recovering from the perfectionist parenting epidemic

mother and baby feet at the beach sand

A couple of weeks ago I took a little ride in an ambulance and spent the evening in emergency.

Chest pains.

‘Chest pains’ sounds rather innocent. Like leg cramps. Or honey, I have a headache.

But think intense stabbing pain in the chest, back, down my left arm and up my jaw, and oh my god, I’m going to die! and you’ll be closer to the mark.

This was my first ever ride in an ambulance. I had three paramedics, including a paramedic in training.

“I need to lift up your shirt and place this electrode on your, er, breast.”

There was a small smirk from the other paramedic.

“Your heart rate just went up, mam.”

Well, it’s not everyday a good looking young man asks to lift up my shirt.

The long and the short of it is that I’m fine.

A few ECGs, x-rays and a puffy, sweaty stint on a treadmill in my bra, wired to a machine and with all my jiggley bits jiggling, in front of yet another group of young gentlemen and I have the all clear.

I don’t have much dignity left, but I have my health.

The diagnosis was anxiety, with a possible pulled muscle. No doubt from carrying a kicking, screaming and tantrum-chucking four year old up the stairs to his room.

Panic attacks can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack (and vice versa, so it’s always a good idea to be safe than sorry).

“Have you been feeling anxious lately?”


“When did the anxiety start?”

“Um, when I started getting chest pains.”

According to the doctors, ending up in hospital with chest pains is a very common occurrence for mothers with young kids.

Maybe you’ve been there too.

Modern motherhood is stressful. Particularly for working mothers who have to juggle work, childcare and household duties or single parents who do it alone (or single working parents!! I take my hat off to all of you).

Raising kids has become a competitive sport and a science that you have to get right. We don’t just raise kids, we’re told to optimise their childhood experience in order that they have a successful adulthood.

When I talk to other mothers, it’s not just me that feels this pressure to get parenting right (or the guilt when we think we’re getting it wrong).

Are the kids getting enough physical activity? Are they spending enough time outdoors? Put that empty beer can down! The other kids aren’t allowed to go up the slide, so you probably shouldn’t either. Don’t run out onto the road!

Are they spending too much time in front of the TV? Man v Wild is educational, isn’t it?

Are they eating healthy food? Is their lunchbox packed with healthy snacks? Is it organic? Don’t even get me started on breastfeeding.

Are they getting enough social stimulation? No fighting guys! Playing rough is healthy, right? No? Too violent? Boys, sharing please!

Are we setting firm boundaries? Enough? Too many? Are we disciplining them correctly, according to the experts? Which expert is right? Make a game of things, that will get them to comply? Argh, just do as you’re told!

Should we be doing activities with them? Are they on track with fine and gross motor skills? Search Pinterest for ideas. Ugh! Overwhelmed with choice. I don’t have time. Please stop drawing on the walls!

It’s great that they want to help out in the kitchen, right? But don’t touch the stove! Not all over the floor. No fighting, you can both have a turn stirring. Don’t stick the spoon in your sister’s eye…


“There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, just a real one.” Sue Atkins

We weren’t meant to raise kids under these conditions.

We’re not meant to juggle two, three, four or more roles all at once. With standards of perfection set so high they’re unattainable. Intensified by surfing the internet – great advice, but advice that also leaves you with feelings of falling short in just about everything.

You mean I’m supposed to dust the baseboards? What are baseboards?

Throughout the vast majority of history, we didn’t raise kids alone. We had mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends and the village to help.

We didn’t have to try to keep large houses clean at the same time as child minding. Kids played outside without constant entertainment by an adult. Without the fear of traffic accidents (my biggest fear living on a busy main road) or unsavoury characters.

Mothers worked, but it was gathering food for the tribe. Or later they worked on the family farm or in the family business where kids could play or work alongside mum and dad and maybe the extended family (at least until the industrial revolution, when there was a separation of work and home life).

I don’t believe intensive ‘child-centred’ parenting is good for the parent or the child or, ultimately, society in general. I’m more inclined towards a ‘family-centred’ or ‘community-centred’ philosophy. Where it’s less about ‘me’ (the child) and more about ‘us’. Less about optimising every moment of childhood and more about give and take.

