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Courage to be Imperfect


Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.   I've spent more years than I care to remember coaching parents, teaching parenting classes, writing parenting books, and doing commentaries like this one. I've also been a parent for 26 years, although my son doesn't need much in the way of parental guidance from his old mom these days. While parenting has never been exactly easy, I do believe that it becomes more challenging with each new generation. The bonds that connect us as a community-and as families-appear to be stretching. The level of public conversation has sunk, and I hear parents openly wondering whether they're doing their children a disservice by teaching them character, kindness, and ethics. And there's so much to keep up with: more than one parent has told me he looks back on the days of "family hour" on TV with deep longing. Somehow "Little House on the Prairie" just seemed easier to deal with than "Family Guy" and MTV.             Not long ago, a single mom sat on the sofa in my office holding a parenting book that had been recommended by a program her daughter is involved in. It wasn't one of mine, but it was from a series I'm familiar with. This is a mom who takes parenting seriously, who is open to new ways of doing things, and who loves her rather challenging daughter deeply, but she was discouraged. She waved the book at me and smiled wryly. "I work really hard at being a good mother," she said, "but this stuff just makes me feel like a failure. I can't do it all; some days I can't do any of it. I just feel like giving up."             Most parents I know feel the same way from time to time. Our culture puts a lot of pressure on parents. Parents are expected to earn a living, keep a clean home, organize their child's life, be involved in school and other activities, and-oh yes-raise their children to be well-behaved, responsible, and successful. It doesn't help that just about everyone on the planet has a slightly different idea about how to raise kids, and that most of those ideas are different than what parents themselves grew up with. Some parents struggle visibly: their kids take guns to school or commit crimes or develop an addiction, and people point and whisper about "bad parenting." But every parent I know has private moments of doubt and discouragement. Are they doing enough? Are they doing too much? What about the times they lost their temper or said something mean or slapped their child in a moment of frustration? Will their child be ruined? I remember those moments of discouragement vividly from my son's childhood. I became interested in parenting largely because what little I knew about discipline and behavior didn't seem to work well with the child I actually had. I made huge mistakes along the way; I did things that didn't feel right to me because I didn't know what else to do. I lost my temper and said things I regretted later. I apologized-often. I learned to use my own mistakes as examples in my parenting books, which amused my son as he got older. (Don't worry-I changed his name to protect the innocent!) And eventually, I learned to accept that I'd done the best I knew, and to forgive myself for the times when my best wasn't very good. Rudolf Dreikurs, a student of Alfred Adler's and the author of "Children: the Challenge"-one of the first parenting books written and still one of the best-spoke often about having what he called "the courage to be imperfect." Dreikurs could be salty: my favorite bit of advice was his admonition to one parent to "shut up and act." Not politically correct. But he was absolutely right about this. It takes real courage to get up every morning, know that you will face challenges-and know that you will fail at least part of the time. Parents love their children beyond words, but as we've all learned, love sometimes isn't enough. Parenting takes skill and perseverance and patience, and no one does it perfectly. There are days when almost nothing seems to go right. So here's the good news. Mistakes, as we say in Positive Discipline, are opportunities to learn. Good thing, too, since you will make lots of them and so will your children. It isn't necessary or possible to be a perfect parent. Actually, you only need to be a "good enough" parent. Lynn Lott, a colleague of mine, talks about the "Encouragement Hall of Fame." In baseball, she says, you make the hall of fame if you get a hit three or four times in ten at-bats. If we use that analogy in parenting, doing it "right" three or four times out of ten tries would earn you a spot in the hall of fame-and most parents manage to do better than that with effort and education. So take a breath, locate your sense of humor, take that parenting book with a grain of salt, and summon up the courage to be imperfect. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.