Why Being an Imperfect Parent is Way More Fun!

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We’re getting ready to become new parents—for the second time.

I think the single biggest lesson I learned from our initial journey into parenthood, is that trying to be a perfect parent is exhausting. So I quit.

No, I didn’t quit parenting; I quit pursuing perfection. And, quite frankly, it’s awesome!

I just hope I can carry my “imperfect parenting” into my relationship with our newborn.

Here’s why: research shows that moms of newborns have less confidence in their parenting abilities and dads feel more stress when they believe others expect them to be "perfect.” [i]

Here’s my interpretation:

Less confident moms + Stressful dads = No fun!

From my own experience, “perfect” parents don’t know how to have fun. I can attest.

We have a retaining wall in our backyard that ascends from about an eight-inch brick to a layer of bricks five feet high. At nearly two years old, our son loves to begin at the low end, and begin walking the wall to the top.

To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of him scaling this wall. I know he enjoys doing it, but without me holding his hand, he will fall off. I got scared he might try it without me soon.

I also didn’t like it when his foot slipped and he scraped his leg—which happens quite often, sometimes worse than others. Maybe I’m the only parent who held this irrational belief that his baby smooth legs would never see a scrape or scar (aka, imperfection).

Call me crazy, but I actually tried it for a little while, teaching my not yet two-year-old to pay attention to his footing, step-by-step, staring at his feet, not focusing on anything else around him.

I was trying to create a “perfect” boy, who paid attention only to his footing—a clone of exactly who I was and what I did as his dad.

 

Until I read what Anne Lamott wrote in her book, Bird by Bird:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people [parents, in this case] who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while doing it.

After reading this quote, I wanted to go outside and scale that wall myself—blindfolded. As parents, we need to start taking deep breaths, scaling walls, and showing our kids how to live.

Just this weekend Landon was scaling the wall—I alongside him—when he stopped, pointed over in the yard, and said, “Da-da, bug.”

A bug, an experience, and a memory I would have missed had he been looking at his feet. Instead, he was enjoying the journey.

 

With the half-a-dozen fresh scrapes of valor and two scars of bravery covering his legs, Landon is having fun. And I’m okay with that.

I’m also okay letting him play in buckets of “wa-wa” outside even if it means wet clothes, heavy diapers, and a lot of mud.

I’m okay giving him honey on his sandwich, even if I have to clean a sticky mess.

I’m okay wrestling around, having a pillow fight, and getting all sweaty again, even if he just had a bath.

Sure, it sometimes requires more work, but taking my eyes off the stepping-stones of perfectionism, fears, and minor inconveniences like mud, honey, or sweat opens up the journey for more fun, more memories, more experiences, and more connection.

I believe one of the greatest gifts I can pass onto my kids is letting them know, by my own steps, that they don’t have to be perfect—and that the way to fix imperfection, particularly in relationships, is by asking for forgiveness.

When we take the pressure off having to be “perfect” parents, it opens us up to a world of fun. You can start your path to being a less “perfect” parent by taking these first two steps:

1.     When your kids ask to do something, instead of immediately saying no, ask yourself “why not?” If you can’t come up with a legitimate answer, let the memory unfold.

2.     Practice seeking the forgiveness of your kids when you mess up. Be specific about your offense.

I’m okay with others thinking I’m not perfect.

Besides, less perfect parents are doing a whole lot better, and are having a lot more fun while doing it.

UPDATE: My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl since I wrote this post. Here is what I experienced with her in the hospital. 


Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an advocate for families and parenting in the 21st century. He loves coming alongside families to provide encouragement, support and practical counsel. Josh loves combining scientific research with biblical wisdom to provide the best-of-all-worlds perspective on raising stellar kids, having an awesome marriage and enjoying life while doing it. You can read more of the boring professional stuff about Josh and his books here, if you’re interested. Together with his favorite writing partner and wife, Christi, Josh has fun parenting their son Landon and daughter Kennedy. For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.


[i] Lee, M., Schoppe-Sullivan, S., & Kamp Dush, C. (2011, November 29). Seeking to be the ‘perfect parent’ not always good for new moms and dads. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111129123301.htm