Parent guilt: The problem with perfection

May 8th, 2017

I participated in a wonderful youth group when I was in high school. My youth leader talked about the importance of praying every day, reading Scripture and living a moral life. I began setting my alarm 20 minutes early so that I could start my day off right. I’d pray, read the Bible and reflect on the ways I could be a better Christian. I knew this was the way to be the best Christian I could be. This time quickly diverged into the newest way I wasn’t good enough. I would oversleep 10 minutes and beat myself up all through the remaining 10 minutes. I resented these practices and I resented myself for not being a better person. The grace God freely gives to us all seemed farther out of reach, and I felt undeserving.

I have battled the pervasiveness of perfectionism since this particular instance as a youth. Our culture constantly pushes us to strive to succeed and to be the best. It’s hard to imagine that God isn’t looking for us to be perfect when it seems like everything else implicitly teaches us that, in order to be worthy people, we must be perfect people. One of the things I have to remind myself of when I get caught in the cycle of perfectionism is this: God’s love is bigger. I don’t have to do things perfectly to be a good, deserving person. In fact, striving to be perfect distracts from a true relationship with God and from relationships with God’s people. Let go and trust in the process.

As a Christian educator, I have talked with several parents about this very thing showing up in their parenting. They feel guilty for not having unlimited time to get everything done perfectly for their child. They fear they can’t read or teach the Bible to their child, because they don’t have an answer to every question. They worry that they aren’t praying correctly and aren’t modeling Christianity for their child in the best ways. Have you felt this guilt? Have you fallen prey to perfectionism?

Take a breath and remember the following things:

1. There is no one right way to be a teacher of faith for your child. Free yourself from the example you have in your mind about how raising your child to be a disciple of Christ should look. The first image of God a child has is based on your care of him or her. Hold your child, listen to your child, play with your child, read to your child and be present with your child. This act of being together creates a strong, loving, God-filled experience for you and for your child.

2. There is not a specific amount of time you are required to “do faith.” Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley (the founders of the Methodist movement), believed that God was present in everything. She washed dishes and was with God. She cooked food and was with God. Susanna had a strong faith in the incarnate presence of God. Instead of worrying about setting aside a special time, which is a good thing if you can manage it, be attentive to the love that surrounds your family all the time. Use your time at the kitchen table, in the car, at bath time and at bedtime for prayers and stories and fellowship. This openness and attentiveness to God’s spirit is why we engage in these spiritual practices. If you find yourself falling prey to perfectionism, you aren’t being open to God. Have some grace for yourself, and try something else.

3. You can say you don’t know. There are no right answers to the many questions and wonderings faith brings. I encourage your family to embrace the mystery of God. Saying, “I don’t know; let’s learn about it together” is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. It encourages imagination and opens your child to discovering how God is moving in the world.

About the Author

Brittany Sky

Brittany Sky is the Senior Editor of Children’s Resources at The United Methodist Publishing House. She served as read more…
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