Embrace the Imperfections of Parenthood
Lisa Sugarman
Author, Parenting Expert, Columnist

So you're not the "perfect parent." So what?! In a world of Instagram pics, Facebook mom groups, sports meets, and smartphones, Lisa Sugarman has a simple message for parents: stop being so hard on yourselves, and on your kids. Sugarman is a nationally syndicated columnist, mother of two, and co-author of the book, How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It: Real Tips & Strategies for Parents of Today's Gen Z Kids. She's with us to talk about the value of letting go of all the worry and stress about what everyone else thinks. Stop comparing your family to the one next door and celebrate the messiness (huge piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and all!).

Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Why we need to embrace our kids for who they are, the path they're on, and the goals they have
  • Why the pressure to project the image of being the "perfect family" (especially on social media) does us more harm than good
  • The benefits of letting go of the fear of failure and "turning the lens inward" on ourselves
  • How we can set good examples for our kids in times of stress
  • Why it might be time to cut an activity (or two), and the importance of unstructured down time
  • How to feed our kids' passions and interests without pushing them too hard or too far
  • Advice on setting healthy boundaries for kids around technology use and screen time

For more information, visit: http://lisasugarman.com/.

Click here to read the full episode.

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Full Transcript


Embrace the Imperfections of Parenthood 

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts podcast brought to you by Care@Work. 

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, and it only gets harder when you're trying to be perfect. Today we're going to embrace the imperfection. That's the message from today's guests, Lisa Sugarman. She's the co-author of a new book, How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be OK With It. Lisa offers parents advice for learning how to let kids be kids, and how parents can embrace the imperfections of parenthood. Have a listen. Lisa, thank you so much for being here. 

Lisa Sugarman: Thanks for having me. 

Emily: We hear a lot about the pressures that kids face. I think that there's a huge amount of pressure that parents face as well. There's this desire and need to feel like you have to be perfect. The perfect family, the perfect outfits, the perfect children. It's just setting up unrealistic expectations for everyone. What can we, as parents, do to start embracing imperfection? 

Lisa: I think it starts by turning the lens inward. We all get so hyper focused on, like you said, what's going on around us, in the house next door, in the pickup line. At school, you're looking at what the other moms are driving or what the other kids are wearing. We are so hyper focused on everything that's happening around us that I think we just need to turn that lens inward and really focus more on what we're doing in our own family system, our own family unit, not worry about what everybody else is doing around us because it's inconsequential. It doesn't matter. 

Emily: As much as we see and hear all about the perfect moments that are so wonderfully curated on social media for us all to see, I think that I've also seen a great movement around people actually sharing their imperfect moments. Is that what you were trying to accomplish with writing this book? 

Lisa: Yes, that's exactly the essence of it, 100%. In its raw sense, the book is a reminder to everybody that we're all going through the same stuff. It's just under a different roof, with different partners and spouses and different kids, but the stuff that we all deal with every day is more or less the same. I think that the sooner we all give into the idea that we don't need to have that perfect facade, I think then that frees you. That frees you from worrying about being judged, worrying about being criticized for not doing enough. 

I think that too many people are afraid of looking like they can't handle it. I couldn't clean the kitchen tonight, but I can't put that on social media because that would make it look like I can't handle being a mom. Or I have stacks of laundry, I couldn't do the laundry. Stuff like that, I think is what's eating away at people. The sooner we put a spotlight on that and say, so what? It doesn't make a difference. My stepdaughter once told me that I was the conductor on the hot mess express. I actually took that as a compliment, frankly. 

Emily: I think that a lot of this stress and anxiety comes from comparison. We're looking like you said at that other kids, we are looking at their peers, their classmates, their siblings. When we, as parents, expose our kids to these comparisons, what effect does this have on them? 

Lisa: It's crushing them. Kids today have too much pressure as it is. They've got pressure coming from peers, from academics, from sports teams, from just life around them, social media pressure. The last thing in the world they need is to have a parent comparing them to the kids around them or the world around them. It's just unfair because everyone is so fundamentally different. We're all so completely unique, that it doesn't even make sense to compare to anybody else. I think once we just embrace our kids for who they are and the path they're on, and the goals they have, that's when you unlock the real, true ability and harmony and acceptance that we need. 

Emily: The way that you act as a parent clearly trickles down to your kids. As you know, everyone's busy, stressed out, you're trying to manage your work expectations, your home expectations, everything coming at you from every angle. In those times of stress, how can we, as parents, continue to stay positive so that our kids can have a good example to look at? 

Lisa: We are in control of so few things in life. When we understand and realize that we're in complete and total control of our reaction to the world around us, that is insanely powerful information. Just to walk around armed with that every day, it's a game changer. To teach our kids that, yes, okay, not every day is going to be a carnival, but it's what you make of it. You get to choose, you can't control what someone says to you or does to you or what environment you're in, but you can absolutely 1,000% control what you, as a human, being do with what you get. 

Emily: Earlier we talked about how parents today are very intense. I think it's also fair to say that part of that intensity comes out with their kids being over scheduled. Running from activity to activity to activity. It's a lot. It's a lot. It's a lot on the parents, and it's a lot on the kids. How can we, as parents, help our kids find joy and peace and creativity in this unstructured downtime? They have such few moments of this downtime, but how can we just let them be kids? 

Lisa: There's a high burnout factor when you have a kid that you're dragging from eight hours in school to, let's say, a language lesson or a soccer field or a swimming pool. That kid is then thrown back in the car and they're going home. If they're an older child, they're doing homework, and they're so completely frazzled, at the end of the day. Think about how you feel, at the end of the day. You get up, you do your mom stuff, you go to work, you do your work stuff, and then you come back home and you're gassed, you're done. 

Now we have to think our kids are feeling that. The only way to prevent that from happening and to really help nurture them in these quiet times is to give them the quiet times, is to cut things back. Trim those activities back to the point where they've got some free time. Because I'll tell you honestly, our kids today have no concept of what it means to just do nothing, to just occupy their own time, to be creative. 

They don't have that space to be creative. We have to give that to them. Because that's just as beneficial to them as all of these other activities that they're being put in and pulled from and shuttled to. 

Emily: How do we feed the passions and interests of our kids without pushing them too far? 

Lisa: You got to really be super dialed into your child, you know what your child can handle and what they can't handle. You know, as a parent, if your child wants to take ballet lessons or play lacrosse or play rugby, you need to expose them to that so they can discover if what they're thinking they like is what they actually like. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. 

Then knowing your child you have to gauge, is it okay for them to just play a few days a week? Are they wanting more? Are they needing more? You just have to be a little hyperfocused on what they're getting out of it and whether they can accept more or want more or if they need less, or if that's not the sport they want to play at all. 

We don't let our kids drive the bus enough. 

Emily: My husband and I sometimes get into this debate because the kids are in a lot of activities. Some nights, they say, I don't feel like going. My take on it is they're tired. They're giving us a signal and they shouldn't have to go. My husband's perspective is they made a commitment to the team, and they need to be there. What's the right approach there? 

Lisa: I think, if you need a mental health day, on occasion, take it. Take it. It's like if you're training for a marathon, and you're running six miles every day, six days a week, just because you've opted out of one workout because you feel like your body needs the rest. Sometimes that's the best thing in the world that you can do for yourself. It doesn't mean you're less committed to running that marathon. 

It just means that you're honoring what you need most in that situation. I think we have to do the same thing for our kids too. I would say if it's a practice, you give them the ability to say, okay, you know what, you were really run ragged this weekend. We were all over the place, you've had a busy week at school, you've got a lot going on, sure. 

Emily: Is this probably a good segue into technology? When they do have some of that downtime, they're very quick to jump on their phone or their iPad or whatever it may be to keep themselves occupied. How can we, as parents, help to manage the use of these devices, help to limit screen time and just setting just healthy boundaries around technology? 

Lisa: We have to remember that we're still the ones- at least in terms of our younger kids, we're the ones who pay that cell phone bill and we're the ones who reserve the right to say, "Hey, we're not going to bring phones to the table for meals or if we're at a restaurant. Hey, there are obligations that you have. There are things that you need to accomplish before you can spend that time on that phone or in front of that screen." We just have to hold the line. We talk a lot about this in the book, that you really need to hold the line as much for your child's sake, as for your own sake as a parent. 

We also don't want to give our kids, especially the younger ones, more than they can handle until they're ready and that it's very subjective. We're the ones who know our kids the best and you know if you have a child who's a gamer. You give them too much in the way of freedom and flexibility to choose that and they will only choose that so we've got to step in and mark off those boundaries. We know what our kids are ready for and what they're not ready for. 

Emily: That's why we don't have any gaming systems in my house because I know that my son cannot handle it. 

Lisa: That's a good move. 

Emily: You write about parenting for a living so what is your one or two pieces of advice that you want to leave our listeners with? 

Lisa: I say just give yourself a break. Don't be hard on yourself because your kids are going to be just fine in spite of those moments when you've screwed up. You're going to be just fine too as long as you can just remember to stay your own course and remember that it's really all about the climb. 

Emily: Lisa, thank you so much for being here today. 

Lisa: It was my pleasure. I'm so glad I could be. 

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time. 

Emily: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Care@Work by care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them. If you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/careatwork.