The perfection of imperfection

“Nobody’s perfect”, right?  Well, I’m not so sure.  I think there’s actually a kind of perfection in imperfection.  I tend toward the idea that there’s some sort of plan, or fate, or something that drives us all to be exactly who and how we are.  Some people call this force God, or the Universe, or even coincidence, but whatever you call it, I find it much more empowering to believe that there’s a purpose to my life and a larger force at work.

When I can rest in the perfection of my imperfection it’s much easier to reflect on the things I’ve done that I wish I’d done differently and I can somehow recognize that without making that “mistake” I might never have learned the important lesson in front of me.

The same goes for parenting.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be the “perfect parent” (as if such a thing ever existed), but the funny thing is that the more we try to mold ourselves into our ideas of what the perfect parent should be like, the less we can relax and be our authentic selves.  And really, don’t we most want to teach our kids to love themselves, be comfortable in their own skin, and know that their best is good enough?!  If so, then we’ve got to learn to be easier on ourselves, to celebrate our triumphs and admit to our mistakes without beating ourselves up.

Consider the past week or so, is there something you’ve said or done that you regret?  And can you see the opportunity for learning and growth that’s available through that experience?

I can remember when I first learned about the negative effects of result-oriented praise and the benefits of effort-based praise.  I was so hard on myself!  I thought about all the hundreds of times I had said to my preschool students, “Wow what a pretty picture” or “Nice space ship!” when I could have said, “It looks like you worked really hard on that!” or even asked, “What was the most fun part of painting that?”  I can remember crying and desperately wishing I could go back in time so that I could have said something different to the kids in my class.  I was taking responsibility for damaging those kids and their self-esteem, when in reality, they probably understood on some level that I cared more about them and their effort than I did about the finished product.

The point is that I did the best I could with the information I had at the time!  Now that I have even more information about what helps kids be motivated and engaged in learning and exploration, I can foster those qualities even more skillfully, but there’s no need to berate myself for the past.  In fact, if I hadn’t had those experiences with the kids in my class, who knows if I even would have found the crucial research that inspired me to change the way I talk to kids?

I know it’s even more profoundly difficult to separate your actions as a parent from their potential impact on your child, but please remember that the mere fact that you care enough to examine your behavior, to consider the way you talk to your kids, and the recognition that you DO have an impact on your children are all signs that you’re already an exemplary parent.  So, remember to take it easy on yourself this week.  Remind yourself that we’re all doing the best we can with what we have.  And discover the beautiful lessons you can learn from your “imperfect” moments.

Have a wonderful week, Shelly

Sherris Berner
Sherris Berner

Hi Shelly,
It is always good to see our mistakes as learning experiences, so we can prevent them from happening again. I have had some real challenges with my son lately. I just keep telling myself that I need to remember these expereinces so some day I can be available to help someone else with similar problems. You are so right that we can only use the knowledge we have available at the time. Research will continue to find things right or wrong with what we are doing to help children, we can only do our best. Sometimes the most enjoyable moments our family has is basically a mistake, when things didn't go just as we initially planned. Life is always what you make of it.


I enjoyed reading your blog today. It brought to mind an early parenting mistake that taught me a great deal. Very shortly after having my baby I was still unaccustomed to her being a separate entity. One afternoon sitting in a quiet house I decided I should run to the store. I was in the car fastening my seat belt when I realized I had a napping newborn in the house. I was horrified at my behavior! However, I learned very quickly exactly where my baby was at all times after that close call. I truly think it made me a more attentive mother, and one that was grateful for second chances!