Earlier in the year, I signed up for an ocean swim. In the week leading up to it, I was doubting whether or not I’d done enough training. Then, when I was in the middle of the swim, I motivated myself by remembering the hours I had spent in the water. That’s what helped me to just keep swimming (that, and the Dory inside my head), remembering all the training I had in the bank. It gave me confidence.
It’s the same with parenting. We can berate ourselves for our failings way too often. We can remind ourselves over and over again of the requests that we denied our children, the books we didn’t read – all the times we said no to their pleadings. The list of failings we hold in our head can feel infinite. We forget to focus on the things that we actually have done.
In my last article, I shared that according to nib’s State of the Nation Parenting Survey, three out of four parents worry that they’re not spending enough time with their children. Are we? I’ve been wondering the same lately as my youngest child is on the eve of starting school. So many factors could contribute to the answer to that question.
I’ve learnt that there are a few ways to challenge that parenting guilt and discern whether or not your feelings have any truth to them.
An end of day habit I’ve started lately is reminding myself of the things I’ve done right. Yas, I said no to my daughter when she wanted me to read her a book while I was making dinner. But remember when I read two books to her before bed?
Yas, I told my son I couldn’t play with him today. But remember that awesome game of soccer we had yesterday? Feelings of guilt can easily dominate when we let ourselves only see the bad and don’t practise seeing the good.
Challenging guilty feelings
Challenging guilty feelings also involves looking at parenting from the big picture perspective. It’s unrealistic to think we can enjoy every moment.
I work for Parenting Place, so I’m constantly surrounded by high standards. I hear snippets of conversations that the Family Coaches have with each other in the office. For a light lunchtime read I pick up the latest parenting and communication research. It’s hard not to constantly measure myself against the gold standard. Don’t get me wrong – everybody in my workplace is human which means their children are still children. Tantrums are still tantrums and teenagers are still teenagers – even if you work for a Parenting organisation (sometimes, especially if you work for a Parenting organisation). But when I do find myself in those moments of feeling inadequate, I’ve had to ask myself whether I’m okay with my parenting being made up of moments of quality connection, day-to-day ordinariness, and (many) times where I don’t get it right.
Being good enough
Am I okay with being a ‘good enough’ parent, rather than trying to be a perfect one? Parenting in the 21st century, with its plethora of (often conflicting) parenting advice available online, can contribute to feelings of guilt. It’s worth detoxing from that magazine or parenting advice email (as I write this I’m aware of the irony!) if they are inducing guilt about your parenting choices. Sometimes you just have to trust that you’re doing a good job.
Part of challenging my guilty feelings was doing some calculations. 24 hours per day means there are 168 hours in a week. My two kids spend roughly half of these asleep, and around 32 and 18 hours at school and kindergarten. That leaves at least 50 hours per week. 50 hours per week that I’ll still have with her even after my daughter starts school.
Yas, school is a big deal in a child’s life. Their teachers and peers become a significant influence on them, but it’s still much less time than they are at home. Those same older wiser mums who have told me, “It goes so fast”, also say that you never stop being a parent. My daughter is growing and changing. Soon I’ll share her with her teachers and her friends. But she’ll always be my daughter, and I’ll always be her mum.
Once we’ve challenged our feelings and asked ourselves if they’re accurate or not, we can get on with dealing with them. That’s what I’ll explore in my third and final article.