Perfectly Perfect Parents

Perfectly Perfect Parents

There’s nothing like a tropical holiday with the whole extended family to bring ones parenting skills out of soft focus and into the bright sunshine. I’m wondering if there’s a statute of limitations on how many times I can say “I think she’s just very tired” when I’m actually thinking “my six year old is simply a rather unpleasant child. Sorry!”

A tad ironic then that the one article I printed from The Atlantic Magazine for fun holiday reading is called How to Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb, my new parenting pinup gal.

I’m typing this on an iPad so will keep it short (first world problem in a third world country…) and there will be no links or pics as my other first world problem is a third world Internet connection.

Gottlieb, a therapist and mother, writes about how being the perfect parent can really stuff up a child. At university she and her colleagues were taught to always focus on how a lack of parental attunement affects a child, but after seeing countless young adults on her couch who had come from spectacularly attuned parents and who were sad, adrift, lost, Gottlieb began to wonder if being too attuned had its own bag of problems.

Being a crappy parent will do your child no favours, but being a perfect parent could stuff them up too. It seems Donald Winnicott was on the money when he coined the phrase “good enough mother” in the 1960s. On a side note, do have a read of his work if you want to follow this further. His work on the real self and the false self is very good.

I have a bit of a beef with “happiness” and the desperate, relentless pursuit of it I see everywhere. As Gottlieb writes “nowadays it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be happier. The American Dream…has morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way.” This has been championed by books like The Happiness Project, where happiness is good but more happiness is even better!

if you want happy kids to grow into happy adults then one of the worst things you can do is deprive them of sadness. It takes a conscious effort to allow your child their unhappiness, disappointment, even despair. When they are young it seems natural to be the fixer. We scoop our toddler from a fall and comfort them before they’ve had a chance to work out whether or not they are really hurt. I’ve tried not to do this, but I have. I get scared when I see my kids feeling devastated, wretched, sad. I worry I won’t be able to fix them, when in fact it’s not something that should even be fixed, but more something for a parent to guide a child through and perhaps hold their hand to just let them know that while their sadness is normal and difficult, you’ll be there to watch over them while they feel it.

There’s been a lot of talk for several years now about letting kids get dirty. Let them play in the mud and eat a snail, it strengthens their immune system to be exposed to a bit of filth early on. Gottlieb quotes child psychologist Dan Kindlon, as saying that if a child can’t experience painful feelings, they don’t grow psychological immunity.

Parents call the school if their child doesn’t get on the school soccer team, if they have a run in with another child. What you get in this sort of environment eventually is a teenager with no experience of hardship, Gottlieb writes. We are raising teacup kids.

When I was training for my first marathon (see how I managed to work that into an article on parenting? Still got it), I hired Pat Carroll to give me training advice via email. He assessed me, through my stats and personal info as a “teacup” marathoner. He explained that a marathon is like a dishwasher. It’s full of teacups and mugs. The mugs are tough as boots while the teacups are delicate flowers who have to be careful of overtraining and getting injured.

By saving kids from small growing up pains, we set them up to shatter like delicate teacups when they’re bigger and the pains are bigger and we are no longer around on a daily basis to smooth the path ahead for them. Better to let them grow up with a few chips and superglue.

So how do we not be perfectly perfect parents? I don’t know: after the kids headed off to the waterbom park this morning, I went into their hotel room and neatly folded all their clothes and popped them away. Just to make their happiness that bit more happy. According to Kindlon, this sort of behaviour is “parental over investment and is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that’s hurting our kids.” I completely agree. But I also just didn’t want the room cleaner to see how disgustingly messy they actually are.

The final word seems to be “our children are not our masterpieces” a relief for both parents and kids I imagine.

2 Replies to “Perfectly Perfect Parents”

  1. You write so well ! Did you hear me this week wailing to my sister ” I have just done too much for them ” ( whilst making toast and vegemite and a cup of tea for a 16 year old so I felt happy she had food in her tummy before her 3 hour shift at Target) . As for the tea cup/ mug and running . I must be the finest champagne flute! Now speaking of drink go and order another cocktail and stop folding clothes on holiday 🙂

    1. Thanks Joc! You’re a pretty gorgeous champagne flute. I did like the idea of being a china cup but I think I am more a homemade mug.


%d bloggers like this: