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Being an Imperfect Parent

Being an Imperfect Parent

Perfectionists are living in the wrong world. Teach your children how to avoid this debilitating habit.


There's only one consistently perfect thing in this world: snowflakes. They're beautiful, unique, perfectly shaped -- but they melt. Quickly.

Imperfection is this world's hallmark. That goes for parenting, too.

Recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect parent is an important step toward being a good parent.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Recognizing that is an important step toward being a good parent.

Good parents help their children understand and accept imperfection in the world and in themselves. And yet, many well-intentioned, loving parents unwittingly teach their own children to be perfectionists.


Perfectionists cannot separate who they are from how well they do.

Every single time a perfectionist has a task or test, it's life-threatening. They're good only if they do well. If they don't do well, something is wrong with them.

It's a recipe for disaster.

Doomed to countless tiny failures (since, after all, the perfectionist is living in an imperfect world), children develop a low self-image and lack confidence in their ability to do things – because doing things means doing them perfectly, and that just about never happens.

If you don't want your kid to be a perfectionist, don't be one yourself.

If you're a perfectionist, your child is bound to learn to relate to the world in the same way. The most important aspect of teaching your child to accept imperfection is to model that behavior in yourself.

When your child comes home and tells you that he got an 85 on the test, don't say, "And why'd you get those wrong?" That's homicide.


Children have to be caught doing things right. Proper education of your children -- in school subjects or in life-- builds on their successes. Consider the way children learn to speak:

You don't sit down with your 16-month-old to familiarize her with the sounds of the 26 letters of the alphabet and their combinations, and then have her practice holding her tongue in place for each.

She just speaks!

In Spain, mothers and fathers are called "madre" and "padre." In Israel, they're called "Ima" and "Abba."

A 16-month-old sitting in a height chair in Israel gurgling "mah, mah, mah…" is just speaking babytalk. In Spain, though, the baby's mom jumps up, claps her hands and calls her mother to tell her that the baby started talking: "She tried to say 'madre!' "

In Israel, "ma, ma, ma" means nothing, but if she said "Eem, eem, eem…" the grandmother gets a call. And the baby learns to say it again.

So why don't we insist on perfect syntax from the beginning? Because we understand that one day "walwa" will become "water." We accept imperfection that allows us to get closer to perfection.

Imperfection is what allows us to get closer to perfection.


A few decades ago, the media started talking about a "generation gap" because kids felt their parents didn't understand them. In the Jewish community, my teacher, of blessed memory, Rav Simcha Wasserman, said that this stemmed in part from the bizarre phenomenon called the My-son-the-doctor Syndrome.

Parents wanted what we call nachas -- pride and pleasure -- from their children, which is natural. And they defined that as coming from a kid who's a medical professional.

The problem is that they related to their child as a nachas machine: he is here to give me pleasure. Well, he's not. That attitude makes the child feel that his parents' decisions are not necessarily for his good. "Achievement" for its own sake isn't necessarily for his good.

Your definition of success must be broad enough to allow for non-academic achievement, and to represent who your child really is. You have to find out what they're good at. That means you have to know them.


Feel good about your and your child's accomplishments. That's the antidote to perfectionism. Revel in the happiness of accomplishment. And don't discount the small ones.

They're not small for two reasons: First, what do you think big accomplishments are made of anyway?

Second, no good deed gets lost. Just as in physics matter is neither created nor destroyed, so too in the spiritual world, everything is forever. Even the smallest thing you do should give you pleasure forever. No good word uttered ever goes lost. No smile that you give is ever lost. So rejoice in it.

February 19, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Yisroel, January 29, 2017 6:28 PM

Nachas Machine

I like that term.

When I first told my mother that I got this great job her first reaction was, " I don't bring up lemons." It was all about her and how it makes her look or feel. I never forgot even though, many years have past. It taught me to be happy for my kids and others, share in their joy and not how I feel. It's not about me!!!

(1) Anonymous, May 5, 2002 12:00 AM

I enjoyed reading your artical on being an imperfect parent.All of your tips are great! I have two small children and one is an strait A student and the other one is not. We suspect he has ADD and are having him tested. After reading your artical, it has given me alot to think about like praising him on the little things he does right and not always the big things he does wrong. I think the results will be grand.

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