Being there means more than being perfect

March 17, 2015

I have something to admit and it’s no secret: I am not a perfect parent. In fact, I am not even close, just ask my children. I am sure they can tell you of many instances when I could have done a better job, been more fair, or listened more closely.

But, still, they have turned out very well in spite of my inadequacies. I credit them with that success.

I am not sure parents can ever be guilt-free. We feel guilty about what we are feeding our children. We worry about whether we should have made them wear a coat. We think we should have helped them more with their homework and worry about discipline. Was I too strong? Was I too lenient or not consistent? Was that battle worth fighting?

Then we feel guilty if we think later that we should have done something differently.

No, there are no perfect parents. And much of that is because perfect children don’t exist (although some grandparents would argue that point).

Children are not miniatures of us. They have their own opinions, thoughts, and needs. As parents, we try to fill those needs as much as we can. We try to be available and teach them and train them. We feed them, clothe them, teach them responsibility, and give them talents and opportunities.

But we make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because if we don’t make mistakes sometimes, it would mean that we aren’t involved in our children’s lives.

In 10 Secrets Wise Parents Know, Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick, wrote:

Much has been said about quality time versus quantity time. It is a discussion that only adults and busy parents have. Children usually don’t make distinctions. To them, quantity time is quality time. There can be no quality without a considerable measure of quantity. To think that sporadic, intense interaction can make up for long periods of limited personal contact or even neglect is ludicrous.

I knew one mother who wasn’t more than a housekeeper. She had almost nothing to do with her children, and when she did, the children felt like they were nuisances to her. She kept the house clean, but spent as much time as she could in her bedroom, trying to escape spending time with her little ones. At least one of those children was very hurt by her lack of involvement—me.

Perhaps she never yelled at us. Perhaps she never was impatient. But she didn’t teach us to cook, to sew, or to clean; it was much easier to just do those things herself. She didn’t teach us piano or gardening or even how to get along with other people. She didn’t take us swimming; she sent us there on our own, riding our bikes.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Every parent needs a break. But what was glaringly obvious was that she just didn’t want her children around and sent us away every chance she could find.

She dyed Easter eggs with us once, but she didn’t smile the whole time and it was clear that she was anxious to get the ordeal over with.

She didn’t ask how our school days were. Sure, every day we had clean clothes available. But our mother wasn’t. Our rooms were cleaned for us, but we craved her smile and approval.

It’s hard for a child to think anyone else can love them if it seems their own parent doesn’t care. Having a perfect parent isn’t necessary. Having a parent who cares and is involved is what really matters.

Yes, we will make mistakes and the house will be crazy at times. The family room might get messy, and there might not be any clean bowls left. But that doesn’t matter. Your time matters. Your smile matters. Your hug matters. Your delight in seeing them come through the door matters. Your presence at their events matters. Those are the important things.

To be able to do some good as a parent, we need to be there in person, but that isn’t enough. We also need to be willing to give our time and attention. We need to not only be there, but be there for them.

We will not be perfect parents. But if we are trying and if we are involved, we will be good enough.

Donna Howard is a mother of ten children—yes, ten—a grandmother of six, and has served as a foster parent. She has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and composition. She teaches elementary music methods to education majors and owns her own band instrument repair business.

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