By: Brian Joseph, Echo Parenting and Education
I can see her from across the school parking lot, laughing and tossing her exquisitely coiffed hair as she unloads her well-adjusted, joyful kids from the car. She has a seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm, and she’s bending down now to give her child emotional support. She always does this, I can tell. She’s so naturally kind and generous! She never yells or threatens her children, she exudes empathy and connection a hundred per cent of the time, and they float into the school on a little happy cloud of warmth and intimacy. Wow. She’s a really good dresser too.
That’s not all, of course. Mrs. Perfect also maintains a fabulous relationship with her gorgeous, chiseled husband, Mr. Perfect! Not only does he always agree with her superlative parenting choices, but he is supportive and kind, helping her at every turn, washing dishes, changing diapers, giving massages with delight and a kind of almost fervor that seems to say there’s no place in the world he’d rather be. Ever. He looks great in a tight t-shirt. They’re so in love with each other, you can tell. They never argue or disagree. They’re so thoughtful and understanding. They have really good sex. And they love their children so much! It’s obvious that nothing in the world gives them more pleasure than taking care of their family. Their kids are so willing to comply with everything that is asked of them because, well, mom and dad are just so great.
I know. That’s goofy. Of course there is no parent like that. But I didn’t entirely invent this ridiculous scenario. I really did observe a mother in the parking lot this morning helping her kids get to class. She was poised, calm and supportive when her kindergardener cried about something. She really did smile and laugh. She really does seem to enjoy her life. My morning seemed tougher than hers. She looked like she had it all together.
In the parenting classes I teach, mothers and fathers sometimes describe observing other parents “doing it right” or “making it look easy.” It’s easy to assume that those parents have less stress, had better childhoods, are more “naturally inclined” towards parenting… that they’re “perfect” parents. So many parents I meet are trying to hold themselves up to a fantasy idea of perfection that is unrealistic at best.
The joy of raising children diminishes when we are tired, hungry, emotionally exhausted. Tension and anxiety in other areas of life can make the process of coping with our children’s daily challenges seem overwhelming. Add to that the complexity of how our own childhood experiences have impacted the ways that we manage stress, and we begin to get a glimpse of the reality of parenting. And for those who are raising children with a partner… it can be painful to acknowledge that our adult relationships can sometimes making parenting harder! Yikes.
Ask an anthropologist, and you’ll quickly learn that humans are not meant to raise children alone, or even in couples. Historically, it’s groups of adults who successfully raise their young. In modern culture, when human parents lack social support, they often resort to hurtful methods. Why? Usually, it’s because they learned those methods as children. And those moments when children get hurt? It’s most often when parents are fatigued, depleted, have reached the end of their rope.
So Mrs. Perfect really isn’t. But there is something I can learn from watching her skillfully navigate the parking lot this morning. She seems rested this morning. Probably she had a decent breakfast, maybe she even went to the gym. What can I do for myself to help to prepare me for the challenges of parenting? What can I do when I’m not able to care for myself in the optimal ways? How can I grow my patience?
The Echo Approach to raising kids isn’t about being perfect. Seriously. That’s not the goal. The goal is about building and maintaining long, healthy intimate relationships with our kids. To raise them without physical and emotional punishment, free from coercion, shame and manipulation. Will we screw up sometimes? Yup. Will things get hard? You bet. But when we inevitably encounter difficult moments, our great hope can be that we will be able to slow ourselves down a bit to be models for our kids. How do healthy adults handle stressful situations? None of us will be perfect. But we can make a commitment to our own growth. We can try to be intentional about the things we do and say. Like anything, the more we practice, the more adept we become. And that long term commitment is… well, perfect for parenting.
Director of Programming
Echo Parenting and Education is a community based center in the Echo Park area of Downtown Los Angeles that advocates and teaches nonviolence in child raising. They teach parents, teachers and others who strongly influence children’s lives an approach that integrates current research in human development with the practice of nonviolence.