If perfect parents ever lived, I pity their children. What excuse could the children of perfect parents offer for their later failures? On a more serious note, when parents aim for perfection, the category they are more likely to occupy is "too good," as in "too good to be true," or down right incompetent.
"Too good" parents try to shield their children from unhappiness and disappointments and place them at the center of the family's life. Their children do not learn the lessons necessary in mastering life or the skills of being a member of a group.
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The Pitfalls of Striving for Perfection
In their efforts to be perfect too-good parents tend to:
- Give children the message that they are more important than their parents.
- Give their children too many opportunities.
- Fail to take a leadership role in the family.
- Develop mutual dependency with their children instead of interdependency.
- Do for their children what they are capable of doing for themselves.
Fortunately, there's one tried and true label that every parent can strive for.
What Does a Good Enough Parent Do Right?
In simple terms, good-enough parents are adults committed to parenthood. Their behavior shows they care about what happens to their children. They can restrain themselves from harming them. They do not neglect or abuse their children in a legal sense. This definition of good-enough parents flows from our cultural expectations of parents.
Good-enough parents are parents who:
- Assume responsibility for their lives.
- Sacrifice some of their own interests for their children.
- Provide limits for their children's behavior.
- Give their children hope for the future.
- Want their children to become responsible, self-sufficient, and ethical adults.
- Know that their children will inevitably face hurts and difficult times in their lives.
- Give love and support while their children grow through the stages of childhood and adolescence into successful and responsible adults.
- Help their children learn to delay the gratification of immediate urges and tolerate frustration.
- Teach them to experience hard work and avoid harming others.
As every parent eventually learns, the life lessons that provide opportunities for a child or teenager to acquire positive qualities often arise as problems or crises. They result from a fight on the school playground; a failed test; lack of money for a desired object; or rejection from a sweetheart, or the college of their dreams. These are the "teachable moments" in a child's life, and although none can be planned or scheduled, all require a parent's patient guidance--a precious commodity that a "good enough" mother or father tries his or her best to deliver whenever humanly possible.
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More practical tips for parents are offered in my new book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Child & Adolescent Psychology coauthored with child psychiatrist Jack C. Westman. M.D.
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