There's a weird thing that happens when we become a parent. Even though we have never been a parent before, we think we should know exactly what to do. After we have been a parent for a while, and maybe now have a second kid, we still think that we should know the perfect way to parent each individual child as they grow and automatically know how to remain cool under the most ridiculous circumstances. Then, at the end of the day, as we are trying to get some peace back and prepare for another day, we feel guilt creep in. The "could have" and "should have" thoughts.
Truth be told... If we were to picture a friend of ours, in the exact experience we had earlier in the day where we did not "keep our cool" or respond with the grace of sweet Mother Theresa, we would in no way, shape, or form think that they were doing a bad job or are a bad parent. Because it was us and our kid, we heap on the guilt and regret. We automatically think we are doing a horrible job and quite possibly ruining our children.
If there's one thing I've learned by being a parent, it's that our children teach us that we do not know what the hell we are doing! We could have a Doctorate in Psychology, a Masters in Organization, studied under Ghandi himself, and yet in those moments where you are in a restaurant and one kid is whining, throwing food, and just spilled a full cup of soda on your crotch, while you are trying to discretely nurse the other screaming baby the appropriate response goes right out the window. You swear you are never going out in public with your children EVER again. There is no training for this. There is no pause button so that you can take your time, calm down, and find the best way to parent.
So why then do we feel guilty? How can we think we should be able to respond in some ideal way every single time in any set of circumstances? It feels like our expectation of ourselves is completely unfair, and not only that, it's a heavy burden. Now, I am not saying that since parenting is so hard and unpredictable that we should not strive to be better at it, I am saying that we need a better balance of expectations and compassion.
Guilt is a natural response that comes straight from wanting to do the very best you can for this little person that you brought into the world. Sometimes it can have a purpose. It can be a motivator to change a behavior if you feel it is negatively affecting your kids (or you). BUT guilt without compassion for yourself can be soul crushing. Finding that balance is important.
Whether you personally feel you are lacking in a trait you wished you had more of (patience, empathy, organization, creativity, etc.) or feel like you do not "do enough", or you have to work away from or while your little ones are around, or have a hard time taking some "you" time, here are some things to remember.
- Realize that change takes time and work. You will not wake up one morning and magically become a saint. Expecting change without allowing yourself the time needed to actually change is not fair to yourself. Allow yourself time to learn, practice, and grow. You CAN change and it's OK if it takes time. If you make any growth in any area you want to....CELEBRATE IT! Call a friend, do a dance, buy yourself flowers, and tell your self you did a good job!
- Don't judge. Thank yourself for making it through the day. Allow yourself some peace in knowing that it's ok to take a break, a snooze, skip out on cleaning to snuggle, or let Netflix watch your child while you do something you want/need to. Your kid will be fine.
- Care about how you feel. If you need support, tell a friend. If you need to wander around Target (or Little Neetchers!) by yourself, make it happen. If you need help, please ask. Sometimes we expect people to know what we need (because it is SO obvious to us), but often others won't realize it. We need support and just opening up to another person can lighten any burden you've been carrying.
- Focus on positives versus the negatives. Will we be able to go through a whole day without getting mad, or annoyed, or frustrated, or exhausted, or at our limit? Probably not. So when you have a great parent child moment, or you said something that you could tell really meant something to your kid, or you were able to pull an extra bit of patience out of thin air, or just plain kept your little ones alive... give yourself a pat on the back. Go ahead, go so far as to give yourself a compliment!
- Don't compare. There is no parent that doesn't feel overwhelmed, exhausted, at the end of their rope, guilty, or like they are doing a bad job or are quite possibly the worst parent ever. You may think one of your friends is a much better parent than you, but you know what? They are not YOU and they do not parent your kids. You have to parent out of what you have and what your qualities are. NO one has perfect kids or a perfect family, we are all just doing the best we can with what we have and what we know. That's it. You do your best. And remember, it's hard for everyone!
Compassion for ones self is the ability to stop judging and evaluating ourselves. Simply accept yourself, the way you are. Treat yourself with the same kindness, care, and compassion you would show to a good friend, or even a stranger. It's ok to mess up, it's ok to not do the perfect thing, it's even ok to not know what you are doing. Life is complicated, and so is parenting. Do the best you can, don't judge, work to change things when you can, give yourself compliments, find encouragement, and always give yourself some compassion. And remember YOU are enough. You are strong. You are doing your best. You are loved.