LIFE

Why You'll Never Be The Perfect Parent (And That's Okay)

'Perfection doesn’t work in everything. Not in relationships, not in cooking, not in parenting.'

18/07/2017 10:45 PM AEST | Updated 18/07/2017 10:45 PM AEST

When it comes to parenting in 2017, comparison is rife. Never before has it been so easy to see how other people are doing things (or at least, how they say they're doing things) and wonder if your own approach is up to scratch.

While common sense will tell you that what happens on social media and in real life are very different, sometimes, you can't help but look at that mum who makes those amazing bento boxes for her kids' lunch and feel somewhat lacking. Or perhaps you'll look at her and pity her for having too much time on her hands. Either way, judgment is happening.

And according to author and parenting specialist Maggie Dent, it's not healthy.

"I think it was a lot easier when we lived in our own little bubbles," Dent told HuffPost Australia.

"It's natural for mums to want the best things for our kids -- we are wired to want to be the best mums ever -- but nowadays with social media and Dr Google... it's almost like an overload of information. Actually it's way, way, way too much information.

"Any choice a parent makes that doesn't necessarily work for their child, they keep on going back and comparing and thinking that they were wrong. Whereas in actual fact, you can't control a child's development.

"We are creating an environment in which parents are stressed and second-guessing their instincts."

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According to Dent, a saturation of parenting literature -- whether it be books, blogs, advice forums or social media posts -- has helped create an unrealistic ideal of what certain children should be achieving at any given age.

And if they're not doing what they're 'meant' to? Both parent and child suffer.

"Something I tell parents all the time is 'every single child is a unique miracle, and no parenting book has ever been written about your child'," Dent told HuffPost Australia.

"Your child is completely unique, and if they aren't doing what's on the graph or whatnot, you're not wrong and your child's not wrong -- you just haven't found the right solution at that moment."

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Dent recalled a conversation she had with one particular Perth mum who lamented the fact her son never managed to complete the chores set out for him in the morning.

"I asked her what he was meant to do, and it was this list which included things like getting out of bed, eating breakfast, getting dressed, brushing his teeth, making his bed, picking up all his toys, putting lunch in his lunchbox... and then I asked how old he was and he wasn't quite four.

"I was like, 'hello? Your list is too long!' She was setting him up to fail every day because she had unrealistic expectations developmentally. And further to that, she was setting herself up to fail."

Unrealistic expectations is something Dent says she sees a lot of in her line of work, and something she tries hard to temper.

"Perfection doesn't work in everything," she said. "Not in relationships, not in cooking, not in parenting. It is an absolutely unhealthy pressure that we are finding in this highly visible world."

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"As you know, most people you know on Instagram only put their best photos up, and it's easy to see why," she continued.

"I think the realism is, it's a tough gig. It's often as boring as bat poo. It can be repetitive and there are days you'll lock yourself in your toilet and wonder why you ever started having kids in the first place.

"Then five minutes later the child who drove you into the toilet has gone and completely melted your heart."

To keep yourself from going mad, Dent advocates what she calls an 80/20 approach to parenting.

"Eighty percent of the time, you do the best you can. The other 20 percent you realise it's not going to work out today for some reason, and you're not wrong and your child isn't wrong.

A calm mum or a mum that allows herself to laugh and relax is a much more effective mum.

"Let's not make it about being wrong, let's stop stressing," she said. "Some parents are so hard on themselves.

"I've had mums who tell me they wake up and lie awake all night thinking about how [their children] didn't eat broccoli today. To that I say, 'on a life scale, does it matter?'

"I'm going to tell you there have been times where a totally acceptable meal for my sons was a toasted sandwich. I didn't do it all the time -- it would be on a 20 percent night -- but if you're an exhausted parent, there's nothing wrong with chicken nuggets for dinner and calling it a 20 percent day.

"A calm mum or a mum that allows herself to laugh and relax is a much more effective mum. It means her emotional barometer is in a better space when the shit hits the fan."

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