Have you ever felt that you are “not good enough” at being a parent?
We live in a time where we now know so much more about how our minds work, and how our childhood experiences shape who we become as adults. This is great, because when we know better, we can do better, but it’s a double-edged sword. The problem with knowing what you ought to be doing, is that it gives us so many more opportunities to feel like we are not measuring up.
Any time you’re going through a difficult phase with your child, or their behaviour is not perfect, it’s easy to slip into the worry that this is somehow my fault, it’s something I’ve done as a parent to cause this.
I hear so many parents saying that they are worried that they are setting their baby or toddler up to have issues when they’re older, that their parenting choices now are somehow going to affect their child for the rest of their life. As a society we have totally switched our thinking from believing that people are born with their character fully formed to believing that babies are basically a blank slate and our personalities are completely the result of nurture rather than nature. For someone like me, who has read a lot of this stuff, it just layers on the pressure that I need to do well as a parent if I want my kids to grow up into happy, well-adjusted adults.
Many of us have an inbuilt disposition to seek out the negatives, to do ourselves down, to notice how things could be better, rather than focusing on what we’ve got and the successes we have had. I have days where I can’t think of a single aspect of my life that I’m happy with or I think I’m doing well at.
This is partly because most of us are trying to do far too much – more than is humanly possible. Of course we’re not going to be perfect in every area. One of my major issues at the moment is the kids’ bedtime. By that time of day I just can’t seem to get myself together enough to do everything that needs to be done to get them into bed, especially when they are fighting against it at every turn. I become shouty and impatient and I know deep down that my behaviour is making the whole thing worse. The problem is compounded when I’m dwelling on all the other areas of my life that I feel I’m falling short in too, so by the end of the day I feel like I can’t do anything right.
So what’s the answer?
Well firstly, if this is a long-term problem for you and something that invades your life on an almost constant basis, seriously think about getting therapy. If your self-esteem is low and has always been low it’s likely that you could benefit from talking to someone about it. In fact, nearly all of us could benefit from doing more to support our own mental health and self-care.
If that’s not an option right now, think about the following:
1. You don’t need to be perfect
In fact, when it comes to being a parent, you shouldn’t aim to be perfect. Children have to experience the whole range of human emotions to know how to deal with them when they have grown up and are out in the world on their own. If they had never felt sad, angry, or disappointed, and had never seen you deal with those emotions yourself, how are they going to learn what to do when they feel those things themselves? It’s our job during childhood to teach our kids how to manage the whole spectrum of feelings – no emotion is bad or should be hidden away or bottled up. They will learn from us how to deal with those feelings in an appropriate way, which will save them from needing to mask the pain as teens or adults with alcohol or over-eating.
And if you get angry or upset with your child, what better lesson to teach them than how to apologise? If you can show your child how sorry you are when you’ve been unnecessarily shouty, they will learn how to genuinely apologise, and they will also learn that it’s not their fault that mummy shouted, which is good for your kids’ self-esteem.
You may have heard of the phrase that we only need to aim to be a “good enough” parent. This is very true for the reasons I’ve just given. If everything was perfect and lovely and happy-smiley all the time, with no issues, no hardships, nothing ever going wrong – yes they might be happy kids, but how on earth are they going to cope with the real world? They won’t have built up any resilience at all.
We’re all going to give our kids some hang-ups about something. I guess the beauty of life is that because we’re all different, our kids will all have different ones! The best we can do is help them manage their emotions and learn how to deal with life’s ups and downs.
2. Life is not about how well you perform
…unless you’re an athlete. But in parenting there are no medals for good performance. You may feel like you are being judged, but who is really being the most judgemental of your parenting? You. No one else. If someone makes a comment that you take to heart, it’s you that has taken it to heart, and unless the person who made it is a total bitch, it’s unlikely that they even considered for a moment the effect their words might have on you.
Who decided what “good enough” is? Whose standards are you trying to measure up to?
Parenting is not a set of objectives that have to be met, it’s a relationship between you and your child.
3. Not good enough, or simply unappreciated?
Bringing up kids is largely a thankless task. You give and give and give, and they take. It seems you can never give them enough attention, especially when you’ve got other things to do. Children aren’t grateful – they don’t understand. The hard work you do every day (and night) goes unnoticed. If you’ve got a clingy baby who needs to be physically attached to you every second and you can’t even go to the toilet on your own, or if you’ve got a toddler who demands their toast be cut into triangles, but throws a massive tantrum because you’ve cut it into the wrong sort of triangles, it’s certainly a hard slog for both mums and dads.
Maybe you then go to a job where you feel unappreciated too. It’s not easy under these circumstances to maintain the self-motivation to keep believing you’re doing a good job, when the people around you aren’t giving you positive feedback. However, this doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough – you are – but you are suffering from a lack of appreciation.
It takes a fantastic amount of self-esteem to battle on through the early years of parenting and feel like you’re doing well. We all have ups and downs in life, with good patches and bad patches. The challenge is to realise when you’re in a bad patch and to say, ‘this is temporary, it will pass. I can do this’.
A few nights ago my 9 year old couldn’t sleep because he began thinking about what happens after you die, and he got scared and upset. I tried to talk him out of it and I tried changing the subject to the nice things we’re going to do at half term, but whenever we stopped talking he went back to crying. It was the middle of the night and he was waaay overtired. In the end I said to him, “Look, you’re going to have to be tough with yourself now, because you have to stop your brain from thinking about this as you just keep upsetting yourself. What you need to do is take those thoughts about death and imagine putting them in a box. Now imagine closing the lid and taping it shut. Now put that box inside another box and tape the lid shut. Now put that box inside a third box. Now you’re going to climb up the ladder and place that box on the highest shelf, right in the corner at the back. Those thoughts are still there but they are safely locked away and you don’t have to think about them.” I put on some relaxing music very quietly (found on YouTube) and talked him through a whole body relaxation, starting at his toes, tensing and relaxing each part of his body, from his feet, up his legs, tummy, chest, back and arms. I then talked through feeling the softness and sleepy feeling going up over the back of his head and down his forehead, over his eyelids, down his nose and cheeks. I asked him to imagine a soft, warm towel resting across his forehead so he could feel the weight of it pressing down. Each breath out helped him feel more floppy and more sleepy. The gentle music he could hear helped him to feel more and more relaxed.
I heard him give a big sigh, and he was asleep.
There are two morals of this story. Firstly, you can do this for yourself. When you have repetitive negative thoughts that you just can’t seem to escape from, put them in the box on the high shelf. Keep putting them in that box if they come back. Even if you get outside help through therapy, the only person who can help stop the negative thoughts is you, so like I said to Zac, sometimes you just have to be tough and put those thoughts away for a bit. Do the relaxation thing – if your body is relaxed you will feel much better about everything.
Secondly, I AM A GOOD PARENT. I helped my son who was upset calm down and get to sleep. Yes, it took an hour and the first approach I tried didn’t work, but we got there. He went to sleep feeling calm. I’m not going to beat myself up about the fact that it wasn’t the perfect response straight away; instead I’m going to bask in the glory of having succeeded in the end! You have small wins like this too, every single day – see how many you can spot.
Your children are loved and cared for and you are doing your absolute best under whatever circumstances you find yourself in. You are a good parent and you are good enough.