The Perfect Parent
by Brian Leaf
The twentieth-century philosopher Fred Rogers said, “My hunch is that if we allow ourselves to give who we really are to the children in our care, we will in some way inspire cartwheels in their hearts.” Then he put on his sweater and changed into sneakers.
Maybe I can come clean to Noah and the world that this parenting thing is pretty darn challenging. That I have no idea what to do quite a bit of the time.
Another modern philosopher, Louis Szekely, who is, albeit, from a different school of philosophy than Mr. Rogers, has his own take on this: “It’s hard having kids because it’s boring. . . . They read Clifford the Big Red Dog to you at a rate of fifty minutes a page and you have to sit there and be horribly proud and bored at the same time.” Louis Szekely, also known as Louis C.K., certainly speaks his mind.
We’re not superhuman or infallible. And our kids will wear us down and find this out. When we’ve got nothing left, they will ask for one more story. While we’re having sex for the first time in seven weeks, they will wake up and call for a glass of water. And they will call us on our hypocrisies.
So I’d like to stop trying to be perfect. Instead, I’d like to model being human. To learn from my mistakes. To apologize when I mess up. My plan: forgive myself and move on. Kids are so incredibly dynamic. Today I can start being the parent I want to be. And if today does not go quite right, forgive myself again and start fresh tomorrow.
Last week, I was at an eye exam for Noah. The doctor was kind of a jerk. He wanted to put drops in Noah’s eyes, which I can accept. But apparently, he had not read Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears. And he certainly was not versed in Larry Cohen’s very excellent Playful Parentingapproach. This doctor would have made a very fine navy admiral. But as a pediatric optometrist, I’d say he was ill suited.
He was frustrated that Noah, age two, did not want to sit still for the drops. Which is weird. Was Noah his first patient? Maybe pediatric medicine was a new career for him, perhaps after retiring from the NYPD vice squad.
So the doctor commanded me to hold Noah down while he put in the drops. Noah was crying wildly. I was caught off guard by the doc’s order, so I did it. I held Noah down against his will while the doctor put in the drops.
Afterwards, Noah cried some more. But then he moved on pretty easily, thrilled to play with the toys in the waiting room while his eyes dilated.
I, on the other hand, felt terrible. I was sure I could have found a less violent way to get the drops in. I had overpowered Noah physically and felt I had betrayed him. I was beating myself up. But then a friend reminded me that my job as a parent is not to model being perfect, but to model being human and compassionate and forgiving.
When we got home, I apologized to Noah and told him that I would never do that again. Which I think is valuable. I don’t need to model getting everything right. That would be too neurotic. It’s okay to mess up. I just need to model taking responsibility, apologizing for my mistakes, and forgiving myself.
After all, kids learn from what we tell them, sure. But even more, they learn from what we do. So if I can do this, if I can forgive myself, well, then, Noah will likely learn to forgive himself.
And that would truly be something worth passing along.
This article is excerpted from Brian Leaf’s book Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting.