You Don’t Have To Make Up for Not Being a Perfect Parent

perfect parent - baby in box image

DrMarkhamThumbnailDr. Laura Markham
Founder of | Author


Most of us aspire to give our kids a fairy-tale holiday. After all, there’s nothing quite like seeing our child’s face shining with joy.

But there’s a deeper fantasy driving most of us this time of year. On some level, we hope that a picture-perfect holiday will help make up for those times when we haven’t been ideal parents. Maybe we even yearn for the perfect holiday to somehow repair those things that left us lonely or hurting from our own childhoods. Like most unconscious needs, this one fuels a fierce frenzy of activity and drama that’s destined to fail.

perfect parent - baby in box imageWe can heal the past, but not by frosting it over with a fantasy holiday for our kids. Yes, the holidays can be a magical time, and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to create that. Yes, it is healing to give love to our children. And yes, the more we love, the more we heal ourselves.

But it’s definitely not healing to stay up around the clock buying, decorating, cooking, stressing, gritting our teeth and forcing our family into something that may look good on Instagram, but feels awful because we’re wound way too tight.

Our fantasy of the perfect family holiday can drive us to do more, more, more.  But more of what we didn’t need to begin with can’t fill those deep longings. There’s a better way.

1. Acknowledge your own deep longings.

It’s ok, we all have them. Tell yourself that you deserve that big love, and that you’re going to get it by giving it to yourself. Not with superficial trimmings, but inside your own heart, with real self-acceptance and self-appreciation. Fill your cup with self-nurture of all kinds, and remember there’s no substitute for looking in the mirror and pouring love into your own hungry heart. No, that’s not silly or selfish. It’s essential. If you can’t love yourself, how can you love your child?

2. Ditch the Guilt.

Don’t feel guilty about that present you can’t afford for your child this year.  That’s not what your child needs to be happy. Presents can be wonderful, but they aren’t real love, they can’t buy you love, and they don’t actually help your child feel loved on a deep level.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to make up for not being a perfect parent. No one is. You’re modeling how to be a graciously imperfect human, how to apologize and repair, which is what your child needs to grow into a gracious human herself. Just resolve to keep choosing love as often as possible when you’re interacting with your child. That’s all anyone can do, and it really is enough.

3. Give your child something better than fantasy.

Instead of the focus on material things that can never be enough, slow down and focus with your child on connection and meaning. Kids spell LOVE with the letters TIME. Pouring your adoring presence into your child as you share a holiday tradition will do more to fill his cup than a mountain of presents. The tradition can be as complicated as making a gingerbread house or as simple as looking at the candles or the twinkly lights together.

4. Do some healing.

It is possible to heal our own childhoods. We start by acknowledging our wounds and understanding that whatever happened was information about them, not about us.  We grieve the perfect childhood we didn’t get, and we love ourselves back to health. The key is to notice the feelings, acknowledge them, and resist acting on them. It takes courage and tears and hard work, and it takes time. Why not take another step toward health right now by embracing that little one inside you with compassion?

5. Let life be more than enough, just as it is.

Give yourself permission to let go of perfect. Perfect just gets in the way of love. Real parents get reality holidays, complete with cranky kids, messy kitchens, and moments that move you to tears.

You don’t need to create a perfect holiday. Because you’re already more than enough, just as you are.

This post was originally posted at on 12/8/15

About Dr. Laura Markham

DrMarkham180tallDr. Laura Markham is the founder of and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. Dr. Laura says that earning her PhD in clinical psychology at Columbia University was just the beginning of her education as a psychologist. Becoming a mother convinced her that parents are doing the hardest job in the world, and need more support. She says her aspiration is to change the world, one child at a time — by supporting parents.

View all posts by Dr. Laura Markham here.


13 Comments on “You Don’t Have To Make Up for Not Being a Perfect Parent”

  1. Wow!!! This really hit home for me! You have no idea how desperately that I needed to read this and realize that this is so true! I can’t thank you enough for sharing this with all of us!

    1. Glad you found this post helpful, Haylee! No one is perfect. We all need a little reminder about that sometimes.

  2. This hit me right in the heart. When my kids opened up there 30 presents each, I have 2 kids and I got there presents free thanks to Toys for Tots and CouponClipinista when they were opening up the presents I seen in my daughter a face of distgust like ugh another present instead of yay I a happy for another present when my daughter was half way through. My son was excited all the way through he is 2 and always excited. When I seen the pictures from last year they barely had 20 presents together and she was so excited in every picture. I thought this year that I had to buy my kids more gifts because it has been rough with my husband being out of work but now I realize that I didn’t have to spend hours on the computer trying to win everything for them. I forgot the true meaning of Christmas this year.

    1. Janelle, so glad to hear that this post was touching for you. Remember, nobody is perfect! It sounds like you’re working very hard to do what you can for your children. Happy holidays to you and your family!

  3. I needed this today! With so much going on during the Holiday’s, trying to be a perfect parent is exhausting! Ends up making the whole time not fun. Thank you for the article!

    1. That’s right, Brooke! It’s exhausting and impossible to try to be perfect! Happy holidays to you and your family.

  4. Great post. I do spend a lot of time stressing over parenting so this is a great reminder of how to refocus on the things most important

    1. Glad you found it helpful, Shannon! Thanks for commenting. It’s hard not to stress out about parenting, but none of us our perfect!

  5. Great post! This year has been a really hard year for our family so this year I said, “no expectation!’ It has been such a simpler Christmas this year and since my kiddos are young they can’t tell the difference from last year to this year.

    1. Sorry to hear it’s been a tough year, Shannon. But sometimes telling yourself that you don’t need big expectations is the right thing to do! Sometimes we get comparing ourselves to unrealistic ideals. We’re humans; we’re allowed to be imperfect! Happy holidays to you and your family!

  6. I agree we spend way too much time trying to make the perfect holiday for everyone that we forget the real meaning of the season. We don’t actually take the time to enjoy and cherish this special time of year with our loved ones.

    1. Very well said, Debbie! Thanks for the comment. Hope you and your family have a great holiday season!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *