As A Parent, I’m My Toughest Critic

by Dina Leygerman

As soon as I had my first child, I was inducted into a world of side-eyes and whispers and pearl clutching. I walked into a battlefield and felt the sharp sting of shrapnel constructed out of criticism and scrutiny. From breastfeeding to sleep training, I was drowning in disapproval, swallowing one harsh sentence after the other, begging for fresh air and words of encouragement. But, honestly, it didn't even matter what anyone else said to or about my parenting because, as a parent, I am my toughest critic. No one can come even remotely close to the relentless judgement I thrust upon myself. I am not at all bragging, either. This is actually really kind of sad.

Self-critique is a learned "skill." We are hardly ever praised. Positive reinforcement is a relatively new technique, even though it makes so much more sense than punishment ever did. From the time we are kids, we are taught self-critique. We are asked to assess our strengths and our weaknesses, then we're forced to focus on those weaknesses so they're eradicated or at least improved. We're punished when we do something wrong and are hardly ever acknowledged when we do something right. As teenagers, we are reminded of our imperfections by our peers. Our self-esteem is often damaged (at least short-term) by unrequited teenage love. We tend to look inward for answers at times when we should realize the issues are external. Performance reviews at work sometimes end with "no one is perfect and everyone can always improve." We are never really good enough for someone or something and, in the end, we end up not being good enough for ourselves.

I am aware of many of my flaws (although I am probably oblivious to some, too). I admit them willingly and accept myself for who I am. I've learned to accept my personality, my intricacies, my body, my outlook on life, my relationships, but I have yet to accept my parenting. Sure, I'd like to firmly believe in every decision I make when it comes to my children, but I would be lying if I said I make those decisions with 100 percent confidence. When it comes to parenting, I am definitely my biggest critic. I guess I just can't help it. I was taught this way.

When I "Fail" At Dinner

As a Jewish mother, it is a sin to not feed your children a home-cooked meal every night. Yet, just this week, on Monday night we had leftovers from the weekend. On Tuesday we ate a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Tonight, my kids will be eating chicken nuggets and noodles.

We manage to have a home-cooked dinner about three times a week, the rest of the time we improvise. So, I am ashamed of myself and my inability to give my children a hot meal every night. What kind of mother gives her kids hot dogs for dinner? This kind, I guess. I suck. Every night I fail to cook dinner, I feel inadequate.

When I "Fail" On Saturdays

Saturday is my day for errands. I hit up the supermarket and the local farm. I do whatever other shopping I need to do. I drop off dry cleaning, get my nails done, and sometimes wash the car. I clean and I do laundry.

The entire time I criticize myself over not spending enough time with the kids because it's the weekend and I already don't spend enough time with them during the week and now I am spending the entire day running around getting everything done. As I am food shopping, my little anxiety troll sits on my shoulder and says things like, "Your children are home waiting for you. You should be home. Go home. Be home with your children. You're their mother. They never see you. Go home." And, while I run my errands and accomplish tasks that absolutely need to be accomplished, I am tortured by my very own self.

When I "Fail" In The Evenings

As I write this, my children are outside with my husband. It's a gorgeous spring evening, homework is finished and they are riding their bikes around the neighborhood. I am inside working. I love my job, but I also want to be out there, with them. But I have responsibilities to my job. I spend most evenings during the week either writing or grading papers or creating lesson plans. While I know my job is important, I am still critical of myself as a parent, because a big part of parenting is being present, isn't it? And I am definitely not present right now, or most evenings during the school year.

When I "Fail" During Bedtime

Most of the time my husband does bedtime. He showers the kids, reads bedtime stories, and I come up to kiss them goodnight and tuck them in. As the three of them do their routine, I do mine of cleaning up after dinner, washing the dishes, and preparing for the next day.

On the evenings he isn't home, and although I should take my time and enjoy my kids, I am rushing through their bedtime routine so I can quickly go back downstairs and finish cleaning up and getting ready for the next day. Even when I get the chance to be with them, I rush through it because I am exhausted and I, too, want to go to sleep.

When I "Fail" Every Time I Lose My Temper

Exhaustion coupled with not enough hours in the day makes for a very cranky mama. So, when I lose my temper, I lie in bed and I can't sleep because I know I shouldn't have "said this" or "done that."

When I "Fail" When I Can't Afford Something

Few things make me feel more terrible than not being able to afford something for my children that I feel would benefit them. Whether it's a fancy private school, or an extra-curricular activity, or a trip to an amusement park, if we can't afford it, it pretty much breaks me inside.

When I "Fail" Every Single Day

Honestly, there is always something I am chewing myself out for. I blamed myself for not being able to breastfeed my firstborn. I fault myself every time I lose my cool for something super minor. I torture myself over having to go to work and not being able to "do it all." I cried when we didn't have a house for our kids to grow up in and, instead, had to live in a dingy apartment that, numerous times a year, got infested with centipedes. Everything is always my fault. I am constantly guilt-ridden. I am acutely aware of everything I could and should do better. "We need to do better," I'll tell my husband, and the very next day we are back in the same place as we were before. I still lose control. I still forget to sign off on homework. I still don't have enough time to finish laundry and the clothes sit wrinkled in the dryer. I still scrutinize myself. Blame myself. I am still cruel to myself.

I know I'm my own worst critic, but many moms I know are like that with themselves, too. It's not right, we aren't perfect and we can't be perfect. We are all doing the best we can with the hands we are dealt. Why are we so unkind to ourselves? Why can't we just focus on our strengths?