Over the course of just a few days I heard parents, both inside and outside my practice, say: “I’ve ruined my son!” “She’s messed up for life.” “I’m a terrible parent—what was I thinking?!” My first reaction was shock . . .and then curiosity. What had these poor parents done to their kids to express so much shame and guilt? Then after a little digging, I discovered two parts to these big statements. 1) The parents really didn’t do anything to cause such a personal verbal shaming. 2) But they all felt like they did.
Let’s call this feeling: the Parental Shame. All parents have it (at least to some degree). It comes from multiple places: family history of how we were raised, expectations of our kids and thus of ourselves and whatever latest and greatest scientific finding on parenting and children we read on Facebook. But this blog is only gonna focus on one aspect of Parental Shaming—the biggest one for me—and it is simply this: Being the Most-Ridiculously-Awesome-Parent-in-the-Whole-Wide-World aka “The Perfect Parents”!
Yes, perfect mom and dad, I’m talking to you. Knock it off. Seriously, where did these internal high standards of parenting come from? When did parents suddenly stop parenting and become Super Heroes with multiple abilities, like juggling an insane amount of stuff during their day abd keeping everyone in the family happy while still providing a stable income and scheduling more stuff to do on the weekends. Whoa! Hold up there Wonder Daddy. You don’t have to be a Super Hero to make your kids happy.
What I’m really saying is this—you don’t have to be the perfect parent. First, perfect parents don’t really exist. That’s why you keep feeling so much shame around striving for perfection. Second, some of the most balanced families are the ones who make mistakes and learn from them. It’s why we all loved the movie “Little Miss Sunshine”. We could relate to having crazy family dynamics, doing stupid stuff with and in front of our kids. Honestly, we need a little more silliness in our lives and less “perfect.” Perfection snuffs out creativity in kids, increases stress and decreases trying new things and not learning how to cope with failure. Yikes!
Nothing comes out of being perfect. Parents—news flash: you are going to make mistakes. But let’s stop shaming ourselves in front of our kids, and start teaching them that we’re capable of bouncing back. Show them that you DID make a mistake and that you LEARNED from it. Stop showing them how good you are at shaming yourself. Ouch—it’s gotta hurt after a while!
Remember: You’re not perfect—nor will you ever be. None of us are! And that’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up about it, work on being nicer to yourself. By showing yourself compassion, your child will do the same for themselves. That’s called modeling behavior. So start today! Reframe your old, useless parental shaming and transform it into kindness and maybe add a little goofiness in there too. We’d rather teach our kids to be happy, cope with their failures and be kind to themselves. We don’t want to teach them that it’s okay to shame themselves when they make a mistake.
To really help this article sink in—I recommend the movies “Bad Moms” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Now I’m off to be not-a-perfect child therapist and not-a-perfect-daughter! ;)
PS—If you’d like some help with putting an end to this “perfecting,” give us a call.
By Arielle Grossman