You mean we don’t have to be perfect parents? According to Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based mom, developmental psychologist and author of “The 5 Principles of Parenting: Your Essential Guide to Raising Good Humans,” the answer is no.
We spoke with Pressman recently to get some insights on her parenting philosophies.
Please tell us why you wanted to write “The 5 Principles of Parenting.”
My hope was to bring relief and support to parents. Relief from having too much or inaccurate information and support from getting just enough information to actually knowing what really matters when it comes to raising resilient humans. In all my work, I try to find ways to deliver the real science while not fixating on minutiae that causes more stress and little payoff.
That’s what this The 5 Principles of Parenting book is: the good-enough parenting book for good-enough parenting. And if that doesn’t sound like enough, spoiler alert: “Good enough” is actually better for kids than “perfect”.
As a mom and a developmental psychologist, why do you think “the need to be perfect” is such a struggle for all of us moms?
It is developmentally appropriate to want to be “perfect” when you are charged with raising a human. After all, this is the most important human/s in your life. Add to that the fact that perfectionism does run stronger amongst women, the overwhelming amount of information to sift through and the piles of perfect-within-reach portrayals of parenting on social media, and it is no wonder moms feel overwhelmed.
Have you personally struggled with being “the perfect mom?”
One of my strengths is that I am not a perfectionist…to a fault. According to my kids, I could use a dose of perfectionism. I have other struggles, but I for sure benefitted from truly believing the science that good enough is better than the impossible perfect. That said, like any mother, I have moments of absolute shame at my shortcomings. I have seen through my work with so many mothers that perfectionism comes in so many shapes and sizes, and mine may very well be that I am perfect at being the “I’m so imperfect and self-compassionate — aren’t I perfect at it” kind of perfectionist. I need to reflect a bit more on that!
Do you see unique challenges that parents face raising kids in Los Angeles?
L.A. is a pretty heavy Hollywood industry, and the biggest challenge is keeping kids with the values you hold and not the values Hollywood holds. I think you can have an appreciation for the business and the art of it all, but it’s so much more challenging to help kids stay grounded.
One of the five principles is “reflection.” Can you give us some examples of “micro-moments” of meditation and mindfulness that you practice?
Meditation does not have to take on the form of a lone meditative monk sitting still, contemplating for hours on end. You can have micro-moments of meditation and mindfulness that can foster reflection. Make yourself comfortable and set your timer or mindfulness app for two or five or 20 minutes — whatever amount of time you have. Inhale through your nose for a four-count, hold the breath for a six-count and exhale through your mouth, lips slightly puckered, for an eight-count. Ask yourself: What really matters to me in my parenting?Allow any answer to bubble up from your body. Notice this answer.
Inhale for another four-count, hold the breath for a six-count and exhale, lips slightly puckered, for an eight-count. Ask yourself again: What really matters to me?Continue breathing and asking yourself this question until your timer dings or gongs or does whatever it does. No judgments on the answers that come up. Just notice.
You also mention “repair,” which I think is so important in a parent-child relationship. Can you give us an example of what this looks like in real life?
Repair isn’t about fixing mistakes that never should have happened; instead, it is the space in which we grow. Mis-attunement is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. Making repairs as soon as we become aware of them is important — and doing so is much easier than we think.
I don’t love scripts because they can make some parents feel inauthentic and beholden to them, but here are examples parents can use and adjust the wording to make them feel more authentic.
- “My reaction was really big, and I am sorry. That must have felt scary. I love you even when I get angry. I will work on responding better next time.” This validates how your actions may have made them feel and shows them you know how to be accountable, all while reiterating that you are a safe, loving parent.
- “Whoa, I really blew that moment. That was not your fault. Can we have a do-over? If I could say that again, I would not yell.” Here, you’re again demonstrating your accountability while also acknowledging that parents are fallible, too, and sharing how you’d handle things differently next time.
- “Hey, I just want to say I’m sorry for how I reacted. I want you to know that you can come to me for anything, and I will work on hearing you rather than jumping in with anger. I care much more about the fact that you came to me than anything I could be upset about. I love you so much.” In this example, you are reinforcing that your child can trust you and come to you for anything. Remember, you can’t help a child that hides from you, but you can help one that feels safe talking to you.
How has parenthood changed you personally?
Parenthood has deepened my relationships and helped me have a handle on what really matters, including laughter. It has made me reflect on my own experiences and current experiences so that I move through the world more intentionally. It has given me the motivation and capacity to build my self-regulation. I actually breathe more and move more slowly. It has made me determine what rules I uphold. Finally, it has given me a deep sense of hope because I have been able to repair and grow from the inevitable ruptures of growing this relationship. For sure, in becoming a mother, I am evolving into more of who I want to be as a human.
Best life advice you received growing up?
My grandmother collected all sorts of frog figurines and stuffed animals. She told me frogs only jump forward. I think of it always.
Best parenting advice that you use yourself and you would like to share with all parents.
All feelings are welcome, all behaviors are not. And you just need to be the parent you want to be more often than not. That is good enough. I whisper that to myself a lot.
When not working, where will we find you?
I really enjoy hiking and hanging out with my family and friends.
What are some of your favorite spots and activities in and around L.A. to enjoy as a family?
We love a game night with other families. That’s our most happy place together. We love hiking Fryman Canyon (OK, I drag my teenagers, but they will appreciate it in the future, I just know it), and we love going to the theater. We will go to a big show at the Pantages or a tiny sketch comedy at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre].
For more information on Pressman, her new book and her podcast, Raising Good Humans, visit, draliza.com