Saturday, September 14, 2013

Imperfect is the new perfect

I'm always amazed by the volume of information available to us.  On the internet.  On TV.  Research that has been done.  Opinions of other parents based on their own experience.

HOW TO RAISE A CHILD.  It deserves the caps, because it's a big task.  

When I was a new mom, shiny baby in my arms, complete with milk stains and a harried, overtired expression just in case there was any doubt, I read everything I could get my hands on about having a baby.  I read articles, blog posts, subscribed to weekly e-mails to update me on my baby's development. I scoured the internet for recalls.  I stayed up late at night when my sweet baby was sleeping and sought out the opinions of multiple experts, sure that if I missed something I was a terrible, horrible, no good very bad new mom who was certain to ruin the life of the tiny one entrusted to me.

Casey suggested more than once, after I collapsed in tears over some perceived mistake, that perhaps such behavior was not helpful.  

Eventually, I came to a life-changing conclusion: I READ TOO MUCH. 

Yes, that deserved the caps too.  

Because after all that reading, here is what I discovered: I was surely going to kill my child.  By leaving the bumper in the crib.  Or possibly by taking it out.  Or by co-sleeping and rolling over and smothering her.  Or by leaving her in her own crib where she would undoubtedly suffer from SIDS which could have been prevented by co-sleeping.  Or by feeding her formula.  Or by giving her solid foods too early.  I was afraid that she was too hot.  And also too cold.  I was playing with her too much.  I was leaving her alone too often.  I was doing any one of a thousand things that could/should/would have been done differently by someone who was better/smarter/more prepared for this baby gig than I. 

She was about six months old when I screamed, "ENOUGH!!!" in one of those dramatic scenes where first you see me, then you see my house, the city and finally, the world.  Enough.   

Because, here's the thing: Parenting is hard.  And it is different for everyone.  And there is no one single way to do it right.  Did ya get that?  Let me say it again, because it too deserves the caps:


It never stops, whether your child is in diapers or preschool or driving.  I recently read an article advocating not teaching your toddlers their ABCs, shapes or colors.  I recently read an article advising parents of the dangers of over-praise.  In our culture, you'll never go broke pitching THE FORMULA for raising perfect kids (or, on a similar thread, by giving women ammunition for feeling superior to one another.  I offer Nancy Grace and her unique version of "the news" as proof.)

If you type "Parenting" into the search bar at, you will come up with 133,136 results.  That's just the books, in case you thought I was searching the entire site.  Over one hundred thousand books.  One hundred thousand different opinions.  One hundred thousand versions of "the right way."   

What people want when we seek out those massive volumes of information is validation that we don't suck.  We want someone to clap us on the back and say, "well done, Mom!  You're doing an awesome job."  We want to know that we're more in line with raising the next Einstein, Steve Jobs or Mother Theresa than the next Jeffrey Dahmer.  We're afraid of making mistakes.  We're afraid of making THE mistake that definitively defines our children for the rest of their lives.  The One that they'll spend thousands of dollars working out in therapy when they're adults.  
I'm not saying that it isn't worthwhile to spend time developing and refining your parenting philosophy, and enhancing the tools in your box when it comes to being the best version of your parenting self.  Of course that's valuable.  But if you hold these up as ideals, you will always find yourself falling short.  Why?  Because there is no way to do everything right all the time.  Just as I couldn't simultaneously take the advice of those who said co-sleeping was a sure way to suffocate my baby ...AND... those who advocated co-sleeping because it helps babies regulate their breathing.  Who's "expert" advice was correct?  I had to weigh the opinions and make the choice that made the most sense for my family.  I still do.  I always will.

And... as I've gone on in this parenting journey, I've become more and more comfortable with that.  I would even describe myself as - dare I say it? - good at it.  I know, I'm tempting some fateful god of Irony to strike me down.

Why is it so very hard to say those words?  I am a good mother.  I am a good mother.  Is it because there are so many definitions of a "good mother?"  Is it because so many others would do it differently?  Is it because there are so many opportunities to fail?  I was a good mother yesterday, but today I was a sucky mother, so my two-day average is a so-so mother.  Even now I feel I have to add the disclaimer: I'm not a perfect mother and I make a lot of mistakes.  And what exactly is on the other side of perfection?  I'm either a perfect mother or.... what?

An imperfect mother - who is no less good for being imperfect.

So these days, when I read an article or blog post or whathaveyou, I no longer take it in as The Truth (period/exclamation point).  It gets a bigger and more important check - I check it against what I know to be true based on my own experience, and what I know about my family.  I evaluate.  I consider.  I keep the pieces that I find valuable and discard the ones that don't fit without feeling like a parenting failure.  No matter how many letters follow the author's last name.

I choose not to spend my time agonizing over whether I'm doing it right.  I choose to let my version of enough really be enough.  I choose to let go of the mistakes I make and remember that what I do wrong is nothing compared to what I do right.  What we all do right, even when we do it differently.

To trust that still, small voice that hasn't yet steered me wrong.

Our children are wonderful.  They are beautiful.  And they are trying, every day, to be better and learn more.

And so are we.     


  1. AWESOME. I needed to read this today. I've been feeling like a really crappy mom, dealing with depression and so much junk. Constantly reading stuff and comparing myself to others who seem so perfect only makes me feel worse.

    1. It's a daily struggle, isn't it? Trying to steer the ship in the way that's right for US and OUR families. I love the quote, "don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle." We all are where we are in life, and coming to grips with it can be the toughest part. Hang in there!


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