A “Perfect Parent” is Different Than You Might Think


As I’ve written about before, there is so much pressure to be a “perfect parent.” It begins before your child is even born, sometimes even conceived. Books and opinions proliferate about how to discipline, what to feed them and when, the best toys for learning, etc. I could go on and on, but you probably know what I am talking about.

The pressure gets worse as kids get older with parents trying to outdo each other with their child’s grades, extracurricular activities, and athletic prowess. Play, downtime, and family time all suffer as a result, as none of these three help one get into a top college.

Rationally, we know there are only so many spaces in the Ivy League, and that the Ivy League schools aren’t appropriate for every child, but that doesn’t stop the societal pressure. Somehow, where your child goes to college can become the ultimate reflection of your parenting. If your child decides not to pursue college, there can be stigma and judgment. Parents can end up feeling like failures, as writer, English teacher and mother, Lori Stratton, describes.

What we are seeing however is that teens are going off to these top or “safety” schools, and falling apart emotionally and/or physically. Google “college student mental health” and articles will abound, many using words like “crisis.”  Anxiety and depression, as well as leaves of absence, are becoming more and more common.

Intellectually, our teen may be prepared for college, and the workload may not be the issue. The ability to be independent may be.  They may “know” how to write an essay or term paper, but not have the confidence to do it on their own without parent or tutor edits. They may not have the time management skills to juggle multiple classes without parent or teacher reminders.   Perhaps most importantly, they may not have the right “mindset.”

Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research explores the concept of “mindset.” She has shown that one’s “mindset” relates to resilience, the ability to keep going through adversity. People with a “fixed mindset” believe their intelligence or other attributes are fixed and can’t be changed, while those with a “growth mindset” believe you can grow your intelligence through effort. Teens with a fixed mindset see their goal in school as looking smart versus learning as much as they can. Fixed mindset teens focus on achievement rather than effort, and give up in the face of adversity.  Conversely, teens with a growth mindset work harder or differently when confronted with a challenge.

If the societal measure of “perfect parent” is where your child goes to college, then it makes sense for the majority of high schoolers to have a fixed mindset.   No wonder they are floundering. College and being away from home can be stressful, especially if you don’t have experience in recovering from setbacks.

It’s time for a change towards a growth mindset, where effort and mistakes are embraced. Perhaps the more “perfect parent” is the one who helps their child build resilience by encouraging them to keep going when things are tough. Their child may not (or may) get into Harvard, but they may be more successful in college and ultimately, life.

I see a shift happening. Elementary school kids are learning about growth vs fixed mindset and buying into it. I’ve toured middle schools recently where “mindset” and learning from mistakes is embraced. I’m hopeful that other schools and parents will follow, and perhaps we’ll see a decrease in the “culture of perfection.”

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