The phrase ‘not now, I’m busy,’ shouldn’t bring on waves of guilt, (oh that mummy guilt, how we’re familiar with thee) further intensified by reading some parenting platitude on Facebook about how short the childhood years are and how we ‘should’ be enjoying every moment.

We are busy.

On the other hand, “mummy’s having a cup of tea, go outside and play” is perfectly ok too.

I never considered myself an uptight parent. My idea of a clean house is fairly liberal – ‘it looks like a bomb’s gone off’ is what my mum would say.

While my four year old is hanging upside down from the top branch of a tree and I’m saying ‘he’ll be right…it’s best if we don’t watch’ (he’s an epic climber, I try to go with it).

I’m not worried that my kids eat baked beans, store-bought biscuits and even the occasional pizza. Parties? Go nuts kids. It will mean I won’t have to make you any lunch.

Some days the kids watch way too much TV while I spend way to much time browsing Pinterest (for kids activities, of course).

But it seems all that perfectionist parenting has snuck up on me in the form of guilt and other ignored emotions that led to a trip to emergency.

I’m a long time fan of the book The Idle Parent: When Less Means More When Raising Kids. Obviously I need to take it’s advice more to heart (in a non chest-pain sort of way), as tongue in cheek as some of it is.

“Children actually have an inbuilt self-protective sense that we destroy by over-cosseting. They become independent not so much by careful training but in part simply as a result of parental laziness. Last Sunday morning, Victoria and I lay in bed till half past 10 with hangovers. What a result! And the more often you do this, the better, because the children’s resourcefulness will improve, resulting in less nagging, less of that awful “Mum-eeeeeeeh” noise they make. They can play and they will play.

So lying in bed for as long as possible is not the act of an irresponsible parent. It is precisely the opposite: It is good to look after yourself, and it is good to teach the children to fend for themselves. Our offspring will be strong, bold, fearless, much in demand wherever they go! Capable, cheerful, happy… So stay in that bed as much as you can.” Tom Hodgkinson

Stay out of the emergency room, and live a long, healthy, happy and thriving life, by slowing down, taking time out for yourself (in bed with a book and a cup of tea?) and recovering from perfectionist parenting.

recovering from perfectionist parenting epidemic

Subscribe to the Frugal and Thriving Newsletter


  1. says

    I love your approach, especially to the tree-climbing stuff! I’m a pretty liberal parent, too – I try to discern between the times when my 15 month old is crying because she tripped over and is tired, or because she’s genuinely hurt herself, or just needs mummy time. Sometimes I’ll leave her be, and me and my husband gently console her with “it’s okay, just little tumbles” to let her know we’re there, but that she’s okay to look after herself. If she’s genuinely upset, I’ll cuddle her as long as she wants.

    Your point about the shift in parenting from communal so singular is really important, too – if you look at tribal societies, kids get passed around, cuddled, and interact with a lot of different people. They get support at all times, but nobody is watching their every mood to make sure they don’t get the littlest bit upset. I do practice attachment parenting (although my daughter had problems with my milk so I couldn’t breastfeed for long), so my daughter always knows she can be close if she wants, but she very rarely stays still for a cuddle or hug unless she’s genuinely upset – usually she wants to get into everything possible, and as long as it doesn’t hurt her, I’m glad for her to feel she can do that.

    I’ve always maintained that love is the most important thing to have as a parent, followed by common sense. The more you have of both, the better – and that’s not the same as “helicopter parenting”, or being obsessive about foods unless your child has a serious allergy.

    There’s a book called “100 Keys to French Parenting” that I quite enjoyed – even though it’s slightly tongue-in-cheek, a lot of it just reinforces that balance between keeping sane, and looking after your kids.

    • says

      Hi Mrs Winter,

      15 months – a time of exploration :) My son loves long cuddles now, I’m still waiting for my two year old to get to that stage :).

      I agree, love is definitely the number one important thing, everything else is icing.

