Perfect Families Don't Exist—How to Be Good Enough

Perfectionism drains the joy out of parenting. These simple tips will help you embrace good-enough and accept your family just as it is—beautifully imperfect.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #568
The Quick And Dirty

Take your parenting journey in a fresh direction by leaving perfection behind. Opt for enjoying a simpler, more joyful route in your everyday parenting. 

  • Remove perfectionism from your vocabulary
  • Embrace family rituals
  • Practice the Three C’s of parenting
  • Stop comparing your children to others
  • Teach your child the habits of happiness

Regardless of parenting style, we parents have one goal in common—raising successful, independent children who will make a positive difference in the world. But many of us inadvertently choose a stressful, pressure-packed route to that destination. Why? Because we live in a culture that worships perfection.

Setting the bar high when you're aiming to inspire your kids is admirable. But when that bar is too far out of reach, your kids pay the price. Perfectionism can also rob you of the joyful parenting experiences that come with embracing the imperfect and the ordinary.

Don’t let perfection dictate how you parent. Turn your focus to enjoying life’s simpler parenting moments with these routine strategies:

RELATED: Sometimes Doing a Perfect Job Means Stopping at 60%

Replace perfectionism with excellence

My five-year journey with infertility was both physically and mentally draining. My tired body rode the emotional roller coaster of trying to get pregnant each month, and I spent countless hours absorbed deep in thought about the perfect parent I would be when I was finally given a chance.

My rose-colored glasses came off and my idyllic vision of parenting went from attaining perfection to humbly accepting good-enough.

This perfectionism stemmed from so desperately wanting to become a mom, coupled with vulnerably watching from the sidelines as friends and relatives raised their families. I envied and admired the gift they'd received by becoming parents. And I'll admit that at times I secretly judged them. How the heck could they allow their child to whine so much or let their three-year-old have lollipops during church? That wasn’t going to happen when I became a mom—no way!

Then, my dream came true when I had my first child. Then I had three more in less than four years! My rose-colored glasses quickly came off (probably pulled off by one of my whiny kids!) and my idyllic vision of parenting went from attaining perfection to humbly accepting good-enough.

An article in Psychology Today hit home with me. It reiterated what most parents already know—striving for perfection is destructive and infringes on your happiness. There needs to be a healthy balance when trying to achieve high standards. Here's what the author, Dr. Jim Taylor, had to say:

At the heart of perfectionism lies a threat: if children aren't perfect, their parents won't love them. This threat arises because children connect whether they are perfect with their self-esteem; being perfect dictates whether they see themselves as valuable people worthy of love and respect.

There is no scientific evidence that perfectionism is inborn. The research indicates that children learn their perfectionism from their parents, most often from their same-sex parent. Through their parents' words, emotions, and actions, children connect being loved with being perfect.

Jim Taylor Ph.D., Psychology Today, Raise Excellent—Not Perfect—Children

Dr. Taylor recommended an antidote to perfectionism—excellence.

Excellence takes all of the good aspects of perfection (e.g., achievement, high standards, disappointment with failure). It leaves out its unhealthy parts (e.g., connecting achievement with self-esteem, unrealistic expectations, fear of failure). Excellence still sets the bar high, but it never connects failure with the love you give your children.

As the mom of eight kids, three who struggled with significant learning disabilities, I love knowing that we're all capable of excellence, and we can foster these goals through positivity, not perfectionism.

RELATED: 5 Lessons From Parenting Styles Around The World

Embrace family rituals

Unique family traditions and rituals are a sacred time for you and your kids that will create lifelong memories. The one thing I value most in my busy life is my family’s rituals. When my kids were young, one of those rituals was eating dessert while we snuggled on the couch and I read to them before bedtime. Now, we enjoy take-out Thursday dinners. Not only do we get to experiment with choosing new restaurants to try, but we get to spend quality time hanging out without the looming chore of cooking or doing dishes.

