Perfect Imperfection

Thursday, March 01, 2012

by resident writer, Dawn Nicholas of

In the beginning, I was determined to teach myself and my husband to be perfect parents.  I read every book available on pregnancy and infant care, and swallowed them down with a healthy dose of expert parenting information.  We would raise our three children on an optimal diet of nutritious foods and boundless love, which would build strong bodies and considerate hearts.  We would protect them from every danger, real or imagined, including broken hearts, bruised egos, skinned knees and closet monsters.   We would have an ideal family; our children would express nothing but love and respect for us and for each other.  Our home would be a stress free haven where we could come together in perfect harmony to enjoy each other’s company.  This would be our reward for following all of the guidelines laid out in my collection of books. 
It all started out as planned.  In the early years, we nurtured their creativity and taught them boundaries.  We learned to be flexible yet firm, and to look at the big picture instead of obsessing about every little setback.  We relished the perfect moments and even the not-so-perfect ones. 

As time passed, we encountered some glitches in the eating department, and in a misguided effort to maintain peace, we unwittingly let down our guard and lowered our standards of the perfect diet.  We still provided plenty of love, but admittedly, the food choices we allowed them to make were not always the best.  We learned that skinned knees, broken hearts and bruised egos are, in fact, unavoidable, but can be opportunities for growth (both ours and our children’s!).  Sibling rivalry came and went, and came and went, and came and…. hmm, never quite went…  and the idyllic, peaceful home that I had envisioned was actually somewhat crazy and hectic but still filled with love.  Although our original parenting plan went through some adjustments (born both of necessity and, I admit, some moments of complete abandon), as we progressed through the elementary years, our kids seemed to respect us and each other, and we looked forward to years of the same.

Apparently our children had their own agenda.  Had they been quietly biding their time, leading us to believe that overall, our master plan was working, while plotting to turn on us one by one as they entered adolescence?  Were they taking private lessons on the effective use of eye rolling and mumbled sarcasm?  What was this sick twist in our parenting plan? 

I quickly referred to my books.  Surely there must be a list of rules to follow, a magical set of instructions for reversing this phenomenon.  I found volumes and volumes of information on the emotional and biological reasons for adolescent behavior, along with advice on the value of maintaining a firm yet flexible parenting stance.   However, each evolution of our efforts was met with disdain.  Consequences notwithstanding, their attitudes were stubborn and unyielding.  We tried firm.  We tried flexible.  Now it was time to get creative. 
All was calm and peaceful one afternoon of a long weekend which we were spending in Pennsylvania.   My husband and I were about to take our dog for a walk around the lake, and we thought it a good opportunity to have some family time.   Apparently this sentiment wasn’t shared by our almost 13 year old daughter, who vehemently declined our ‘invitation’.  Of course, this only made me more determined to win what quickly became a battle.  I finally insisted that she join us – she moaned loudly and dragged her feet up the driveway and down the road, smirking and eye rolling with abandon.  I was frustrated that the same person who left for school each morning in 26 degree weather refusing to wear a heavy coat because ‘It’s warm outside’ was now complaining heartily that the almost 60 degree day was way too cold for a walk around the lake wearing a warm jacket. 

Our fun walk was quickly becoming stressful for all.  Unable to tolerate her facial contortions any longer, I had a burst of inspiration.  I grabbed the camera hanging around my neck and began to fire away, taking pictures every few moments as my daughter plodded along nearby.   “Sto-op..!” She whined.  I took a moment to evaluate her reaction.  I didn’t want to provoke her into full-out anger; that would get us nowhere.  I already had a few images of her scornful smirk which I intended to show her later, hoping that her pride would win out and she would learn to moderate her behavior in order to avoid looking unattractive. 
What I saw in those few seconds between shots, though, was precisely what I had hoped for.  The almost imperceptible twitch at the corner of her mouth was unmistakable to me.  I had seen it thousands of times since she was a toddler. 

She found humor in this situation.  She was surprised that I wasn’t reprimanding her about her behavior.   She found my novel approach funny and somewhat interesting.  I could tell.  So I once again raised the camera and continued to photograph her reactions.  She started to laugh even as she protested my picture-taking.  Just like that, from cranky to laughing in under 20 seconds, offering a temporary but much welcome reprieve from her mood.

 And guess what?   I consider the pictures I took of my daughter that day to be among my most beautiful photographs.  In her expressions, I can see her ongoing struggle to be independent and my need to hold on; I can see myself letting her go and her coming back to me.  I treasure them not just for her likeness, but because they captured a momentous occasion – my realizing that the ‘magical set of instructions’ for getting through the next few years might include these words:  patience and creativity.  

Are the images that I took that day technically perfect?  No.  Do they follow the standards of excellent photography that I have been trained to practice over the years?  Absolutely not.  A few of them are out of focus.  Some of them are taken too close up.  I could find many faults with them, but here’s the thing.  They bring me joy, and they bring me great memories in spite of…and even because of…their imperfection.    And isn’t that really a lesson for all parenting?    Just goes to show that not all the answers can be found in books. 

Dawn Nicholas is one of our new resident writers at GottaLoveMom.  Dawn is a Certified Professional Photographer specializing in maternity, newborn, and children’s photography.  She lives in Cranford, NJ with her husband, three children, and their dog.  Examples of Dawn’s work can be viewed at

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