Okay, let’s face it. Parenting is hard work. And if you are parenting while holding down a job (paid or unpaid), or if you have two or more children, it’s even harder. Take a look at these ways that we often make it even harder than that!
1. Comparing ourselves to other parents. “She always looks so put together. How does she do it?” “How can he work at a top law firm and still have time to coach the soccer team?” Implicit in these pseudo-compliments is the thought that you should also look all put together, or should be able to find time to coach your daughter’s soccer team.
Give yourself a little self-empathy. What have YOU done? The put-together mom may spend more time on makeup and hair than playing games with her children. Or she may be able to afford full-time help around the house. The soccer coach might bury himself in work when not on the soccer pitch. Chances are they may be looking at you and thinking, “How do they do it?” about something you are getting absolutely right. Life is too short to spend time in judging yourself or others.
2. Comparing your child to other children. What’s the first thing we do when our children are born? Count fingers and toes and make sure they are healthy and “normal”. We need to give up the concept of “normal” when referring to children. Every child is unique, and has unique gifts and unique weaknesses. Einstein had poor social skills. The child who walks at 8 months may need math tutoring in the second grade. The child who is slow to speak may be a musical genius. And it is a statistical fact that no matter how “advanced” or “behind” children are labeled in Kindergarten, they are pretty much evened out by the fourth grade. Most kids are just fine on their own.
3. Beating yourself up when you “blow it”. There is not a parent reading this post that has not “blown it” multiple times. We are human. We are going to make mistakes. We will yell at our children when we are angry and tired. We will blame them for something they have not done. We will forget promises that we made to our children or their caregivers. Once again, a little self empathy is called for. Also, an apology will go far in repairing damaged relationships.
4. Trying for “perfection”. Parents on television have it easy. There are tons of “off-camera” workers that make sure the beds are made, the dishes are put away, and the floors are cleaned. I have often marveled at how much time there seems to be between waking up and getting off to school or work in movies or television programs.
I like to use an “end-of-the-world” analogy here. The world does not end if the beds are not made every morning, or if the sticky orange juice spill remains on the floor all day. It is OK to pull clothes out of the hamper, check to see if they are “too” dirty and put them on. Canned or prepared foods are sometimes necessary when there is an emergency in the family. Mental health is far more valuable than a home worthy of Good Housekeeping or Southern Living.
5. Listening to too much “advice”. There is plenty of it around. And no matter what you do, there is no “right” answer. Disposable diapers fill up the landfill. Cloth diapers use too much electricity and water. Public schools are underfunded. Private school uses money that could be better spent elsewhere. Homeschooling limits the amount of socialization. How can you know what to do? Just go with your gut. You know yourself, your partner, and your children. Come up with a solution that works for your family. Trust in your own wisdom.
6. Not getting enough sleep. Once you get pregnant, you say goodbye to restful, whole nights of sleep. And once the kids are finally asleep at night, too often we are tempted to catch up on other chores like laundry, or paying bills. Worse, we actually go to bed, but spend time tossing and turning, worrying about numbers 1-5 above. Rest is an essential need for all of us.
Try this: once the kids are asleep, turn down the lights, spend some quality time with your partner, read a good book, take a bubble bath, anything that helps you rest. Go to bed at a decent time for you and get as much sleep as you can given 2:00 feedings, or nightmares, or squirming toddlers. If you are well rested, you can handle what life throws at you with much more calmness and grace.
Of course, there are many other ways we sabotage ourselves, including over-scheduling our children, taking on too many responsibilities, and overusing our electronic devices. But it all comes down to one of my favorite Marshall Rosenberg quotes: “The goal I suggest is not to be perfect parents, it’s to be progressively less stupid parents.” (Raising Children Compassionately, p. 21)