Carving out time for these simple-but-meaningful rituals each week helps keep your family connected without a lot of fuss. And when you plan from the heart, it’s never too late to introduce new traditions. If you’re unsure of what to try, ask your kids for input. Even better, let your kids devise a new family ritual on their own.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Create Family Traditions

Practice the Three C’s of parenting

Last summer I read a noteworthy column about teaching kids three important C’s—Caring, Compassion, and Creativity. In today’s competitive, perfection-focused world, it’s easy to focus on attaining stellar grades or winning at a chosen sport. Sometimes, in the quest for perfection, we overlook the importance of building character and solid morals.

Sometimes, in the quest for perfection, we overlook the importance of building character and solid morals.

Here are some suggestions for fostering the Three C’s. Putting them into practice will leave the entire family feeling great about themselves and others.

Caring: Practice random acts of kindness

This is one of my favorite ways to spend a thoughtful, teaching moment with one of my kids. Do something kind and unexpected for a stranger or someone who needs to feel the love. I’ve bought coffee and a baked goody for the car behind us in the drive-thru, or had my kids return a shopping cart to the stall for a mom who had her hands full. The list is endless, and when we do something with our children in tow, it makes an even bigger impact. Check out this touching video of a young woman who spends her birthday by practicing some amazing acts of kindness. Warning: Doing random acts of kindness is contagious!

Compassion: Start a positivity journal

Much like a gratitude journal, the key is to write down qualities that you like about yourself or that make you feel proud. Family members can keep individual journals, but I prefer a positivity message board where mom, dad, and siblings write positive things they notice about others. Ours is in the kitchen. Messages vary from "Mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies" to "I love that my kids say 'Thank you for making dinner!'" You get the gist. These are everyday reminders that families may not be perfect, but we love each other.

A positivity board is an everyday reminder that families may not be perfect, but we love each other.

Creativity: Bring on family game nights

With so much time spent on screens, it’s easy to forget to gather together and engage in good, old-fashioned family fun. Enter board games! What are some of your family’s favorite games? Dig them out of the closet or surprise your gang with a brand new game. Game nights could become one of your new rituals. They're also one of the best ways to enjoy everyday moments with your kids before they’re off to college.

Thou shalt not compare

Raising eight kids means wrangling eight sets of personalities, academic skillsets, athletic abilities, and everything in between. Though my kids do share things in common—besides their wonderful mother—I learned from the get-go to never compare them to one another. No matter what!

If you start to feel down because your child isn’t pulling straight As, hitting home-runs, or always looking dapper on Instagram posts, take heart. Here's a reminder to celebrate your kids for who they are, not who perfectionism tells you they should be.

There are a host of controllable factors that contribute to raising kids who are overall happy, prosperous, and well-balanced later on in life — it isn’t just about the grades. Making sure your child knows they’re unconditionally loved, giving them responsibilities at home and within their community and allowing them to learn from their mistakes all help build characteristics that breed success in some form or another.

Nicole Fabian-Weber in 6 ways to stop comparing your kid to others

I couldn’t agree more!

Make happiness a household habit

One of the first books I ever listened to on audiotape was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was stunned that anyone would devote a year to researching and writing about how to be happy. Silly me—I just assumed you were happy when something wonderful happened to you. I had no idea you could choose to be happy regardless of your circumstances.

I had no idea you could choose to be happy regardless of your circumstances.

That book was life-changing for me, especially because I came upon it while in the throes of raising eight young children who were so close in age. Gretchen chronicled her yearlong journey to research happiness by creating 12 Commandments, one for each month of the year, which were meaningful to her life but easily adaptable to anyone's.

You can follow Gretchen Rubin’s lead and create your own happiness project. Visit her website and download the many free, creative tools to create more happiness in your parenting journey.

Gretchen is not alone on the quest to prove that happiness is a choice. In an article for Thrive Global, Dr. Elia Gourgouris, Ph.D., shares various views from clinical experts that you can make happiness a habit if you're willing to put in the effort.

My favorite takeaway was from Dr. Viktor Frankl, renowned Austrian psychiatrist, holocaust survivor, and the bestselling author of Man’s Search for Meaning. He said that all things could be taken from a man except the final freedom: the ability to choose how he will respond to any situation.

The common cliché about perfectionists is that they're never happy. Helping your children learn that they have a choice to enjoy life to the fullest rather than focus on what’s not working out at present is a gift that can shape their attitudes for every facet of life’s journey.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.