The perfect parent

Back when I had Kiddo1, my mother told me not to try being a perfect mother, but instead to be a good-enough mother. Since there are no perfect mothers, you’d pretty much kill yourself trying to live up to the standard. The advice sounds good, and I think the theory is sound, but of course we never know what’s good-enough. You can always find a way you fell short.

At church, the homily was about God as a perfect parent, and the priest (who, I might add, has no biological children) said something about how we can see glimmers of God’s perfect parenting in the parenting we see around us. My reaction to that is always to compare myself to “a perfect parent” and of course we get the big “SURVEY SAYS….X.”

Today, though, it struck me: when I picture a “perfect parent,” I also picture a perfect child. These perfect parents in my head are painting at the kitchen table, or doing crafts, or going for long walks in the park, and the child is pliant, clean, cheerful, well-rested. I don’t picture the perfect parent dealing with a child who’s screaming “I HATE YOU ALL!” because he can’t find his left sneaker, or a child who’s still on the couch twenty minutes after saying she’ll set the table. I’m certainly not picturing the perfect parent dealing with a child who’s destroying someone’s property during a meltdown or being physically violent.

If God is a perfect parent, and none of us are perfect…well, the conclusion here is that I’m missing the point. That the state of the child is not a verdict on the state of the parenting. Because if God is the parent to us all, and people are people (think of the person who infuriates you the most, or the person whose behavior leaves you shaking your head) then there’s something more to perfect parenting than rearing perfect children with their loving smiles and their clean clothes and their crafts at the kitchen table.  In other words, perfection is in the loving response to the child rather than the child as a product.

I haven’t processed this yet. Feel free to tell me where I’ve missed the boat.


  1. Normandie

    Very comforting connection, Jane. We do our best as parents, and that’s all we can do. My children have had to forgive me for my less-than-perfection in raising them, and I must forgive my own for their failings–just as I must forgive myself. It’s all in the journey–the learning, the trying, the coping, the doing our best. Those of us who had perfection drilled into our head have a harder time coping with the fact that nary a one of us will measure up. And when we deal with children who have special needs or who throw tantrums or who rebel, we have to struggle along and realize that with the Father God helping, we’ll come out on the other side. I once heard the Lord tell me that my children were not His grandchildren–and that I could trust Him in the parenting business as well.

    1. philangelus

      “my children were not His grandchildren” –> that’s awesome. I like that a lot. 🙂

      My dad told me that we spend the rest of our lives recovering from our parenting.

  2. Jason Block

    You nailed it. My mother was a controlling, evil person. I turned it out pretty ok. Kids turn out great DESPITE parents a lot of the time. There is no such thing as perfect parents. 🙂

  3. k8e308

    Wow…I’ll be processing that for awhile.

  4. cricketB

    If we were perfect parents — it would be like the too-perfect line in a book still under construction. You know, the line that stops the story from doing what it needs to do. When I drop my kids at school, I often remind them that embarrassing them is in my job description, just like annoying her brother is in hers.

    Perfect is giving the kid what he needs, when he needs it. Perfect is realizing that any good moment is worth remembering.

    I read an article in an office last night about parents of autistic kids who are so concerned with teaching the child to play properly and getting the best services they can and setting up a good environment and not missing any teachable moment that they never rebuild their own reserves, don’t take credit for the work they’ve already done, and don’t teach the kid how to simply enjoy being with other people.

    Yes, there are examples of perfect parenting around us. They don’t look like Martha Stewart or Mary Poppins. They’re frazzled. They need a reassuring hand. They’ll do anything for their kids. They get conflicting advice. They show their kids how to climb back on the wagon time and time again, how to smell the roses and how to accept people for who they are.

  5. enlightenedflowerwisdom

    “perfection is in the loving response to the child rather than the child as a product” – is beautifully stated.

    I agree whole-heartedly that the final-ness of a child’s person-hood is not in result of the parents. My biological parents raised me, and at age 39 i STILL ask them when they’re going to tell me the truth that i was adopted, because i’m so different from them. I learned alot of stuff from my mom, but there is still TWO of us influencing the other.

    And, if nothing else, take a pair of twins raised in the same environment; they’re not photo-copies of the other.