This Question from My Therapist Totally Changed How I Parent

therapist question

I was looking down at my shirt and trying to figure out whether the slightly damp and somewhat yellow stain was milk, sweat or tears, when my therapist totally blew my mind. I had just gone on a five-minute rant to her about my kids—specifically, my toddler who still wasn’t potty trained (we’d been working on going number two for six months but hey, who’s counting?) and who was having very big feelings about his new little sister (“be gentle does not mean throwing your Legos!” was a conversation we’d had earlier that day). Meanwhile, said little sister was napping in 20-minute bursts and would scream bloody murder anytime I tried to put her down. 

In short, I was exhausted. I told all of this to my therapist and point blank asked her WTF was wrong with my children. 

She countered with another question: But why do your kids have to be so perfect all the time? 

I stopped rubbing my mystery stain and took in those words, trying to formulate a response. Well, because it would be so much easier if they behaved how I wanted them to, I said. But even as the words came out of my mouth, my heart wasn’t in it. My baby wasn’t even two months old, how could I expect her to “behave” in any way at all? And as for my toddler, well, he was just doing what toddlers do—experiencing big emotions and testing boundaries.

My therapist went on to explain that expecting our kids to comply and behave without protest often has roots in our own childhoods. Meaning, if you grew up in an environment where you were expected to “be seen but not heard” or “stop crying!” (as many children of the 80s did), then you may be uncomfortable allowing your own kids to, well, be kids.

After the session, my husband and I had an interesting discussion about how we were raised and how we want our kids to be comfortable expressing themselves now and as they get older (within reason of course—the Lego throwing is a no-no). 

Once I had processed this information, the relief I felt was intense. Instead of expecting my daughter to sleep better and my son to happily accept this new family member, I could just…let them be. And while, yes, I obviously would have preferred to have a baby who could snooze in her bassinet for an hour and a toddler who could say goodbye to diapers for good, giving myself—and them—permission to “misbehave” made the situation so much more bearable. 

We’ve now adopted “but why do they have to be so perfect all the time?” as our new family mantra. It’s a way to remind ourselves to check our expectations and cut our kids—and ourselves—some slack. Because just like that stain on my T-shirt, family life gets messy sometimes… and that’s more than OK. 

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...