It’s easy to lose sight of what our kids really need from us. Here’s how to stop striving for perfection and embrace the flawed reality


by Hope Brotherton |

Social media has a lot to answer for. While we scroll through photos of other parents doing a great job of raising their children, we can often look at our own offspring and feel that, by comparison, we’re making a mess of it.

But the social media illusion of perfection is unhelpful.

So says The Good Enough Parent, a new book from The School of Life, an organisation that aims to help us find calm and self-understanding with workshops, games and books.

It argues that the key job of any parent is not to be perfect, but to gently guide a child through childhood and out into our imperfect world.

The 20 or so years that young humans spend growing up, leave us more exposed to the quirks of our parents than is usual in the animal kingdom. But there’s no need to fear that if we don’t parent perfectly, our children are doomed.

Childhood is a messy, confusing, complex journey. It isn’t always happy — and it shouldn’t be. Society might have us believe that happiness is the ultimate goal, but children need to know it’s OK to feel sad sometimes.

Toby Marshall, Head of The School of Life Press, says: ‘Every life, even one that may seem to be the best life possible, is touched by sadness in some form. Sadness is a real and appropriate response to many of the tragedies of life.

‘We need not worry if someone seems sad from time to time — in fact it would be more worrying if someone didn’t know how to feel sad.’

This is all the more important in adolescence, a time when our children navigate big changes to their bodies and minds. Children learn about the world from those around them. So while we might joke that we want to avoid marrying someone who reminds us of our parents, it can be a good thing if we recreate the relationships of our childhood as adults, if the adult relationships we witness are positive.

‘Being able to build and maintain healthy relationships, be they with family, a partner or colleagues, is a vital skill and central to navigating life,’ says Toby. ‘Teaching children about relationships goes on continually within families without us even knowing. It is from us that our children learn, or fail to learn, the components of satisfactory adult relationships.’

But no matter how well we think the first 12 years of our children’s lives went, when they hit the teenage years, they can begin to show signs that might lead us to think that we have failed them.

They seem to want to spend all their time in their bedroom, as far from us as possible.

‘Adolescence can be six years of grumpiness, but if our teenagers tell us they hate us, it’s a good thing,’ says Toby.

It sounds counterintuitive, but Toby believes it’s an enormous tribute to the parents if their teenage children tell them they loathe them.

He says: ‘It’s not a sign something has gone wrong. It’s evidence that the child knows they are loved. It would be more concerning if a teenager was so worried about not being loved that they feared putting a foot wrong.’

Whatever stage your children are at, it’s important that, as parents, we try to be good enough — and no more.

‘Perfect parents would set a standard besides which our children would always feel like failures,’ says Toby. ‘Flawed but kind parents prepare their children for the world and their role in it — deeply imperfect but good enough.’

How to let go of perfect

Be Loving

Children need to be deeply loved. Difficult children do not need punishment and a lecture, they need to be heard. Be forgiving and present, considerate and kind.

Be Curious

Children are naturally curious, which can be exhausting, but they remind us what the world looks like when it’s brand new. So try to encourage their curiosity and help them find the answers to their questions.

Be Good Enough

Loving, curious parents are good enough parents. If you are trying your best, there’s no need to chastise yourself when you occasionally make mistakes. Perfect parenting is a fantasy, at odds with the reality of raising children.

Edited by Kim Willis

The Good Enough Parent, by The School of Life, is available from, priced £15.

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