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Unicorns, Leprechauns, and the Perfect Parent

Being informed and educated is usually a good thing. It can also do damage if it is allowed to dictate every action we take. I know I was not a perfect parent, but I did the best with what I had.
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Much has been written about the perfect parent. Most of what is presented tries to help those crazy enough to take on the task of fatherhood or motherhood understand that the perfect parent is a mythical creature. Unfortunately, in our busy world, this piece of wisdom often never makes it to young parents. Our technology-based society sometimes offers parents too much information. They can Google themselves into confusion and self-doubt as they search for that perfect answer to handle decisions about their children's growth and development. The sad result of that quest for the "holy grail" of parenting decision making is the creation of a world of pressure and guilt.

A handy pocket thesaurus offers many synonyms for the word perfect. The list includes immaculate, absolute, faultless, impeccable, infallible, pure, blameless, and unblemished. I feel the pressure just from typing the list. To make it worse, I decided to look at some antonyms for the word perfect. The pressure increases dramatically if we look at what it means not to be perfect. That list includes incomplete, meagre, faulty, defective, imperfect, deficient, fallible, and marred. What a slug you are if you aren't perfect. It is no wonder parents feel pressured.

I am the father of four children, and my children are now having their own children. I often feel bad for them, as they are bombarded with information about what they do right or wrong as a parent. Each generation has more theories as well as studies about proper parenting. Most of these hypotheses and clinical results are presented as the only paths to follow. The studies are often based on weak research and biased reports. This information often connects to the bottom line of parenting -- the success or failure of your child.

Additional parenting pressure touches on every aspect of the parents' and children's lives. We scrutinize every morsel of food they ingest. If a child throws up after riding the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster just after eating a funnel cake, a hot dog, and slice of pizza, it somehow is connected to an allergy. Guilt is attached to whether a mother breast-feeds her child. If you don't enroll your child in the proper preschool, he or she will end up homeless. If a child hasn't read War and Peace by the second grade, he or she has failed. Try not to say no to your child because it could damage his or her self-esteem. Elementary school students must take high school classes, high schoolers need to be in advanced placement or college-level courses. Sports programs must be world-class and year-round, or your child will never have a chance at the Heisman trophy. It's exhausting just to think about how we strive for our perception of perfection.

The media and the world of marketing often help perpetuate as well as magnify the problem. Both children and adults are manipulated to change their wants into needs. We are told we need certain clothes, food, cars, houses, schools, clubs, and sports programs for our families to be successful. The pressure on both parents and children is unfathomable.

Being informed and educated is usually a good thing. It can also do damage if it is allowed to dictate every action we take. I know I was not a perfect parent, but I did the best with what I had. I also know that I was not bombarded with the articles and studies about how I was messing up my kids. Nobody ever said that being a parent is easy, but our hyperfocus about what is right and wrong in parenting has horribly confused the issue. The focus does not need to be on the exact foods a 2014 study says your child needs to eat. The focus does not have to be on the exact educational decisions. There is no ideal path. Breastfeeding will not determine whether your child gets into an Ivy League school.

I am a building contractor. I construct buildings by following blueprints. The problem with parenting is that there is no blueprint. There is no perfect method, the target is constantly moving, and the path for every child is different. Although parenting is tough, a piece of it is very simple. If a child knows that he or she is loved, there is a good chance that things will turn out all right. Although I made some mistakes as a parent, my one hope and goal was that my kids would always know that they are loved. At 60-plus years of age and after 35-plus years as a parent, I feel I have earned the right to pass on some advice to young parents. Stop chasing that mythical creature and chill just a bit. If you focus on making sure your child knows he or she is loved, it will be all right.