths?

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.

Secret #3:

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 do?

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 difficult feelings.

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 wonderful children.



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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.



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