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  • Writer's pictureSarah Craycraft, LPC

"How to Embrace Imperfection and Thrive as a Parent: 3 Essential Tips"

Parenting is hard. Really hard. Most parents feel incredible pressure to get parenting “right” and to do everything “perfectly.” We live in a culture chalk full of parenting advice. From books and podcasts to well-meaning (often misguided) words from friends and family, parents are bombarded with ideas about how to parent. All. The. Time. 

Inevitably, the constant suggestions and ongoing criticism lead parents to worry that if a single misstep is taken, it will cause damage to our children as they develop or – even worse – irreparably harm the relationship with our kids. As a licensed professional counselor who hears this very sentiment from my clients, I speak from professional experience. As a mom of three young children, I speak from personal experience.

If any of this sounds true for you, I have some good news: Perfect parents don’t exist! But you can be an IMperfect, excellent parent. Below I explore some of the many reasons parents struggle with the pressure to be perfect; I consider the impact of social media and the abundance of information parents wade through; and I share some practical tools for supporting yourself when you come up against the pressure to be perfect.

Comparison: The Root of (unattainable) Perfection

I work with a lot of people who struggle to be the “perfect” parent. Anecdotally I’ve found that much of the time perfectionism comes in the form of comparison. Maybe you see someone else’s child behaving like an angel and you begin to compare your parenting to how you see that other parent. Oftentimes, what you don’t see is how that parent also comes up against their own difficulties. 

Even the most experienced parent and the most well-educated professional will tell you they don’t always get it right. Every parent is learning how to parent as they go, which means every parent is going to mess up now and again. When you find yourself comparing yourself to other parents, see if you can pause, acknowledge your imperfection, and allow your kids to see that you’re okay and – just as importantly – they’re okay even when things don’t go as planned.

Information Overload

Another thing I’ve observed is there is too much parenting information to sift through. Parents are met with thousands of books to read, parenting models to consider, and social media outlets to consume. As a result, parents get caught in the paralysis of choice. We often don’t know if we should be trying this model or that one, this parenting technique or that other one. Every model and technique claims to be the one, but there is also quite a bit of conflicting advice out there. If, on top of that, you have family or friends that are trying to give you advice about what to do, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.

As you try to glean something from all this information, it’s important to remember there is no “one size fits all” approach to parenting. Every child is different AND every parent is different. You may find that some strategies work great for you and your kid, while others just aren’t effective. That is OKAY! Use what works and scrap the rest.

Getting it “Right”

When you find yourself stuck, unsure how to move forward because you’re worried about how it might affect your child or because you’re stressed you won’t do it the “right” way, please know you’re not alone. Most parents find themselves in this place at one time or another. When this happens, one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself (and for your child) is to practice self-compassion. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. Take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I am doing the best that I can, and my child is loved.” Taking the time to focus on these types of thoughts can help you to calm down and find the best (note: not perfect) path forward. 

Strategies for Supporting Yourself as a Parent

One: Manage Your Expectations.

One helpful thing to remember if you are a perfectionist parent is the 80/20 Rule. If you’re familiar with the social media account, Big Little Feelings, you may have heard of this before. The 80/20 Rule is a way of focusing on what you value as a parent, while letting go of perfectionism. You do what you can to get things “right” 80% of the time, and the other 20% you forget all expectations. 

There are a couple of key things to remember with the 80/20 Rule. One: everyone's 80% is going to be different. The key is to understand your personal parenting values and allow these to inform your 80%. Two: the idea of 80/20 is not static. There will be days when you’re able to give 60% and you have to let go of 40%; other days that you can give 90% and let go of 10%. The aim is you always allow yourself space to let go. If you give yourself permission to let go of some things, odds are you’ll feel significantly better about the 80% percent that you were able to give.

Two: Soothe Your Nervous System.

The majority of people in today’s world are in a constant state of overwhelm. This is especially true for parents. In order to be the best parent you an be I highly recommend finding a practice that helps you calm your nervous system. You can turn to this practice when you start to feel the pressure of perfectionism. Some of the calming techniques I often teach my clients are:

  • Deep breathing exercises (I like to keep this simple-breathe in on a count of 5, pause, out on a count of 5, and continue for 5 rounds)

  • Mindfulness practice

  • Journaling

  • “Calm Place” Visualization (closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a place, real or imagined, that feels calm and peaceful) 

These are just a few examples of how you can calm your body down, which in turn allows you to stay connected to the rational part of your brain and helps you to recognize that the perfectionistic pressure doesn’t need to be pursued. 

Three: Community

Leaning on a social support system is another way to quiet the voice that tries to convince you to push yourself too far. If you don’t already have a friend who you trust to encourage and validate you in your parenting journey, it could be worth your while to find a friend that could do that. One way to try and find that person is to look for parenting or play groups in your area that you could join. If you already have a friend you trust, the next step is to have an honest conversation with them about needing some additional support around accepting the part of yourself that will inevitably fail.

If you’re struggling with any of these perfectionistic or comparison issues, it is so important to remember that you are not alone. Hopefully some of these ideas and strategies will help you to feel supported. When you notice you’re feeling overwhelmed or hard on yourself, try the 80/20 Rule. Or, get online and find an opportunity to meet other parents. Take time to soothe your nervous system – even if it’s only one slow, deep breath. Remember to practice self-compassion as you go through all of this. No matter what you are currently dealing with in your family, try to set the expectation that you will do your best, and also leave space for imperfection.

About the Author: Sarah is a therapist at North Star Therapy Collective. She specializes in working with individuals who struggle with anxiety and depression and has a focus on postpartum parents and families. She also enjoys working with adolescents. If you’d like to work with Sarah, fill out the form on our “Contact Us” page and we’ll get you scheduled for a free 20 minute consultation.


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