After relationship issues and personal growth, parenting ranks among the most pressing topics facing adults today. I am a parent, and I also talk to a lot of parents, both in my personal life and at work in my private practice as a therapist. Parenting is clearly an important and difficult job. We, as parents, are not only providing for the basic physical needs of our children, but we are often hyper-focused on their psychological needs as well. On top of that, we hold ourselves responsible for the implications of each of our decisions: We want to do the best job possible and not mess up our kids! This desire to be the best parent possible can translate into an unrealistic ideal of the super parent.
Thanks a lot, Martha Stewart!
When my daughter was in elementary school, she participated in a children’s book club in our neighborhood. Each family took a turn hosting with a theme-related activity, decorations and food. Parents went all out! When it was our turn to host, the book was about puppies. My daughter and I baked cookies in the shape of dog biscuits, we made a puppy-related art project and bought puppy plates. I really thought I had hit it out of the park when we bought little plastic bowls for the kids to drink out of instead of cups. To be honest, I felt like a very successful parent—something I struggled with because I worked outside of the home.
One mom arrived early and complimented all that we had done but then critically asked why I did not have puppy ears for the kids to wear. In hindsight I now see that she was inconsiderate and ridiculous, but at the time I was truly crushed. It took me a few minutes to regroup, because her judgmental question launched me into a state of insecurity and worry. We put so much pressure on ourselves that it’s easy to feel that we have somehow failed, or at least not met expectations.
Underpraised and overburdened
The drive to be a super parent can leave you feeling stressed out, depressed, guilt-ridden and like a complete failure. Trying to be and do everything at a level of perfection will only lead to exhaustion and unhappiness, and set a poor example for our children—the very people we are trying to nurture, teach and please.
Typically the need to be a super parent emerges from these three areas:
Whether set by our own standards or those we perceive from society, expectations cause us to stop focusing on what is emotionally best for our families. This creates too much pressure, which can lead to guilt, disappointment, frustration and sadness.
Sometimes we are so busy looking at what other people are doing that we lose focus on what is best for our family. While it is tempting to try to keep up with, or even outdo, a neighbor’s over-the-top birthday party, it may not be what your child wants, or what you can afford.
The need for perfection can be rooted in insecurity. We may feel overextended and worry that we are not devoting enough time and energy to parenting. That can lead to skewed perceptions of what is good, healthy and desirable.
Let’s stop trying to be super parents and focus on being good parents instead. Good parents allow room for error and fatigue, accept their imperfections and model to their children that trying your best is what is important. Good parents focus on the well-being and happiness of themselves and their family.