What do our kids really need? Do they need to go to Harvard? Do they need to have the coolest sneakers? Do they need to be the most popular?
If you’re like me, you probably obsessed over their needing everything, from the best education right down to the coolest sneakers. I mean, can you imagine what might happen if they don’t have the coolest sneakers?
This may sound silly, but it comes from a painful place. We imagine that if we are the perfect parent we will give our children everything they need. We tell ourselves that if we do everything just right then our kids will be happy—and escape the problems and difficulties we experienced. We’re not really worried about cool sneakers; we’re worried about our children suffering.
Let me tell you how perfectly I played this one out. I studied psychology, so I knew lots about the methods to optimize learning opportunities for children—and I embraced all of them!
When my son was born, I did exercises with him to help create optimum neural pathways in his developing brain. I spun him around in a chair to develop his balance (you know, like they do for astronauts in training). I made sure he had every opportunity to practice his creeping and crawling because that was so important for right/left brain integration.
I was going to make sure my child was a winner (whatever that means). I was driven to be a 24/7 perfect mom. I was also stressed out of my mind and very anxious. I was terrified when I was pregnant with my daughter. I knew I couldn’t be twice as diligent. I was hanging on by a thread.
It took me years to understand that maybe striving for perfection wasn’t so perfect. I remember when it hit me: We were at Disney World. Of course, we had to go on every ride because that is what a perfect mom would do. We stayed right by the park so we could get in an hour before it opened to the public, and we spent that hour running from one ride to the next. Literally running—I wanted to get us on as many rides as possible before it got crowded.
As the day went on, we walked by a fountain where the water jumps all around and my daughter ran in to play. I let her play for a few minutes, but then it was time to hurry off to the next thing. She wanted to stay longer. I said, “We don’t want to miss the parade, let’s move it!” She looked disappointed but reluctantly came with me, and we rushed to get good seats for the parade.
Later that night in the hotel room, we were talking about our favorite things from the day. When it was my daughter’s turn, she said, “Playing in the fountain!” At first I was kind of annoyed. I thought to myself, “I brought you all the way to Disney World and went through all that trouble and expense for you to play in a fountain?! We can do that at home!” That’s when it hit me. What was I doing? Wasn’t the whole idea of going to Disney to enjoy ourselves? I was so busy “accomplishing” Disney that I had turned it into a marathon (which it is anyway). Wouldn’t it have been better to miss some of the rides, but be relaxed rather than running after a drill-sergeant mom who was always saying, “Hurry up, hurry up!” I was totally wrapped up in being a perfect mom, but what did they really need?
I thought back to my best memories with my own parents. We used to rent a bungalow on a lake in upstate New York during the summers. My dad would come up on weekends. One night we went for a swim in the lake. There was a bench on the dock, and after the swim my dad sat down and I put my head in his lap and laid on the bench covered in a towel, under the stars. Now, my childhood was packed with vacations, travel, theater…yet my best memory of my dad was lying on a bench with my head in his lap. It was a magical moment and a memory I still cherish 60 years later.
What our kids need is us. They just want us to be there.
I was so obsessed with being the perfect parent that I was not giving my kids what they really needed and wanted—just to be with me. I learned to relax more and tried to just enjoy being with them. I went from being the “perfect mom” to being the “good enough” mom. This absolutely changed my life, and theirs as well.
Are you sitting there thinking, “This is a nice story, but I really do have a lot to do! I have carpools to run, work to do, cooking to finish…” Of course, this is all true. But I’m telling you that just a few minutes a day of really being there changes everything. That is what they need. You will never be perfect. Stop beating yourself up and just let yourself enjoy them a little. You might even find your favorite moment is watching a movie with them in your pajamas, eating ice cream out of a carton. (Haagen Dazs is my fave.) Or maybe even just sitting on a bench under the stars.
Jewel Safren is an LCSW with decades of experience helping her clients get to the root cause of their emotional struggles while maintaining stability in their personal lives. Jewel lives in Fairlawn, New Jersey, with her husband, and uses her frequent flyer miles to visit her four kids and three grandkids (and one on the way!). You can contact Jewel at 973-464-8556 or [email protected]