If there is one aspect of parenting that separates my generation from my parents’, it’s the amount of information out there on raising kids. My current obsession is making sure I’m raising empathetic humans who keep their hands to themselves. But the more I read on the topic, the more I worry about how I might be messing my kids up. Then I start second-guessing all my decisions. And worse, I start insulting my own parenting. I am constantly seeking validation for how we are bringing up our kids, especially since there are so many parenting styles. I have to stop reading so much and listen to my gut more. I mean, I hit a wall with too much information while boning up on motherhood during my pregnancy and I just had to stop. So I’ve learned to take breaks from “studying” how to be the perfect parent.
And that’s because the “perfect parent” is a myth.
The more I say the aforementioned to myself, repeating it like a mantra so it can finally, maybe, sink in, the more I stop telling myself how much I suck at raising kids. Do they — sometimes — use their manners? Yes. Do they know they need to wear clothes when they leave the house? Yes. Do they skip off to bed without a fight when it’s time for sleep? Nope.
Sometimes I’m nailing it and sometimes I feel like a failure. These basic aspects of parenthood have to be universal. So as I work to accept that I will mess up, but those instances won’t define me as a mom, I look for the tiny successes we’re having as a family, even if the only thing I can think of is that we all tell each other we love one another before going to bed, no matter what. I have to check in with myself, to make sure I’m not harping on any negative reactions I may have to what’s going on with my family. I have to make sure I’m not insulting my parenting, like I am when I catch myself doing these things:
Constantly Comparing Your Kids To Other Kids
Seeing how I measure up is a bad habit I just can’t break. While a healthy dose of competition can inspire me to do better, it usually backfires and I just see my shortcomings in relation to everyone else. This is a confidence problem, I realize, and since I don’t want my own children to have these same self-esteem issues, I have been trying to lead by example.
I have been working on quitting the habit of making mental notes on other kids I see playing on the playground. I have been trying to ignore the fact that it’s been years since my kid won “Student of the Month” again at school. It’s a struggle, but avoiding the constant comparison of my kids to other kids has helped me know my kids better. I can see their unique strengths and weaknesses, not where they fall on the bell curve of “normalcy” but how they contribute to their individualism.
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of wanting your kid to be “the best,” but know that I know my children pretty well (and that takes a while), I know that “the best” isn’t the best goal for them all the time.
Thinking Other Parents Have It All Figured Out
Of course, if I’m comparing the kids, I’m also comparing myself to their parents. How is it that so many other moms can get their kids buckled in their strollers without the children throwing a fit? How do these moms serve their children vegetables without pushback? What am I doing wrong?
The truth is, I may be catching these parents in a good moment. I have these good moments too, but I often focus on the bad ones because they need improvement. Remembering that I have these good and bad parenting moments puts other parents’ successes in perspective for me.
Not Setting Boundaries With Meddling Family Members
My mother has been a terrific source of parenting advice. But I am often hit with unsolicited advice from other family members. Though they mean well, I do feel judged when I don’t ask for help with a parenting problem and I get an earful. I need to be better about setting boundaries. I have learned that if I am going to complain about my parenting woes, I should be prepared for the people around me to chime in. If I don’t invite it, I usually don’t get their advice/criticism/judgment.
Blaming Yourself For Everything Your Kid Does Wrong…
It’s been easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking every little thing my kid does wrong is my fault alone. But it isn’t. I have to remind myself I’m an engaged parent. I care about how they’re feeling, I care about how they treat others, and I show affection every day.
Kids aren’t born knowing how to a damn thing and even though I may think my 7-year-old should know better than to push his sister at the bus stop (and he does), his impulse control is still in development. And while it is up to us, his parents, to set expectations and hold him accountable for his actions, we have to remind ourselves that when he screws up, it’s often not any one person’s fault; it’s part of the process of raising kids, which apparently takes at least 18 years. We’re just getting warmed up, I guess.
… And Not Crediting Yourself For Things Your Kids Are Doing Right
As a parent who feel solely responsible for our kids’ bad choices (even though that is totally illogical), I also find it hard to pat myself on the back for whatever it is they’re doing right. I’m very good at self-sabotage, but over the years I have come to recognize that I need to celebrate the tiny victories more.
My son cleared his place after dinner without being asked? I am winning.
My daughter finished all her homework before I got back from work? Open the champagne.
The kids went a whole meal without yelling at each other? Nominate me for Parent of the Year.
Parenting isn’t a meritocracy, but I am learning to take pride in anything my child does, knowing that he will probably f*ck something up five minutes from then.
Cursing Yourself When You Forget To Put Apple Slices In The Lunchbox
These are some of the terms of endearment I’ve used on myself. I have always been my own worst critic. It wasn’t until I went on a week-long leadership retreat for work when my kids were 4 and not-quite 2, that I learned how to talk nicely… to myself.
Apparently I was engaging in negative self-talk, and slowly, with practice, I have stopped insulting myself and started talking to myself like I would to a friend. If I would never dare call a friend of mine a jerk for forgetting to throw the apple slices into her kid’s lunchbox, then I shouldn’t do the same to myself.
I have been teaching my daughter this technique as well. I have noticed that, as she becomes a tween, she is starting to be more self-critical. “Would you tell your friend that?” I ask her when she describes herself as stupid. I don’t want her to have to wait until she is in her 30s to learn to treat herself with respect.
Apologizing To Your Kids For Basically Taking Care Of Them
I have caught myself doing this more times than I care to admit. “I’m sorry, but you have to put on this coat,” I’d sweetly say to my toddler. And why was I sorry about dressing her appropriately for the weather? Years later, when I catch myself framing expectations as apologies, I remind myself that I am an adult who knows better than my 9- and 7-year-olds, and making sure my kids are warm in winter falls under basic caregiving. There is nothing I should be sorry for when it comes to their well-being.
Dismissing Compliments About Your Kids
It’s always been hard for me accept compliments. Low self-esteem has probably caused me to shoo away anyone who tried to tell me I was any good, even though that was all I wanted to hear. This confidence issues followed me into parenthood so it’s been difficult for me to acknowledge the nice things people may say about my children. I’m working on it, though, because it’s important for me to take ownership of my positive influence on my children that manifests in their politeness or inclusiveness or sense of humor. I am proud of them, and I need to be more proud of myself for being their parent, as opposed to missing the chance to relish the fruits of my labor (literally).
Not Giving Yourself Breaks
I rarely went out when my kids were babies. In fact, I rarely plan to be out on weeknights now that they are school age. As a working mom, I just didn’t want to sacrifice any more time than I already was away from my children. But being in the office is not really a “break” from my kids. I recognized that I still needed some time away from them, in addition to the time away from them when I was at the office. Toggling between employee and mom modes is exhausting. I literally will run out of steam, and become short-tempered with my kids, or just be too exhausted to properly parent: “Yes, you can finish your episode,” I’ll say, giving in because I am too weak, mentally, to do the work required to get my kids to follow their bedtime routine. My own small infraction is the gateway for them; if I can’t even muster the strength to follow the rules, how will they?
Relieving myself of parenting duties with the occasional night out always makes me appreciate my kids more. And it fills my tank a bit, so I have enough fuel to power through the tough moments of parenting. And it’s good for my kids to know that it’s not all about them; I have needs too, that fall outside of our family. I have friends I want to hang out with, writing groups I want to participate in, and movies that I need to escape into. I have to believe it’s good for them to see me as more than their mom, and to foster their independence. I’m sure one day, sooner than I think, they totally won’t care what I’m doing without them.
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