Less Than Perfect is Perfect Enough

By Claude Knobler

There are times when kids need to fight with their parents, when nothing you do is right and everything you do bothers them. Accepting the inevitable conflicts is the first step I can take toward making those conflicts more bearable. Allowing yourself to be a bad parent turns out to be a pretty good way of being a good one. The goal again, for me, is to simply aim for less conflict, less worry, and less stress. Yes, I can frequently do that by trusting in the overall tine I set in the house by my own behavior, but sometimes I can also do that by accepting that sometimes my kids and I will drive each other a little crazy.

When I’m at fault, I try to admit it and apologize. I can’t really remember my father ever apologizing to me when I grew up, but then, raising Nati quickly made it clear to me that not apologizing wasn’t going to be an option. One day, early on, when I’d shouted at Nati to be quiet or to stop jumping or doing whatever it was that day that was making me crazy and panicked and worries that we’d bitten off way more than we could chew, Clay looked up at me and said, “Dad, he’s only been here for like a month…from Africa! It’s not his fault that he doesn’t know what to do yet.”

“Right, right,” I muttered. “Only a month? I forgot.” And so I’d find Nati and apologize for losing my cool. Apologizing for losing my temper instead of just focusing on what Nati had done to cause me to lose my temper sometimes felt like a display of weakness. But if conflict is inevitable, if arguments are natural, if being a parent is just plain so hard that it’s impossible to do it without sometimes doing it badly, then there are bound to be times when the best I can hope to do as a parent is show my children how to clean up after their emotional messes by cleaning up after my own. If my goal is to win every fight, I’m in for a world of suffering and misery. If my goal, on the other hand, is to avoid the fights I can avoid and cheerfully endure the ones I can’t, all while showing my kids through my own actions how to behave after they’re done behaving badly, well, then I have a chance to live sanely and happily. Or, you know, as close to that as you can get when you have three kids. The trick for me is to remember that I don’t need to win every fight. I just need to acknowledge that I will be having fights and that the best thing I can do is move on from them as quickly and gracefully as possible.

 Most of all, though, I carry with me the great wisdom passed down to me from the generations: When you are truly angry, you should always stop, breathe, and count to nearly two. Works almost every time.

Excerpted from More Love (Less Panic) by Claude Knobler. (c) 2015 Claude Knobler. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.