Perfect parenting

Parenting is hard. I am a parent and I am also a child psychologist and I can promise you, parenting my own is harder. This is because as a psychologist with my clients, I have that great thing – objectivity, something that becomes very blurry in my own life, with my own family. When I am helping young people and parents, I like to look at all the pieces of the puzzle. I turn over and look at each piece, working out how it might fit with the other pieces and then we work through the most practicable way that these can go together, always with a clear problem solving lens, unclouded by personal emotions. I will say I have one slight advantage – I have an understanding of best practice and how development works, and on a good day, when I am clear headed and not as clouded with emotion, I can put this knowledge to work and make myself a plan for moving forward on a particular problem or challenge I see come up. On a good day, I can see the problem for what it is and I can consider solutions. I frequently write little notes to myself on my phone to this effect for one reason… on bad days I have as much trouble seeing the forest for the trees as the next person. So I give myself little reminders of things that do and don’t work in my own life so that when all I am seeing is big, tall trees, I can try to take a step back with the help of my ‘good day self’.

If you listen to all the voices telling you the best way to do things – you may hear that in the noise, there is a general sense that we must never have an imperfect parenting moment. To be clear, I am not talking about imperfect parenting moments that put ours or our children’s safety at risk – I am talking about those (constant) and relatively minor parenting decisions that we are making everyday. We have to remember, despite the best intentions of all those people with often very useful and valuable things to say – that parents are humans and humans are not perfect. Appreciating this fact and having some compassion for yourself actually helps to bring your own emotion down to a more manageable level. Once we have lowered the emotion and taken a step back – things can seem clearer and you may find solutions present themselves. If they do – write them down – keep it on record for when things get off kilter again. Sometimes I have heard my clients or clients parents tell me that in certain situations they have thought to themselves “what would Sophie say/do now?” But really they are just tuning into what they themselves would say/do when they are thinking clearly with objectivity – like they may have been when they were at arms length from the problem in my consulting room, picking up the puzzle pieces and turning them over carefully. 

For the record – in my opinion there is no such thing as perfect parenting, but I do think the term ‘reflective parenting’ should get more air time. This is the kind that acknowledges that we are imperfect, and with a compassionate lens, takes the opportunity when things are calmer to reflect on what is working and what is not. When we do this we have a much better chance of making considered plans (small or big) for solving those dilemmas in front of us.

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