It can be hard to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to motherhood.

As you race from one activity to the next or come home exhausted after a day at work, it’s frustrating to watch that perfect mom in the carpool. The one that feeds her children only organic homemade food, dresses them perfectly at all times and seems to have everything under control.

Meanwhile, you have just fed your kids fast-food takeout for the third time that week or parked them in front of the TV one too many times.

There is a solution.

Focus on the adult you want to raise and stay on that path, said Dr. Jennifer Harsh, a medical family therapist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Forget about comparing yourself to the neighbor next door.

Maybe you wish for your child to be smart or caring or socially aware. What values and beliefs does that require?

“Figure out what your goal is and work your way back,’’ Harsh said. “Give them the skills to have that outcome.’’

Modify your approach so what you’re doing feels right for your child. It will help you handle those moments when you’re second-guessing yourself.

It’s a lot to think about, Harsh said, so she offers these tips:

  • Look into parenting resources that will show you the way. One good source is the American Society of Pediatrics. “If you are a person who says, ‘I want my kid to grow up to be as physically healthy as possible; it’s important for them to eat right and exercise,’ go to places that give you information on nutrition,’’ Harsh said.
  • Don’t be too broad with your goals. If you say you want your child to have a nice life, and be happy and healthy, what does that really mean? “It’s just like if I want to lose weight,’’ Harsh said. “How am I going to do that? Set specific intentions.’’
  • Don’t focus narrowly on wanting your child to be happy; it’s too fleeting. Instead, give them skills to handle their own emotions. “You want them to feel well and have the tools to help themselves when they are not feeling happy.’’
  • If you want your child to set boundaries for their own well-being as they mature, model that for them. Set aside 30 minutes one night a week for conversation your significant other. Teach the kids that they must play games or keep themselves occupied during that time.
  • Volunteer if you want your child to grow up to be conscious of others’ needs. Let them see you going to a soup kitchen or helping that elderly neighbor down the street with her shoveling and yard work.
  • Your goals might have to change as your child grows. They might have a different idea for their future as they mature. Talk about it. Tell them what has been important to you and ask what’s important to them. Then adjust your goals together.
  • Don’t set your goals too high; it can result in anxiety in your children. If you expect your kids to get an A in every class and they get a B, don’t act as if it’s the end of the world. “Extremely high standards aren’t possible for every kid,’’ Harsh said. “It’s not in line with raising a happy, functioning, quality member of society.’’
  • Temper your expectations for yourself, too. Life happens. A family member may die, you might be stressed at work, or you might have no time to cook. Give yourself some breathing room. If Johnny eats a bowl of French fries one night for dinner, it’s going to be OK. It’s just a normal part of parenthood.

“It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It just means you are having a rough time right now,’’ Harsh said. “If you’re striving to be a perfect parent, your goal is not a good goal. What does that even mean and how is it attainable?’’

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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