Do you remember when you were a tween and you started being acutely aware of all your public mistakes or perceived failings, as if the whole world was watching— that’s what psychologists call your imaginary audience. The feeling that we are always on stage goes away as we enter adulthood, and then often comes back when we have children. This phenomenon adds a lot of stress for parents. We compare ourselves and our children to other parents and their kids. We feel judged by others when our our child misbehaves in public. We see calm families, with perfect smiling children and we wonder why ours are not like that. Here’s the secret, neither are theirs–appearances can be deceiving.
All Families are Beautifully Imperfect
Families all have their issues. Children all have days when they misbehave, and parents do too. What we perceive of others, is an outer facade, definitely not reality. Working as a therapist, I have helped many families accept their imperfections and even find strength in them. It requires a different mindset, but anyone can do it. The first step is to take a close look at what makes your family unique. Finding the beauty in our children, our partner, and extended family is as easy as making a list of what each person’s strengths are. Embrace your imperfections, drop your expectations, and stop caring about what others’ perception of you and your family might be. If people want to judge, they will, but most don’t. So apply duck tape to your imaginary audience, and enjoy every imperfection your family has to offer. It’s what makes them unique. It’s what makes them yours. It’s what makes your life different from The Truman Show.
Don’t Keep Up with the Joneses
When we look over our shoulder at what others have, we tend to concentrate on what we don’t have. Our children might not be the best students, they may seem self-centered at times, or unfocused. The truth is, it is very hard to meet other people’s expectations. As parents, we know that, but yet we try so hard to push our kids towards what we believe is best for them. Often our assumptions are not even our own, but our communities or society’s. It’s okay to have realistic, fair expectations for your children as long as it is not the influence of your peer group. Nothing illustrates this better, than the college application rat race. Parents wear their child’s SAT scores, or their child’s volunteer experience in Guatemala (paid for by mom and dad), like trophies. They don’t take into account the countless hours they have sacrificed and money they have spent funding their future college student. Against their better judgement, many parents enter serious debt to fund their child’s college tuition at a top private school. We see what others have done for their children, and feel compelled to do the same, or more. Keeping up with the Joneses is detrimental to your relationship with your child, your equilibrium, your mental health, and your finances. It’s okay to help your child jump start his/her future, but it’s best to do it within your present and future means.
Our families are complex and dynamic. As parents, we are better served by tuning out our imaginary audience. We can then look at each family member individually, and appreciate their strengths instead of focusing on their flaws. Our family becomes stronger when we truly accept its uniqueness without judgement, and embrace its potential with an open mind.
This post completes our 10 part series on 10 Ways to Decrease Your Stress.