The Myth of the Perfect Family
overcoming the dangers of comparison
Do you ever feel the pressure of comparing your family with others and realizing that you do not measure up to what you see? We all have dreams of what our ideal family life would be. Sometimes these are prompted by “model” families that we have seen, or perhaps they are the dreams we had of what our own family should be like.
“Once upon a time there lived a family. This family was a picture of peace and harmony. They had ‘all their ducks in a row.’ Their children were always obedient and never argued with each other. The parents never disagreed on anything, nor was there cause for conflict. Each child responded correctly to every situation that they faced. Their home was a center of joy and orderliness at all times. Everyone who saw them just knew that they were, in fact, a Perfect Family…” Or were they?
The Danger of Comparison
Have you seen families who seemed to fit this description and wished that your family were like them? Do you, even in your heart, compare your children with others and begin to have expectations because of these comparisons?
Remember that looks can be deceiving and comparisons unfair. “We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (II Corinthians 10:12).
As our children were growing, we gave them examples of others whom we thought were more mature. We considered this an opportunity to challenge them to righteousness, but in reality, it was often more of an offense to them. Over the years we found a better solution for challenging them in righteousness—encouraging and blessing them as we saw each one taking steps in the right direction.
Dissolving the Myth
Let’s think about that “ideal” family in the example above. Many times our observations are just a snapshot of others. We don’t know what they are really like. It can seem that they surely do not experience conflicts. But if we had the opportunity to spend time with them, we may find that one member struggles with pride, one has a problem with anger, and one tends to be lazy. God is not finished working with them, just as He is still working in our lives. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). We can trust Him to complete this work. We never fully arrive, but we are a work in progress.
There is no such thing as a “perfect family.” Every family will experience challenges, trials, character deficiencies, and more. The ideal of the perfect family does not take into account the following realities:
- Our sin nature (See Romans 7:18.)
- The influence of the world, the flesh, and the devil (See Romans 7.)
- Spiritual growth through trials (See James 1:2–4 and Romans 5:3–5.)
- The uniqueness of family members
The Reality of Imperfect Families
We have imperfect families because each family consists of imperfect people. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians 2:8–9.) All families will experience struggles and failures. These struggles are meant to send us to the only One who can help—our Lord Jesus Christ. As we go through the difficulties in life, He wants us to go to Him with these struggles, because He is the answer to our problems. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
As a family, we have numerous areas of weakness. The Lord is convicting us individually in many areas, and we are constantly taking our needs to Jesus, relying on His mercy and grace. We have not “arrived,” and never will on this side of heaven, for it is God’s grace that enables us to live victorious Christian lives. “By the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:10).
Addressing Crushed Expectations
When we demand perfection from family members, we often are left with unfulfilled expectations in our own lives, because we are looking to others for what only God can give. As a result, our family members can become discouraged as they feel that they can never please us. This causes walls to be built and we wonder why we do not have the relationship that God intended. “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
Children are often given the impression that they have to earn our love. Our example for loving our children should be found in our Heavenly Father. He so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son. While we were sinners, He sent Jesus to die for us. Do we show unconditional love to our children as in Romans 8:35–39? Is there anything that will separate them from our love?
Curing the Perfectionist
- Be Broken Before God and Family
- It would be helpful to ask family members how we have failed them. This is a very difficult thing to do, and we recommend it only if done in the right spirit. Brace yourself! Prayerfully evaluate the hurts as seen from their perspective. Show repentance. Ask for their forgiveness. Then do what you can to make it right. Our weaknesses are no secret from our children, and they are aware of our struggles. It is vital that we admit our faults and that they see repentance. As we recognize our inadequacies and sin, our children will see brokenness in our lives and will often become more open to sharing their struggles with us.
- Maintain Biblical Convictions
- In Matthew 22:37–40, the two greatest commands are to love God and to love our neighbor. Keeping these commandments begins within our home. Children should see parents who love God and are surrendered to the Lord. It is vital to live out the Biblical principles that we are expecting our children to make their own, because they are very sensitive to inconsistencies in our lives.
- Young adults in particular need to understand the Biblical reasons behind convictions and see them in Scripture. We cannot expect them to know the reasons if they have not researched it themselves. We have regularly taken our children back to the Word of God in order to establish these principles into their hearts.
- It is also important to have fellowship with other families who demonstrate these principles. Our children have chosen to avoid close friendships with peers who are not going the same direction. Instead they have spent time with other individuals and families who are following the Lord whole-heartedly. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). We enjoy having fellowship with like-minded families as we mutually encourage one another in the ways of the Lord.
- Celebrate the Uniqueness of Family Members
- We need to remember that each family and family member is unique. We do not want to lose our children by having our family take on the commitments others have, unless God makes those commitments real to us.
- Many well-meaning parents tend to continue pushing their young adults, not realizing that they are losing their hearts and turning them away from the family. If we win their hearts, they will want to hear our counsel. As our children became young adults, we found a need to parent more by relationship than by authority. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1).
- Choose to Love Your Unique Family
- Let’s refrain from trying to become that perfect family, but instead become the family that God intended us to become. Our desire is to please the Lord. Follow the principles and commitments that He has revealed to your family, according to His Word. Observe the direction your family is going and encourage them in it. Look for the best in family members and praise those qualities. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
As we do these things, our children should find the acceptance they have been looking for in their parents. They will know that we are there for them and they will be able to communicate with us concerning their deepest needs.
- Have we studied our convictions in Scripture?
- Have I had unrealistic expectations for my children?
- Am I repentant and broken before my family when I fail them?
- Do I allow for uniqueness in family members?
May the Lord give you wisdom as you influence your children for the Lord!
George and Claudia Vogrin
George Vogrin served as the director of the Advanced Training Institute from 2004–2006. He and his wife Claudia desire to encourage families to serve the Lord together and assist them in raising up a generation that will impact the world for the kingdom of God.