The Importance of Imperfect Parents

It’s hard to say which is harder for a human being to endure: raising a child or being raised by another human. I’ve been through one but not the other, though, and I’ve learned a new way to look back on the challenge of being raised.

Parents are never perfect. They are, like anyone, human beings who have to deal with the complexity and challenges and unknown unknowns of the world. Somehow they have to ensure the survival and thriving of someone else when they still haven’t figured out how to survive and thrive themselves.

I’ve had my strong disagreements with my parents about values and beliefs, political and religious and cultural. I disliked how I was treated as a growing teenager with growing opinions and a growing sense of self. There were times then when I would wish that my parents were smarter, wiser, more empathetic, more respectful, more supportive. They were imperfect, by Jove, and I demanded better.

It turns out I was just being really down on my parents in a time before I realized how hard and how unpredictable parenting actually is. It was well before I realized how much I added to the conflict through a lack of empathy and humility.

There was something else I hadn’t considered. It’s only clear in hindsight.

Necessity is the mother of self-invention. If my parents had already been my ideal of what humans should be, I doubt that I would ever have formed or modeled myself after any of my own higher ideals. As it was, it was their “imperfection” (at least by my standards) that fueled my self-development.

Where I didn’t find respect from my parents, I learned respect for myself. Where I didn’t find truth with my parents, I found it for myself. Where I didn’t find full intellectual integrity from my parents, I found it for myself. Where I didn’t find empathy from my parents, I found it for myself and others. Where I didn’t find happiness with my parents, I found it somewhere else.

Looking back now, I see the resistance from my parents as necessary for everything.

You won’t learn to create our own lives until you need to. And if you’re going to have to go through an opponent to get there (you are), let it be your own parents. Coming into conflict with people who love you has most of the benefits and less of the real risk.

If you’re wondering, and if you still don’t believe in my case for imperfect parents, there are two alternatives. Absent parents are just that – absent. Totalitarian parents can give you the lie but not the reality of perfect parenting. They can give you all that you want, with the only cost being minute control over every aspect of your life. In that world of course, all that you want is rarely all that you need.

Notice that perfect parents are not an option.

If the goal is growth into a human being who can choose and create, I’ll take the imperfect parents.

In closing, I just want to say thank you to my parents. Thank you for all of the many times when you supported, respected, encouraged, modeled, and valued me and the things I care about. But thank you also for times you didn’t.

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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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