Leaping with joy

Perfection’s not the destination of the parenting journey

I wanted to be a perfect new mom. I didn’t know what the qualifications were, but I thought if I did everything above and beyond normal expectations, I’d come close. I drove myself nuts with hourly diaper changes, mad hunts for organic baby food, and unending quests to render the nursery germ-free. Trudging toward perfection made me a weary, dull mom.

Then I heard people say that it’s impossible to be a perfect mom. I was relieved. “There’s no such thing as a perfect mom,” I repeated. But my heart wasn’t in sync with my lips. Guilt still hammered me when I thought I’d missed the mark.

Over time, I’ve learned to be a happier, more relaxed mom by accepting that good is good enough.

My dad taught me most about living light and easy. He was far from perfect, but some of his flaws imparted lessons on living a joyful life. He passed away recently, and I catch myself thinking about how I learned from him to be a more relaxed parent.

1. Find humor in everything. My dad viewed life through comedic lenses. It was hard to get him to be serious about anything, which frustrated my mom and siblings. But his Marx Brothers-style joking helped him (and us) take life in stride. Once, I fretted about keeping up with chores. He assured me that as long as I have water, gas, and electricity, nothing else is worth much worry.

Moms can learn something from this attitude. Striving toward perfection, we can take things too seriously. There’s a place for seriousness, especially when it comes to our kids’ safety and well-being. But there’s also room for laughter, even when we (and our children) blunder. The next time you burn the rice or admit that a month’s worth of dust covers the coffee table, don’t fret. Use the burnt rice to build something interesting with your child. Draw funny faces in the dust. Kids will remember the fun you had together, not the fact that you didn’t win the Good Housekeeping award.

2. Strive for love, not material things. My dad was happy with a tuna sandwich and a pineapple Fanta. He didn’t have much and didn’t buy us much. As a child, I used to wish I could have birthday parties every year and new school clothes like other kids. Now I realize that a better measure of effective parenting is that our children know we love them unconditionally. We show this love by the time we spend engaging with them, not by how much we are able to buy them. Singing together at the top of our lungs is more valuable and memorable than supplying my child with the latest cell phone.

3. Know your limitations. My dad didn’t spend time worrying about proving himself or being someone he was not. He knew and accepted his limitations. As moms, we do well to remember that we have limited physical and emotional strength. We can’t be the eternal fount of helpfulness or the fixer of everybody, 24/7. Besides, our shortcomings may give another family member the opportunity to fill in where we can’t.

You may fret that you’re far from perfect. But the next time your kids complain about leftovers, or friends claim to have taught their child to read in just two phonics lessons, slow your pulse. Leftover meatloaf is okay. Your kids won’t even remember what they had for dinner by next week. Reading by six is okay. And being an imperfect but loving mom is more than okay. It’s good enough.

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