Many people seem to think they’ll be the perfect parents of perfect children. At least, I know I did. Whenever I would see a child misbehaving in public, I’d think to myself, my kid will never act that way. Who hasn’t had those moments of silently critiquing a complete stranger’s public actions while assuming that that one short scene sums up the entirety of that particular adult’s interaction with his or her child(ren)?
The Personal Paradigm Shift
Then I had a kid myself. You know how the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence? Parenting is always easier on the childless side of life, too. Every judgement I’d ever made on every parent ever came back to haunt me. Many of the things I said I’d never do, I did. Many of the things I swore would be common practice in my household went out the window. In so many situations, I became that parent, the one I’d previously judged so harshly, and the worst part about it wasn’t knowing that others were probably criticizing me in their heads — the worst part was the self-criticism that followed each and every parenting “mistake.” I have a lot of bad parenting habits, but the worst one is the way I beat myself up mentally after every mistake I make.
Expectation vs. Reality
Before my daughter was born, I had my parenting style all mapped out in my head. Now, all too often, I find myself lost in a moment when that sense of direction is needed the most. I’ve had enough early childhood development training to know that calm redirection is the best discipline tactic, yet I still find myself angry and yelling about any number of behaviors that I know are developmentally appropriate. I know that my tired, hungry, overstimulated toddler will not tolerate the checkout line in the grocery store with any modicum of dignity or social grace. I know that my preschooler’s drawings on the wall are not an intentional act of vandalism. I know that my kindergartner’s selective hearing is not necessarily an act of outright defiance. Yet still, in the moment, that knowledge escapes me, and afterwards I’m left with the brutal barrage of self-criticism that picks apart everything I said and did that was wrong.
Breaking the Habit
In talking to other parents and reading parenting blogs, I know that I’m far from alone in this habit of self-flagellation for each and every parenting mistake. It seems that even the most confident, well-adjusted adults often feel completely inadequate when it comes to parenting, and with good reason — in raising the next generation, there is so much weight that rests on our kids growing into competent, productive members of society. That’s a tall order, especially when we’re bombarded from all sides with conflicting advice from an over-abundance of “experts.” Perhaps one of the best things we parents can do to break this habit is simply to remind ourselves that mistakes are just another form of learning. I know, it’s easier said than done; I’ve heard and read it so many times, and it has yet to fully sink in. However, each time I read it or hear it, it becomes etched a bit more clearly in my memory, to the point that I can occasionally recall it in those moments when I need it most. I hope that, by repeating it here, that message can become clearer to not only myself, but to every other parent who shares this same habit.