      I think I’ve read that book, or I’ve read a similar book about French parenting – it was pretty good!

  2. Jemma says

    Hi Melissa,
    I sooo related to a lot/most of what you’ve written here – mummy guilt is a killer! I regularly discuss this with my other mummy friends and it is ridiculous that we place so much stress/guilt/fear/unrealistic expectations on ourselves.
    Parenting is a tough gig and this post is a good reminder to try to take a step back from trying so hard and just let my kids be kids, and quit making myself feel guilty over the little things. Admittedly I need to also to stop being ‘judgy’ of other mums too. Thanks & I hope you get to enjoy that cup of tea!

  3. Eileen Miles says

    As a grey wrinkly its hard to remember how I treated my kids , but i’m sure it was very much like the way I was brought up , once we got to an age we would stay out all day playing(mum knew where we were) BUT we had to be home before the street lights came on. I don’t know how you young ones do it with all the expectations put on you. I was a stay at home mum until forced into the working world when my girls were 14 and 11.My mother never went to work(I didn’t say she didn’t work- the expectations then about running the home were just as tough).You young ones are not the only ones to stress I had similar pains but on the right hand side- chest,neck etc turned out to be a shoulder injury BUT the stress pushed it over the top. I think the comments made about being there and knowing the difference in a childs demands is right . Don’t molly coddle your kids ,grazed knees and elbows are part of life-balance their activities not too much TV or computer. Make them make their own fun.The number one thing to remember is take care of YOURSELF- take that 5 minutes for yourself and don’t feel BAD

    • says

      Thanks Eileen, you make a great point, ‘modern parenting’ should mean the last three of four generations of parents! In some ways I have it much easier than my grandmother, for instance.

  4. says

    I was exhausted reading all that. Is that what awaits?
    I’m a brand new parent of a 3.5 month old whom I love more than anything on this planet. I have days where I feel like I’m not being a good enough parent because I’m reading blogs, writing or doing something other than focusing 100% of my attention on the little darling or eating six healthy meals a day or ensuring that the house is spotless in every corner. But I’ve realised that just because I’ve become a mum doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped being a runner, writer, partner, friend and every other label that fits. I’m still me and that means having a selfish moment here and there. As long as I see a smiles and laughter on the little boy every day then we’re happy. Besides, perfection is overrated.

  5. Jenize says

    I have pulled a muscle in my chest before and its no wonder your body said Hey pay attention here, which is kind of what a panic attack is saying. I think I “over parented” my older two kids and was more relaxed (out of neccesity) with my younger two. My older ones dont remember alot of the extra awesome things I did for them or the picnics for lunch when it was raining on the kitchen floor with blankets and munchy honey cake and golden jelly all cooked from scratch and in a rush between breast feeds and pile high dishes, so they could eat the same as bananas in pyjamas. My younger two didnt quite get the same journey as the older two but honestly now they are 21 19 15 and 13 and you wouldnt know. My oldest that I put so much time and effort to teach him things before he started school and attend ALL the extra cirricular activities etc who was going to be a doctor is sick of school etc and is working in a bar lol.My second who struggled with a chronic illness and school just bought his first property at 18 while working at a dominos. With the full benefit of 20/20 hindsight I say just do what works for you on the day. Even though my kids dont remember all the effort I put in, they and myself still had a good time then.Even though it all really stressed me because I didnt feel adequate. All the extra little bits dont really matter, just teach them good character that is the one thing you can be sure they will take right through to adult hood, even if it disappears for a while in teen years. Also keep light hearted prior to them becoming teens and they will laugh off some of the teen angst that their friends suffer from. You are doing a great job and dont forget to tell yourself that daily.

    • says

      Hi Jenize,

      Thank you for sharing your story, it’s lovely to hear. I wonder, when your children become parents, that’s when they will remember and really appreciate the things you did / do as mum?

      I love your advice: teach them good character. Thank you. I think that’s one of the best things to focus on. And to take each day as it comes.

  6. Kirsty says

    Go to the library and borrow ” The Politically Incorrect Parenting Book ” by Nigel Zatta. It should provide a healthy dose of perspective