|"But the grass is greener over there!!" My wonderfully imperfect child can reject a vegetable from a mile away, spot the sunrise from hours away, and has been known to collapse on the floor because she couldn't have another cracker.|
1. The Myth of the Perfect Child
I have a friend whose baby was sleeping through the night at 3 months old. At 7pm she happily laid down in her bed and slept peacefully until 7am, then entertained herself quietly for another hour before alerting her mother with happy cooing. At 6 months old this baby sat peacefully on her own, playing with toys for half an hour. At 10 months this baby never threw food on the floor. At 15 months she was speaking in full sentences, most of which started with the word "please." At 18 months she self potty trained. At 24 months she never threw tantrums and happily reached for another carrot stick, no dressing needed. At 3 years old she was not only dressing herself, she was also doing her own laundry and picking out color-coordinated outfits.
Do you know someone like this? Actually, me neither. For one thing there's no way we would still be friends. For another thing that child doesn't exist. Our vision of the perfect child is just a compilation of all the enviable traits of a dozen children we've heard of and then dangerously expect our child to be. But one thing we forget is that the child who was indeed a terrific sleeper had a tremendous difficulties with nursing. That independent player is 18 months and barely talking at all. The toddler who loves carrot sticks and brocolli won't potty train until 4. The 3 year old did do her own laundry...flooding the washer and staining all her clothes in the process.
When I hear people brag about their child's enviable traits (or bemoan their less enviable ones), I have to think, "What is our idea of the perfect child?" It seems to me that the perfect child is one who interferes with our life as little as possible. He sleeps so much we hardly see him in between naps! He plays so well on his own we don't even have to interact with him! I often think of how much I could accomplish if Juliana didn't want to be with me all the time. There are certainly advantages to encouraging age-appropriate independence, but is a "perfect child" really one who doesn't need her parents?
The perfect child is actually a miniature adult. Sure, you get to dress her in cute clothes and she says funny things, but she thinks and acts like an adult. My friends (and I) often express frustration about our children's irrational behavior. If you were happy to eat it yesterday why won't you touch it today? If you stick your finger in there again, of course it's going to get pinched - don't you remember the last time? We expect our children to think the same way as fully rational adults do (forgetting how many times we also do dumb things over and over again when we should know better).
The perfect child also seems to be rather lacking in the personality and emotion. He is compliant and passive, happily agreeing to whatever we suggest. She has no opinion (or better yet, she has our opinion) about what to eat and what to wear. She doesn't get upset when things don't go her way (perhaps because she's so rational). Instead she calmly accepts life and lets it wash over her.
Sometimes I'm not sure if we've actually gotten over the idea that "children should be seen and not heard." A good child is still considered one who looks nice but doesn't mess up our lives to much.
When our children do act like children, when they have big needs or a large personality, we start to wonder what is wrong with them -- Or perhaps more so, what is wrong with us that we can't control them. Everyone else's baby is sleeping through the night. Nobody else's child is screaming in the middle of the supermarket.
As parents we have a responsibility to help our children to behave appropriately, handle their emotions, and do things they don’t want to. Some of their actions do reflect on our parenting. But no matter how good of parents we are, we will never have a perfect child. It is unfair to expect it from them or from ourselves. And honestly, if we did have the perfect child, everyone would probably hate us. Is that really what we want? Enjoy your friends (who secretly feel relieved that your child also throws tantrums). Enjoy your imperfect child.