Case Study 3 – A Case Story

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Lynn stops to pick up her 9-month-old son, Kevin, at a small in-home daycare center on her way home from work. During the 20-minute drive from the hospital where she works as a lab technician, she hears a radio news report about children at risk. In the list of risk factors, sandwiched between fetal drug absorption and poverty, is single-parent families.

Later that afternoon, while in the cafeteria, she watches two women discussing the importance of two parent household, saying, “If they can’t give up work to raise their own children why have them?” Saddened, Lynn moves to a new table but the question still follows her like a shadow.

Only the day before, her five-year-old neighbor who has known her son Kevin since birth asks Lynn who her son’s father is. Hearing that their family consists of just Lynn abnd Kevin, the child wails, “But what will you do?” Lynn answers in a good humored way, “We’ll just have to do the best we can!” but begins to wonder if she should start searching for children’s books depicting happy single-parent families.

Lynn’s parents also have concerns about her being a single parent. It is clear that they love Kevin, yet is a rare conversation when they don’t put him in a different category from their other grandchildren, as in, “Since you can’t do family camping trips, like your brother’s family. We’d like to send Kevin to camp when he gets older.” In the grandparents’ desire to make it up to Kevin, Lynn fears they will be letting her son know, that in their opinion, Lynn isn’t enough of a family.

When Lynn decided to have a baby it was because she had always wanted to be a mother and believed she would be a good one. She decided she hadn’t miss out on raising a child just because she wasn’t married. Now, to ward off self-doubt and fears that having a child was selfish, she keeps reminding herself of the healthy, happy baby that Kevin is proving to be.

Lynn loves her time alone with Kevin. She adores being a mother. but the problem is where and how to fit into the world. So many family events and groups assume there is a father in the picture. Friends have already talked to her about how boys need their fathers at certain stages of life.

Lynn is finding herself gravitating towards other single mothers. They seem to be the ones who understand and are practiced in appropriate answers to thoughtless comments. They seem to be the only ones she can go to for support.

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Case Study 2 – A Case Story

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Sally and Laura

Sally and Laura had been living together for 15 years when Laura begins talking about adopting a baby from China. In the early years of their relationship they hadn’t considered parenting. But recently, as their relationship has deepened, so has their yearning for a child.

The idea of being inseminated by an unknown male, although experienced by acquaintances, is not appealing to either of them. When Laura discovers China does not discriminate against gay and lesbian parents, and that the child would almost surely be a girl, she begins to seriously become interested in adopting for the first time.

Less than a year later, they are the parents of a 10-month-old baby girl. Laura legally becomes the adoptive parent and, because she earns more money, continues working full time. Sally becomes the stay-at-home mom.

Since, in their circle of lesbian friends, many are mothers with older children, Sally and Laura are more often associating with other adoptive parents. Their identities as lesbians begin to fade into the background as their identities as parents become stronger.

Sally reports experiencing an almost continual dissonance, as people assume her partner is a man and that their relationship is a traditional one. Even in “out” contexts, such as play groups, other mothers often make blanket statements as though everyone’s partner is male.

When it is time for preschool, Laura and Sally find themselves back in the straight world they had once been able to avoid. They are not feeling accepted as a family. The director of the school initiates a very uncomfortable conversation about concerns for their daughter. Sally and Laura are looking for schools and a neighborhood where they will be accepted.

Thrust back into a straight world, where they are marginalized, is taking its toll on their relationship. At the same time, the couple is aware that Sally has no legal parental rights. This could be a problem if something happens to Laura or to their relationship.

As much as Sally and Laura prepared to become parents, the cultural “norms” of the world began to seriously affect them: the experience of not being fully accepted, the legitimacy of their family being questioned, and not having access to the same kinds of legal rights as heterosexual married couples, began to dominate their identity as parents.

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Case Study 1 – A Case Story

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Raymond and Sheila

Saturday morning, three weeks after the birth of their twins, Raymond awakes early, stretches and announces to Sheila that he has made plans for a long bike ride with three buddies. He plans to be back in the early afternoon. Sheila was stunned. Home with the babies all week, she has been waiting for Saturday. She expects to be together as a family. She is also looking forwards to time for herself — a bath or time to finally have an uninterrupted phone conversation.

A year later, she points to that morning as a turning point in her relationship with Raymond. Increasingly, she feels left on her own, unsupported by Raymond. Her most intimate conversations are with other new mothers. Raymond, on the other hand, feels his life is going well, except that Sheila seems increasingly irritable. She is much less attentive to him than she used to be; she always seems to be so tired. He sees her as tender and sensitive with the babies but neglectful of him.

What happened to their relationship? One way of thinking about that Saturday morning is to reflect on gender socialization. Many heterosexual couples, before they have children, create relationships different from those they witnessed a generation before. They examine traditional relationships and decide, at least in some ways, to do things differently.

