When my husband and I found out I was pregnant and began navigating the following nine months, we heard on more than one occasion of how much our lives were about to change. Obviously, they were right; there isn’t one facet of our lives that hasn’t been affected. The word “hard” doesn’t quite capture just how difficult things are as a parent. Conversely, no one could really prepare you for the depth your life takes when you have a child. It is both scary and exhilarating.
As my daughter continues to grow, and I continue to read a way too many articles related to children, I notice a theme when it comes to parenting. Parenting seems to have become an either/or situation. Black or white; the right way, and the wrong way. It is because of this dichotomy that I have come to the conclusion that there are five things we need to stop doing right now.
- Parent Shaming
We all know that there isn’t a single kid on earth that arrived with a manual. Sure, we wish such a manual existed. If it did, potty training and sleep training would be a breeze (and if these two situations were easy for you, we don’t want to know about it. No one likes a bragger). If we all know that none of us really know what we are doing, why do we keep shaming our parenting peers? If parenting were to hold their own Olympic games, I’m convinced that there could be a Facade Event, where parents – both moms and dads – pretend to have their crap together. Ooh, we could even call this the Highlight Reel Event, where parents comb through their Facebook feeds showing just how perfect of a parent they are. If the thought of such an event makes you gag, you’re not alone. Just typing that was difficult.
What we should do: Recognize that there are a million different ways to do any one thing and that, short of which way the toilet paper roll faces, there isn’t the “right” way to do anything. If we ourselves can drop the facade and embrace the mess of parenting, we have a higher chance of becoming better parents because a) we’ll stop the cycle of comparing ourselves to those around us (kids or no kids, this is just not a fun cycle to be on), and b) we’ll see just how big of a tribe we belong to, and can lean on. We aren’t in this crazy world alone, so why do we act like it?
- Parent Guilt
I often joke that I am constantly giving my daughter one more thing to talk about in therapy. Most days I am joking when I say this, but there are others where I worry that it is true, and I use that statement as a way to use humor as a coping mechanism. I often wonder why we as parents feel guilty? Are we comparing ourselves to our peers? Is it society’s fault, with all the celebrity worshiping we do? Ooh, how about Pintrest. Is it the peer pressure of the perfect birthday party that does us in? Regardless of where it comes from, it really doesn’t serve any genuinely good purpose. Last time I checked, nowhere in the course of time has the perfect parent existed. Well, I never really researched that, but I know it is true.
What we should do: Embrace the fact that just as your parents weren’t’ perfect (regardless of how much we’d like to think they were), you won’t be either. Are your kids fed? Perfect! Do you love them unconditionally? Even better!
- Striving for Perfection
This one is really hard for me because I am a big-time perfectionist. I am tremendously hard on myself in all areas of my life. I can’t even write on a Post-It Note without trying to determine if my handwriting was perfect.
One thing parenting has taught me is that regardless of how many children we have, no one knows what in the world they are doing. No one. If anyone tries to make you believe otherwise, they are lying or trying to talk themselves into believing it too.
Sure, human behavior does replicate itself, even in a toddler. To a certain degree we can comfortably navigate certain situations, but at the end of the day we are all still trying to figure it out.
What we should do: Instead striving for perfection, strive adequacy. Obviously that sounds like I am trying to set the bar so low most of us would be able to walk over it, but hear me out.
Life is messy, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Learning to embrace the mess, and roll with it is liberating. The comparison game is a losing battle, no matter who you compare yourself to and how hard you are trying. Think of the term “Pintrest Mom.” It isn’t normally said with excitement and a smile. Typically, it is said with exhaustion and a glass of wine. Or two glasses. Three glasses? Sounds good to me. I’m not judging.
- Pushing Our Kids to Be Who We Want Them to Be, Or Believe They Should Be
There is a stark difference between raising our kids to be successful adults, and pushing them into endeavors that more closely align with what we value over what they value.
I have a friend who would, when talking about his kids, would always say, “It’s my job to get them to 18. After that, it’s all up to them.” What did this entail? Helping them to be well-rounded, which included performing well in school, both academically and in sports. He also ensured they understood hard work, and the value of having a job and getting your driver’s license.
What didn’t he do? Force them into activities that would make the outside world think he was living vicariously through his kids. Additionally, he didn’t put unrealistic family expectations on them, nor did he dismiss who they were as human beings. He valued and respected their individuality, all while ensuring they learned to be respectful themselves.
What we should do: See parenting for what it can be: an opportunity to add one more good person to the world. Support the individual, all while instilling in them the values you hold dear.
I’m talking about unconditional love and support. Now days we are looking well beyond the Tiger Mom label. Now we talk about transgender children, non-binary children, LGBQ children, and so on. In some ways, it feels unprecedented all the situations we are faced with, but in the end it all comes down to the same thing: our kids need us to see them, hear them, and love them.
Clearly, these four things are just the tip of the iceberg of what we could stop doing now as parents. My hope is that it opens dialog and sparks conversation, which could lead to more revelations. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Understanding that we aren’t on this roller coaster alone and that our tribe is bigger than we realize could help us be the perfect parents we strive to be. Er, I mean, adequate parents…