Perfect Parents Turn out Screwed-Up Kids

Ok, picture this: It’s parent-teacher night a few weeks into the start of high school; my son Jesse and his classmates are taking us parents from class to class, just as they do during a school day. Every 15 minutes the bell rings, sending us to the next period to chit-chat with the teachers. This year Jesse is a senior, and it’s our last parent-teacher night forever. I’m a little melancholy about this when he stops me at the door to first period.

“Mom, before we go in here I think you should know something. I sleep though this class every single day.”

I stare at him, fully surprised.

“But you make A’s in here.”

“Yep”

“You make A’s but you sleep?”

“Yep”

“Well, I hope you sit in the back row.”

“I sit in the front row.”

“Great Jesse, that’s just great.”

And with that we walk into class, me not yet grasping how entirely pissed-off the teacher is that Jesse sleeps and still makes A’s, but knowing enough to hide behind other parents and try to not be noticed. She found me anyway.

“Did you know Jesse sleeps in class every day?”

She blustered it out with her fiery eyes shooting sparks; that’s how I remember it. I slunk in my seat, completely aware of every other parent eye turning upon me. My face heating up, I tried to hold some dignity when I told her I had just found out the news. Apparently, that was no excuse. She gave me a solid lecture on students getting plenty of sleep and a fine breakfast before school to get them going, and pretty much told me I sucked as a mom. Then, when she spun her back to me, she may as well have flipped me off. Ouch! I’d been schooled in front of other parents! Some looked sympathetic; some looked straight ahead; all were squirming a little. I wanted to shrivel up and die. Instead I maturely glared at my son and ran a finger across my throat, showing it had just been slashed by the public flogging. Good lord.

I got home that night and reflected on the humiliation in front of everyone. My head dropped into my hands. The teacher had called me out for being a bad mom. To be fair, she had a point. I mean, I didn’t make my son get in bed at any particular hour or fix him breakfast every morning. He was a senior in high school; next year he would be on his own and this was our practice year of independence; he was practicing independence, and I was getting used to it. She had found a problem that needed to be addressed. But, she called me out as a bad mom and it hit my soul. I invested a lot in being a great mom. I put everything into making Jesse’s life fun and beautiful. I shielded him from hardship so that his young and forming soul wouldn’t be damaged and I tried hard to be the very best example. Because, of course, Jesse needed the best start in life I could give him.

But her calling me out was more than humiliation. It reached all the way down to my core identity, where my worth and pride were feeling questioned and were all bruised up. I wallowed in all this for a while and then I remembered a soothing truth a wise psychologist once told me…

 

“Kids don’t need perfect parents. Perfect parents turn out screwed up kids.”

Don’t get me wrong, far from being perfect, I’m on the team whose biggest concern is just not screwing up our kids too much; I talk to God about this on a regular basis. Still, these words make me feel better. They tell me to give myself a break, to keep it real because that’s what my kids really need, and that perfectionism kills. I don’t need to lay it on myself, and I don’t need to lay it on them.

Then, the psychologist added, ”Kids need parents who are just good enough.”

Studies actually show that a life-too-perfect hurts our kids, under-develops skills they need for life and puts them at that disadvantage we are all working so hard to avoid. It sounds strange until you think about it. If we show up to every single ball game, if a home cooked meal is on the table at six o’clock every single night, if we are right on time every time, if we run interference for all our kid’s problems, never lose our temper or never hold them to real standards, if they never do chores, don’t respect us or we give them one too many breaks, if we always put their needs before ours, if we don’t hold them accountable for their actions or let them reap natural consequences…we are raising our kids in a world that just isn’t real. The people they will meet, the friends they will have, the jobs they will hold or partners they will love, even the kids that will sit on their knees, aren’t going to be all that perfect and our kids need to know this is okay; we can work with this.

Even more important, the real world certainly isn’t going to revolve around them, like it can at home. So when our kids hit 18, leave the nest and deal with messy-people stuff and hard-ass life stuff on their own, they don’t know what to do. They awkwardly learn on the fly, but it’s a shock, a painful setback and some kids simply freak out, move back into the basement and stay there until they are 40, calling their part time job “adulting”.

Best practice for parents – don’t beat yourself up. Say you’re sorry and mean it. Laugh, laugh, laugh, at yourself. Give grace, receive grace and allow your kids much practice in figuring life out by themselves, with you in the wings only if they really need you.

Whew! What a load off! Who doesn’t consider this good news? Lord knows, I do. When I think of this, a little valve in my brain opens and pressure flows right off. I can be real; I can run with delight and my feet don’t have to hit all the stones. I am good enough. I am good enough. Click here for questions that will help you use this article in your families. And for even more information, visit www.lightfootcoaching.com.

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