But once a child is added to the mix, many couples unwittingly find themselves falling into traditional parenting roles. In the process they may lose the initial relationship they carved out for themselves. Prior to parenthood, for example, Raymond and Sheila prided themselves on their negotiating skills. However, once Sheila became a stay-at-home mom, assumptions rather than negotiations became the rule. As a result, communication and eventually, imtimacy eroded.

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Possibilities for Change

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Many of the problems facing new parents arise from the media’s idealized images of who we should be and how we should act.

In the majority of these cultural images, parents are perfect. We see heterosexual partners who are both present and divide their parenting tasks without effort. They are constantly involved in activities with their kids. All the children are beautiful, smart, and responsive. The house is always spotless, and dinner is always ready on time.

These idealized images are held out as the high water mark of who we should be as parents, and leave us inevitably feeling as though we don’t quite measure up.

In real life, we must deal with responsibilities in addition to parenting — jobs to perform or jobs to find, bills to pay, grass to mow, meals to cook, phones to answer. Recognizing the tyranny of the idealized image, and how unrealistic it is, goes a long way toward relieving guilt, pressure, and stress.

Experienced parents, most of whom learned the hard way, will advise you to find time to nurture your relationships and yourself. As a byproduct, you will ultimately be able to give more to your child.

Parents have found these strategies useful:

  • Develop your own priorities.
  • Feel good about attending to the things most important to you.
  • Realize all babies and children are different.
  • Remember this isn’t a race.
  • Children are always changing.
  • Don’t negatively compare yourself as a parent, your children, or your family with others.
  • Don’t be distracted from what is important to you; find ways to resist it.
  • Develop a network of friends you can speak openly with who will accept you even though your house is a mess or your toddler pushes.
  • Be able to say, “I don’t like my daughter when she does whatever it is.” Seeing others nod in recognition will heal your heart.
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Living with the Problem

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Almost all people arriving at parenthood for the first time report feeling some degree of uneasiness including loss of patience, lack of self-confidence, and diminished expectations. Such feelings may lead us to fear that our shortfalls might be affecting our child.

The problems of first time parenting can range from feelings of:

  • desolation so severe that it is called postpartum depression.
  • inadequacy when faced with the responsibility for another’s well being.
  • disconnection, lack of an immediate bonding with one’s newborn.

Most people, especially women, have had a lifetime of preparation and training for that magical transcendence into parenthood. When we finally arrive, we often endure experiences that don’t match these lifelong expectations. This often leads us into feelings of self-doubt and guilt.

For women, self-doubt and guilt are compounded with the choice of being either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. Even if the decision is experienced as a choice, mothers are constantly bombarded with messages that suggest either role has unfortunate implications for her children.

The difficulties that arise when adjusting our lives to a new 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job is monumental.

Couples report experiencing:

  • competition with each other
  • jealousy
  • little time for their relationship
  • guilt when time is devoted to their partner.

Single parents report experiencing:

  • lack of support
  • isolation
  • exhaustion
  • stress
  • lives that include little but children and work

If the pregnancy was not planned or the couple’s relationship is threatened or ending, they report experiencing:

  • resentment toward the child
  • feelings of being trapped

Additionally, if a child is different from what we expected or hoped for — perhaps with a serious medical problem — we may be unprepared for the special challenges. When parenthood comes through a less “normal” route — adoption or pregnancy of a single woman, or a very young woman — we may face societal disapproval or lack of support. (See our parenting case story on same-sex couples: Sally and Laura)

Even if we feel an immediate loving bond with our child, and surprise ourselves with our ease at parenting and ability to sustain other important aspects of our lives, we may continue still to worry about our parenting skills.

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Becoming a Parent

Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Perfection - The "Curse" of Perfect Parenting | 0 comments

Couples who are first-time parents face a huge reorganization of their lives and relationships. The lifestyle they may have created over a period of years now has to make room for another person with very different requirements. Dissatisfaction may be fostered by an idealized image of what their new family should be like.

The idealized image may rob them of joy, particularly if their baby is born with a serious illness or other problems. Couples also face expectations that their partner should be a particular way. Additionally, the effects on their relationship of stress, less time, less sleep, and for some, isolation, all take a toll. For same-sex couples there may be more freedom to define roles or a pull into heterosexual models.

Many find it helpful to talk with their partners about expectations, particularly to discover together if they reflect the culture or personal preferences. Finding ways to avoid comparing themselves with other new parents or their memories of their own childhood can help couples have room to discover what is really important to them.

Does some of this sound familiar to you? Here are some questions that you can ask yourself and your partner that others have found helpful.


  • Trying to keep the culture’s idealized image of parenthood out of the picture, what is most important to each of you in raising your child?
  • What do you or could you and your partner each do to contribute to that?
  • What do you know about yourself and your partner that makes you confident that you cold keep these priorities?
  • What do you hope to protect and nurture in your relationship with each other?
  • How have you been able to do that or how can you imagine doing that?
  • What have you appreciated already in your partner’s parenting that you might not have predicted?
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