You know that family that just seems to have it all figured
out? The parents always look put together and freshly showered. The kids are
always calm and reasonable. They arrive places on time and manage to produce
whatever they need out of a flawlessly organized diaper bag. Yeah, that family.
There's always one.
At our preschool toddler group, that family is the
Lerner-Sackwells: Amy, Mark and little Miles. Amy appears at 9:59 for the
10:00 am class, wearing makeup and earrings, while the rest of us stumble in ten minutes late in our leggings and unwashed hair. Two-year-old Miles is a
sweet and extremely independent toddler who was fully potty-trained well before
any of the other children. He has already ditched his crib for a big kid bed
and performs many tasks without help. Amy and Mark like to attribute Miles'
achievements to the very methodical strategies they have used to teach him
"It only took a few days to teach him about staying in his
room at night," Amy told us recently. "Every time he opened the door, I just
reminded him, 'Oh, you forgot to stay in bed, Miles,' and he went right back
A mom friend from the preschool once confessed to me how
much she resents the Lerner-Sackwells.
"They are so perfect!" she exploded. "I can't
I know where she's coming from. Calm, rational directions seem
to work for Miles, and that's just lovely and wonderful. How nice for them. But
the rest of us, struggling with our irrational and un-teachable toddlers, are
left feeling kind of inept.
"How do they do it?" my friend raged. "How is their kid potty-trained already when my four-year-old is still having problems? How are they so
The thing is: I don't buy it. I don't buy perfect. No family
is perfect. So why do we imagine that they are? And why does it make us feel so
terrible? Why do we assume that the tiny picture someone has allowed us to see
is the whole truth?
This myth of perfection is so toxic. It's like a big stick we use to beat ourselves up.It plays into all of our fears about how we are failing, how everyone else has a clean house, helpful children, a fulfilling career, a spectacular sex life.
I realized the total absurdity of this after discovering
that another mom friend actually believed (gasp!) that my own family was
perfect. Excuse me?? My daughter and I had visited her house for a play date, and
for some reason, my wild and wonderful and very imperfect toddler was on her
best behavior. She played nicely with the other child and shared toys without
grabbing or shrieking. She ate her snack at the table without flinging food or
dumping water everywhere.
"She's so well behaved," my friend sighed. "You guys are so
My mouth fell open. An hour earlier, my little angel had
been screaming her head off because her father was leaving for work. She had
refused to eat breakfast and emptied her bowl of Cheerios onto the floor while
giving me a "what are you going to do about it" smirk. Perfect? Ha!
tried to assure this woman that her image of us wasn't true. We had big
struggles. We were making things up as we went along, just like everybody else.
But I could tell she didn't really believe me. For her, we were that perfect
This myth of perfection is so toxic. It's like a big stick
we use to beat ourselves up. It plays into all of our fears about how we are
failing, how everyone else has a clean house, helpful children, a fulfilling career,
a spectacular sex life. It perpetuates a story we tell ourselves about how
we're not good enough, a mess, a fraud, a disappointment. Let's stop telling
that story. Let's start believing that imperfect is okay, universal, even
I'm reminded of a quote by one of my heroes, Brené Brown:
"You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are
worthy of love and belonging."
Yes. You are.
And so is that perfect family you know.
are the Lerner-Sackwells.
A few weeks ago, I ran into Amy and Miles in the
supermarket. Miles was clearly sick with a bad cold. He gave me a smile in
between coughs and then started to whine. Amy looked frazzled. The makeup was
gone. She was anxious, trying to pick up some essentials while caring for her coughing,
miserable little boy. We have all been there.
I wanted to hug her and say, "It's OK! You don't have to
do it all perfectly. Give yourself a break." But instead I just watched them
struggle toward the parking lot and went back to my own imperfect family.