We Tell Our Kids They Don’t Need To Be Perfect, But Showing Them Is Harder

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

It seems so easy in theory, but admitting when I mess up is hard. Like really hard. When you’re the parent, you’re supposed to be the one who knows everything. So when you don’t, allowing your child to see you’re not perfect creates a dilemma. Because you want them to know perfection is a myth, but you still want them to think you have your shit together.

Being vulnerable with your kids is one of the best ways to show them perfection is a myth. My son is young, but he’s knowledgeable about certain subjects. And while I may think I know what I’m talking about, he’s quick to correct me when I don’t. It would be easy for me to brush it off and say, “Of course I knew that!” and make up an excuse. But I find that saying, “Oh wow, I was wrong, thank you for correcting me” goes a lot farther. He feels valued, and that makes him trust me more.

I also say “I’m sorry” when I yell at him (which let’s be honest, we all do more than we’d like). The funny thing is that, oftentimes, it’s because I’m upset about something else too. Sure, he may have been doing something he shouldn’t. But it’s important to recognize that I could have handled the situation in a calmer manner.

Parents definitely know perfection is a myth. But it’s easy for us to want to trick our kids into believing we don’t make mistakes.

As a single mother, I already feel like I have to be perfect all the time. My son depends on me for everything, and it would kill me to let him down in any way. But I’m human, and sometimes I just can’t be superwoman, even if that’s how he sees me. Letting him see me struggle while not putting any of my stress on him helps him understand just how hard my job is. When he’s giving me a hard time and being difficult, I will gently tell him that he needs to correct himself.

“When you don’t clean up your toys, it makes more work for Mom,” I will say.

Something as simple as that can make a world of difference. He doesn’t want to see me struggle if he can help it. So he will get up and clean up all of his toys, even if he has been griping about it just a minute before. Then we are able to have a conversation about how asking for help isn’t a bad thing.

Perpetuating the idea that we must always be perfect prevents all of us from reaching out for help.

When you look at it objectively, the idea that we won’t ask for help when we need it is ridiculous. But stop and think about it. How many times have you been drowning in your own to-do list, and instead of asking someone else for help you just suffer in silence? Probably more times than you want to admit.

Of all the things we don’t model for our kids, not asking for help is at the top of the list. How many times have we upheld the concept of perfection by shouldering more than our own weight? Even if we do enforce rules with our kids, we’ve all done something they could help us with because it’s “easier.” But who is it easier for? Certainly not us parents. Perfection is a myth that will only make our lives so much harder.

Because of our inability to be vulnerable, our kids will shoulder burdens and suffer in silence too. Kids, especially school age kids, fear asking for help, instead choosing to become overwhelmed. If they’re struggling in a class, they may not say anything because they don’t want to admit they’re not perfect. But then it spirals because they dig themselves into a deeper hole. Pretty soon they’re stuck and can’t save themselves. And the consequences can be dire.


We can tell our kids that perfection is a myth a million times. But if we’re not practicing what we’re preaching, it means nothing. When it comes to stuff like this, we have to make the effort to show our kids that they’re allowed to fail. That if they’re struggling with a specific subject in school, asking for help from a teacher doesn’t mean they’re a failure. What it means is that they’re human and needing help is human.

Modeling behavior to reinforce the idea that perfection is a myth is so hard. Because it’s been beaten into us that showing any sign of vulnerability is somehow weak. So we’re supposed to just suck it up and be miserable because it’s better to look perfect than to be happy. How absolutely ridiculous is that?

If you’re having a shitty day, share that with your kids. Tell them how your boss is giving you a hard time. Or tell them how your annoying co-worker mirrors that difficult classmate they’re dealing with. Let them know that you’re upset because you had a disagreement with a friend and wish you had handled it better. Allowing them to have a real conversation with you about your feelings — and the ways you falter sometimes, and then how you handle those missteps — can bring you closer.

We’ve all heard the saying, “kids don’t want a perfect parent,” and it’s true. Kids want a parent who is supportive, and loves them. Perfection is a myth and creates a category of parents who spend all of their time carving turkey sandwiches into a castle. An eight-year-old doesn’t care if their sandwich looks like Cinderella’s castle. They care that their parents aren’t raving lunatics because they’re overwhelmed by the demands of life.

It’s not easy to let go of the notion of perfection. But if we want to set positive examples for our kids, we have no choice.

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