Busting the myth of perfect parenting (because there’s no such thing!)

Every parent wants to do the best for their kids but sometimes this can put us under lots of unnecessary pressure.

This mum and dad guilt has been made worse during the periods of lockdown throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to endless social media posts of other people ‘winning’ at parenthood. Which means it’s never been more important to cut yourself some slack.

Parenting author and mum-of-four Sarah Ockwell-Smith says: “Nobody’s perfect… especially me and I’m a parenting expert!”

Here Sarah shares some easy ways to bust the perfect parent myth and instead concentrate on being good enough.

Cutting yourself some slack as a parent is important for your wellbeing.

1. Use the 70/30 rule

It’s impossible to be a perfect mum or dad. Instead, Sarah says simply aim to be a ‘good enough’ parent 70% of the time. “If you’re always perfect, that’s a really unrealistic role model for your kids. They’ll never learn how to make mistakes or know how to apologise. Instead, aim to get things right 70% of the time and try not to worry about the other 30%."

The most important thing is when you do mess up, use that as a lesson for your kids showing them how to cope with getting things wrong and how to say sorry.

2. Get back to basics

Your little one has a very short attention span. So don’t stress yourself out trying to set up complicated activities.

“I often hear from parents who get irritated when their child isn’t interested in a craft activity they’ve spent ages preparing," says Sarah.

Try not to overthink activities or spend too long prepping them. "They will get much more enjoyment from doing simple, everyday things with you like helping you tidy up or make dinner.”

Forget bells-and-whistles activities... simple, everyday routines like tidying up are great for keeping your children amused.

3. Click ‘unfollow’

Tech is useful for parents (particularly now). But air-brushed images of family life on social media are not.

“Nobody is as perfect as they’d have you believe on Instagram or Facebook," says Sarah. “It’s all perfectly curated images. Even people you think are inspiring on social media can be quite damaging."

If you start questioning yourself or second guessing yourself as a parent then unfollow or mute them and find someone more realistic to follow.

4. Have a chat

You don’t have to spend money on toys to keep your child happy. Instead, Sarah says a cuddle on the sofa, looking at a book or just chatting to your little one is what they really want.

“Even if your baby or toddler is too little to answer you, that doesn’t mean you can’t chat to them.”

She suggests watching what they are doing and then helping put their feelings into words. For example, if your little one giggles when you sing a nursery rhyme you could say, 'you really like that song don’t you!'. This is called mind-minded parenting, when you realise that your child has independent thoughts and feelings.”

Don't underestimate the benefits of simply chatting and interacting with your child.

5. Take things with a pinch of salt

It’s not just on social media that people pretend to be perfect.

“A lot of parents aren’t honest and when you chat to them, will make things sound better for whatever reason," says Sarah.

“So try not to compare yourself to other parents. If someone is saying their child sleeps through the night – and yours doesn’t – remember what they are saying might not be true. I wouldn’t get involved in those conversations. Just nod and move on!”

6. Be kind to yourself

Taking time out for you is really important but make sure this doesn't become another ‘perfect parent pressure’ says Sarah.

“You can feel you’re missing out if you haven’t taken up a new hobby or done some exercise," she says. “Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Instead, just be kind to yourself and lower your expectations. Remember: no one is perfect!”

Sarah is a parenting expert and author of books including The Gentle Parenting Book.

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