There's no such thing as a perfect parent

Our latest partners, The Parent Practice, deliver positive parenting skills for parents, and support employers to help their staff have a healthy work life balance, with more harmony at home. Elaine Halligan, Director of The Parent Practice, London, shares why there's no such thing as a perfect parent, and how we can find our balance in our parenting.  

I never in my wildest dreams imagined that becoming a mother and juggling full time work as a lecturer, was going to be such hard work. I often felt that I was failing as a parent and therefore failing my family. I found my parenting role exhausting, complicated and bewildering. I frequently got things wrong and felt guilty when I struggled to find that work life balance and didn’t give my children the time they needed. If I am really honest, at times I turned into a screaming banshee, all because my son would not put his shoes on when asked!

Initially I bought into the parenting myth that if my son didn’t listen to me, I needed to repeat instructions, nag, remind, bribe, cajole, threaten and punish. All these techniques however didn’t really put me in charge and certainly did not result in harmony at home.

Roll forward 11 years and things are very different. Having re-trained as a parenting coach, I joined my business partner Melissa Hood at The Parent Practice (established in 2004), which we now run together. Together with our team of facilitators, we deliver positive parenting skills to help parents enjoy family life and bring out the best in their children. We work with parents to help them face challenges in balancing their role stretch like never before! It’s just not possible to work from home, supervise home learning, be the entertainments director, head chef, banker, domestic cleaner and referee of sibling spats and keep your sanity! Something has to give. So it’s vital that employers promote the wellbeing of their working parents and support them to feel more competent in their parenting so they can focus on work, feel fulfilled and continue their career whilst raising their children.

Parents across the developed world are beset by guilt about their parenting, and since the pandemic it’s never been so acute

We worry that the things we do or don’t do will cause lasting damage to our children. Parents actually start worrying before they’re born –we plan a ‘perfect’ pregnancy. We prepare for the best possible birth and feel guilty when our birth plan goes out of the window with an emergency caesarean or just because we need some pain relief. We feel guilty about going back to work…..or not going back to work. We worry about whether we’re providing our children with the best nutrition and feel guilty when you don’t make home-made food or sneak more vegetables into them. We worry about how to teach them to be good digital citizens, whilst maybe turning a blind eye to the amount of time they seem to be spending on House Party.

The myth of the perfect parent

As a society we buy into the myth that there is such a thing as a perfect parent. We are presented with multiple images of perfect parents. From the yummy mummy promoted in holiday ads to the shiny happy back-in-my-jeans-within-48-hours mum alongside a perfect, smiling baby, or the I-set-up-my-own-multi-million-pound-business-in-the-kitchen-whilst-doing-Lego-with-my-toes model.  Rest assured, I haven’t met a perfect parent in my 11 years of working with parents, because there isn’t such a thing! We need to give up on perfectionism and reframe our goals if we are going to feel fulfilled and contented as working parents.

There are so many parenting books - my bedside table is groaning with them and my book case bulging. There is no doubt that our knowledge of child development has increased enormously from when our parents were raising us – which is a good thing - but our ability to rely on our own resources for solutions has been circumscribed.

One of the biggest factors in parental guilt is the access we have to so much information and advice via the internet and social media and our propensity to compare and feel that we fall short. Spending your life feeling inadequate and guilty isn’t just exhausting but it stops us from fulfilling our true potential, both at work and as parents. Our lack of trust in ourselves stops us from putting ourselves forward, from trying new things or from expressing ourselves. And when we operate out of these feelings we model behaviour for our children that makes it likely those feelings will carry on down the generations.

When we feel guilty our parenting is often compromised - we may react harshly to our children’s behaviour when it’s ourselves we find unacceptable.

Finding your balance as a parent - a healthy striving

Here are a few ways in which you can feel less guilty:

  • recognise that bringing up children is work in progress and you are learning on the job. You don’t expect learners to be perfect, do you? Give up perfectionism and forget striving for the unachievable as perfection does not exist
  • acknowledge the many good ways you care for and are contributing to raising your children to live meaningful lives - write these down.
  • remind yourself that you are not alone and many parents suffer from the same worries and that comparisons are odious and largely meaningless as real lives don’t show up on social media
  • allow yourself to seek help when you need it and practice some radical self-care. Parenting is incredibly difficult even if you received good parenting yourself and it really helps to have support to re-parent yourself while you bring up your children
  • ditch the premise that you are meant to sacrifice yourself for your children. This always leads to resentment and bitterness. What you are meant to do is to model living a good balanced life, not be a martyr

Accept that this is one of the hardest jobs you will ever do

You know that children don’t come with an instruction manual and yet you feel that you should just know how to raise a happy and thriving family. We would go into no other such complex endeavour without skills or training. Being open to learning parenting skills strengthens your natural abilities, equips you with valuable new understanding and allows you to trust your instincts, helping you connect profoundly with your children.

In the words of Darren, an HR Director with an Ad agency, positive parenting training can be transformational for family life

I've just attended one of the Parent Practice sessions at Starcom and wanted to say what a truly wonderful thing it was. Not just in terms of the commitment that the Group is showing to the mothers and fathers who work in its various offices, but also the course itself. Nothing is more important to me than my family and the things I have learned today, and look forward to learning in the coming sessions, will be of more value to me than probably any other form of training I have ever done. As a member of staff, I applaud you for organising it and as a parent I thank you for helping me in such an important area of my life. Parenting is a sensitive issue at the best of times and I'm not afraid to admit that I struggle with the increasing demands of parenthood. However, I left this morning feel empowered, enlightened and genuinely optimistic about things. I wonder how many training courses can lay claim to affecting behaviour quite so dramatically.”

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