The Unattainable Parent of the Year Award

You've just spent the past 24 hours getting up every three hours to feed your baby. In that span, you've changed six diapers, watched countless episodes of The Bachelor on your phone, and really only maybe got three solid hours of restful sleep. Is that the baby crying again, or is it the endless chirping of the dying smoke detector? Truth is, you're not sure.

You look terrible, and your friends aren't afraid to say so. Those sweatpants you're wearing are becoming so much a part of you that you're afraid to put jeans on because they just feel wrong. When you go to drop off the kids you hope you don't see anyone you know so you pull your hoodie over your head trying not to get noticed by that parent that always seems to be shower fresh. Every. damn. day. 

Meanwhile, your other kids were up early asking for pancakes with blueberries inside, and you're struggling with even pouring the cereal before your morning coffee. The bus is coming, and no one can find their shoes. Oh, and did I mention that your son has a big project due today that he conveniently forgot about while he was playing video games all day yesterday? 

Everyday we fail at parenting in some way. It's not mommy brain. It's not because we are the doofus dad. Here's an awful truth that we must all face. We are human, and we are going to make a ton of mistakes. Parenting is hard.

I sat in a meeting with other parents who are mostly moms, quietly listening to them tear themselves down. They seemed to think that they qualified for "Mom of the Year" based on all the ways they have perceived that they have failed their children.

My parents weren't perfect. They used to chase me around the dining room table trying to get me to swim lessons. They probably watched me flounder in the deep end, wondering if the lessons were really paying off while the teenager lifeguards paid little to no attention while they hit on each other. You know what? Someone throw me a lifesaver because sometimes it feels like I'm drowning.

Perfection and parenting are like water and oil. They just do not go together. We have this weird obsession with doing everything right for our kids. Striving for perfection puts unrelenting stress on anyone who wants to be the best. We want to show up to the bake sale with homemade muffins that every kid despite his allergies can eat. We want our kids to have the best diorama like they are presenting at MIT.  Wanting everything to be perfect puts this undue pressure on ourselves while sending a message to our children that anything short of flawless is a failure.

I don't know about you, but saying I am the worst parent ever so that someone else can build me up doesn't help with my confidence.  Does hearing how others fail miserably really make us feel better about our faults, or is this like a scene out of Jaws where we all compare our scars to see who has the biggest one of all? The truth is, we all need a bigger boat.

There is a certain amount of guilt associated with being a parent. It's the reason our mothers are so good at guilt trips. Somehow they have channeled all those feelings of self-loathing into this parental superpower. We feel guilty when our focus isn't completely on the kids. It's no wonder we feel inadequate.

We used to be so fixated on ourselves before we had kids. We were the priority. When the kids came along, we shifted that attention on them and when things don't go completely right, we feel a sense of failure. Athletes fail and work harder to improve. Scientists experiment and go back to the drawing board. Why do we as parents think parenting would be any different?

We fail so we can get back up. We fail because we are human. We fail because parent of the year is an unattainable goal. So when the kids are napping, do something for yourself for a change. Don't feel guilty about doing something for you. They will show up soon enough asking you for snacks and whining about something. Binge watch Netflix without guilt. Play video games until your eyes are bloodshot. You deserve it because no one is a perfect parent.

Chris Bernholdt is a local stay-at-home dad of three and founder of the Philly Dads Group. This post is adapted from his blog DadNCharge.

Categories: MomSpeak