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That Perfect Family Everyone Hates? They Don't Exist

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 certain skills.

"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 inside."

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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 stand it."

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 perfect?"

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 lucky."

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!

I anxiously 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 family.

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 beautiful.

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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.

And so 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.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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