How many times have you gone to bed this week thinking I could have been a better parent today? I’m sure this thought has crossed your mind at least once this week. I can’t, or don’t want to count the number of times I go to bed feeling this way. How often do you lay there replaying the interaction, or lack of, you had with your kid, the time you yelled instead of giving her a hug, or how about the time you forgot the promise you made to your little guy? Don’t forget the ones that make you feel like a real winner: I’m just too tired to play, I can’t take it if he tells me about that Pokémon card again, and my personal favorite, how can I get out of doing this with my child? By no means am I saying you are a bad parent if you have had these thoughts. In fact, I think the exact opposite.
You are not alone! When you are laying there reviewing all the things you could have done better, remember to tell yourself that these thoughts and feelings are normal. It doesn’t mean you are the world’s worst parent if you are sick of singing along to children’s songs, or playing dress up with the totally representative bodies that your little girls Barbie’s display. You are an adult. Your brain gets bored with these things, no matter how much you love your child. You get frustrated, lose your temper, it’s ok.
Parents often talk to me about these exact things. I’ve sat with moms who did nothing but cry through the session because they told their girlfriend that they hate their kid today. Fathers tell me how torn they feel between their career, their marriage, and their children, but don’t know how to balance it all. (Fathers cry too.) Nobody ever tells you that you are going to feel this way when you announce to the world that you’re going to have a baby; overjoyed that you’re going to be a mommy or a daddy. What about everything else that you face as a parent, who told you about that?
I am not blaming your parental strife on those who didn’t tell you how hard being a parent is. I’m simply saying that people overlook the less attractive details in the midst of the excitement. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time parent, or well-seasoned; parenting is hard. No one can tell you exactly how to do it. Sure, you can listen to suggestions, but each little one you bring into this world is an individual. What works for one might not work for another. And no matter how bad you try to protect your kids; they are going to screw up. Parenting provides an outstanding amount of joy, and an equal number of stressful tears.
So, what do you do when you the tears won’t stop, when you lie there for hours giving yourself a pep talk for tomorrow, even though it feels like it will be the same as today? You own what you are doing wrong, ask for help when it’s needed, and commit to making a change. I often point out to my clients that they are demonstrating great parenting techniques, because they are already doing exactly what I just suggested. If you are aware of the things you’re not scoring 100% in, actively looking for better skills, and willing to make the necessary changes, then you are being a great parent. Just remember not to set the bar too high, and to give yourself some well deserved credit.
Social media shows us all the great things other parents are doing, but fails to point out the freak out that happened over Extra Cheesy Gold Fish earlier that morning. Take a minute to sit back and reflect on what you did right today. Enjoy the 30 hugs your four-year-old wants to give you as you are running out the door, late for work. Own it when your child is screaming at Wal-Mart and it feels like every person in the store is judging you. Who cares! Not all children are created equal, why should all parenting be expected to be same? It is so easy to notice the crappy stuff you do as a parent, and we all do it. It’s time for a change. Start journaling about the great things you do as a parent. Write about the things you are grateful for as a parent. These don’t have to be amazing things. If you are grateful for the ridiculous collection of sippy cups your child has to choose from, then write it down. Practicing gratitude has been proven to improve your overall happiness in life.
Take time for yourself. We are human, and humans need care. It doesn’t have to be much, just do something for yourself. Take a bath, read a book, allow your kids the opportunity to have quiet time. Remember, kids are their own individuals, it’s good for them to have time alone. Call your mom during quiet time and vent. Don’t worry about saying your kids are being little shits; chances are, Mom felt that way about you at least once. Do what works for you, no matter how silly it may seem. I prefer a diet Dr. Pepper when I feel like I’m going to run through the street, cursing at every child I see.
Lastly, pinpoint what needs to change and do it. Base this change off each individual child. If you don’t know what to do and everybody’s opinion makes you want to scream, get professional help. Find a therapist that fits your needs, can offer effective skills to practice with your child, and who understands when you just want to complain about how horrible your kids were at the restaurant last night. Remember to take ownership of what you can change, apply new skills, and don’t be surprised if they don’t always work. Don’t forget that your child is their own individual, they will make their own decisions, and voluntary compliance is a rarity. You are doing better than you think you are!