Here’s how it goes: As we wait nine long months for our newborn to arrive, we go about the task of becoming a parent with great zeal. We pick out the right bassinette and decorate the room; we read books and examine our values; we judge parents in the grocery store with an impossible bent toward perfection.
All the while we’re waiting, we envision our new life with a child: blissful, connected, strong and well-balanced. We predict the ideal family bond.
If one thing is apparent while we await our first born it is this: we aren’t just expecting any child. We are expecting the Perfect Child.
And why not? Who wants to sit around waiting for the birth of a child who will send other parents scurrying to protect their Perfect Child from your, well, imperfect one?
Still, reality hits in an excruciatingly short period of time. For some, we haven’t even left the hospital yet and we’re wondering what happened to our Perfect Child.
Not only that, but what happened to the Perfect Parents? Weren’t we supposed to be patient and full of energy and excitement about our new role? Wasn’t I going to breastfeed for a full year, make my own baby food and use cloth diapers on my Perfect Child’s behind? I thought we’d have organic apple cake for his first birthday and let him run barefoot and naked through the dewy grass.
Our fall from the pedestal of perfect parenting hits hard. Harder still when we see the kid around the corner who really is the Perfect Child and worse yet, lives in a home with Perfect Parents.
Ah, the pressures we place upon ourselves. And if we aren’t careful we’ll continue the fall from grace for the next 18 years.
The truth is, even the most average of kids is a beautiful thing. We try so hard to find the exceptional athlete, the exceptional student, the exceptional musician the prodigy that we overlook the stunningly exceptional average child before us. The one who loves to kick the ball in the yard with his dad or play hide-and-seek with the neighbors at dusk; the one who does well in school but needs to be prodded to do homework; the one who simply loves to play piano no matter how gracefully.
In the moments immediately after our child was born, when we weren’t obsessing about all the things we should do and have in order to create the blissfully Perfect Family, when we had forgotten for a moment all the plans we made for our above-average child, we simply looked in wonder upon the miracle of life. We counted fingers and toes and marveled there were enough of each; we stroked hair and skin and were in awe of its perfect texture; we breathed in the smell of creation.
When we start judging our children and ourselves by impossible standards and goals that no longer fit the imaginary Perfect Child, we lose sight of the gift right before our very eyes.
A healthy family isn’t made up of perfect parents and brilliant children. Nor does changing our belief about our children mean they are suddenly run-of-the-mill. It just means accepting who they are, not who we envisioned them to be. It means saying goodbye to the glamorous dream of perfection and hello to the wonderful, complicated, lovely reality before us.
Being perfect is anything but.
Charla Belinski is the author of the column “Are We There Yet?” in the Glenwood (Colorado) Post Independent where she shares her common-sense style and humorous world view on parenting each week. Charla has recently completed her first novel, It Came a Fine Rain. She lives with her husband, Tim, and three children near Aspen, Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.