(This article is part of our series on self awareness)
You’re not a good parent — there I said it!
Just think of it. Right now, you could be watching TV. Or facebooking/pinteresting. Or reading a fantastic book. But here you are – reading a personal development blog meant exclusively for parents!
You are not a good parent… You are a @#&*ing awesome parent!
In spite of being the awesome parent that you are, in spite of being the cream of the crop and rising above the average, when I said “You are not a good parent” you felt a tiny bit of guilt. And a sense of self doubt.
To many of you I am just a stranger. To some who read the blog regularly (Thank You!), I am a good acquaintance. And to a very small set of poor unfortunate folks, I am a close friend/family 🙂
But, no matter how much or how little I know you, the fact remains – I am a third party when it comes to your kids, your values, your circumstances, your kids’ temperament and a whole list of other variables. I have absolutely no right to even dare comment on your parenting skills, let alone judge it.
You know that.
But still, when you read the words “You are not a good parent”, even though you were probably (and, rightfully) pissed off with me, there was that tiny bit of self-doubt in the background making you wonder if I was right.
Every parent that I know of – no matter what their parenting style is or how their children eventually turn out – struggles with this self doubt at some point or the other.
So, today let’s explore it a bit.
The Self-Doubt Snowball
Let’s say you’re are at the supermarket and your kid starts whining “Can we go home now?” (Parents of older kids: feel free to replace this with an annoying behavior appropriate for your kids). You know she is tired and you should be heading back home. But you are all out of milk and bread and if you don’t pick them up now, there won’t be any breakfast for anyone come tomorrow morning.
You see your daughter heading into a meltdown, but you just don’t have the energy to deal positively. You make a few weak attempts at deflection and diversion and then just give up. The whining continues – a broken record playing the same tune over and over, grating mercilessly on your already frayed nerves.
You rush through the aisles and finally make it to the checkout counter, only to be greeted by a tantalizing display of candies. Prominently at the front is the M&Ms that your daughter so adores.
Before she even says a single word, you know what’s coming next. It’s almost supper time, you can’t cave in. But you just don’t have it in you to fight her.
As the begging and pleading shifts gear from “Can we go home now?” to a frenzied, high-pitched, “Can we buy the M&Ms, pleeeeeeeeasssse”, you lean down to pick up the pack of M&Ms. And, from the corner of your eyes, you see the disapproving look on the face of the woman standing next to you in the checkout line.
Unlike your one disheveled, whiny kid on the verge of a monster meltdown, she has three in tow, all spic and span and none begging for M&Ms.
For a moment, you can’t help but think — I am so unfit to be a parent.
Now if it stopped at that, it really isn’t that big a deal. But it never does, does it?
Once the thought enters your mind, it niggles your brain and drips venom onto every interaction you have.
As you drive home, you snap at your daughter for being so messy as she munches happily on the blasted M&Ms. At home, you snap at husband for not helping enough. And as dinner is served and your daughter declares she will never, ever, ever, ever eat zucchini, you launch into a full blown power struggle that just cannot end well.
True story, by the way.
How to Deal with Self-Doubt
I have no idea why we sometimes let total strangers or some commonplace situations shake our confidence and make us question our own abilities. Why otherwise perfectly confident parents let a small ripple of self doubt turn into a nasty tsunami that destroys everything beautiful in its path.
If there is a way to avoid self-doubt entirely, I’m afraid don’t know about it.
So, I want to focus today on ways to deal with it instead, so we can control the damage it causes. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far –
#1 Watch Your Doubt, Don’t Fight It
When you notice that some doubts are arising, acknowledge them as a natural reaction of a normal human being caught up in a challenging situation and let it be. Don’t fight it – fighting will probably only make it worse. In one experiment on thought suppression, researchers found that the more they asked their subjects to NOT think of something, like a “white bear”, the harder the subjects found it to stop thinking about it.
Instead, just be mindful and observe the thoughts as they pass through. Recognize the little stories your mind spins. Don’t engage in reasoning with them. Don’t justify, don’t deny. Just watch. It is actually very hard to do this, but with some practise, I find that it can be done and the effort is well worth it (and will also bear rewards in many other aspects of life as well!)
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry as reported in this Wall Street Journal article showed that when mindfulness (as mentioned above) was added to traditional cognitive therapy, it was just as good as antidepressants at warding off relapses of depression in the 160 study participants who suffered from major depression.
#2 Avoid Irrational Response at All Costs
The aim of being mindful is primarily to catch the doubts as early as possible, so can prevent the snowball and avoid the knee-jerk lash-out response that ensues. In the words of Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychologist who survived the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps –
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
What we are striving for is to (a) become aware of the stimulus (b) to recognize that there is a space between the stimulus and our response and (c) exercise our freedom in that space to choose our response.
#3 Choose an Appropriate Response
I don’t know if there is one-size-fits-all “appropriate” response that can work for everyone and in every situation. Here is what works for me in most situations-
At first, I do nothing. Intentionally, do nothing.
Then slowly acknowledge the fact that everyone has self doubts.
And admit that I will never be perfect.
And that some self doubt once in a while is actually healthy – it puts things in perspective and keeps me from getting the God complex.
And lastly, slowly make an effort to engage with my daughter a little, in as much of a positive way as I can muster up in my down-in-the-dumps state, reminding myself over and over to be kind and gentle both with her and myself.
And somehow, before I know it, the little storm that was building up clears and I see little rays of sunshine streak through. I realize that I am a decent parent after all. On the way to becoming a really great one, in fact! 🙂
So, here’s the thing…
Parenting is like everything else in life. You will worry, you will stress out, you will have self-doubts, and you will mess up.
Yes, you should work towards the goal of eliminating these negative thoughts, and it will take some time and effort. In the meantime, the best thing to do is to ensure that it does not escalate. Limit the damage. And in particular, shield the kids from your personal worries and fears.
You won’t always be successful in shielding your kids from your personal issues either. Forgive yourself, and move on. Never stop trying to be a better person, and a better parent. Never give up on yourself or your kids. And never stop learning — no matter what part of the roller coaster you are on at this moment.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take the next 2-minutes to think –
- What are your common triggers for the “I’m not a good parent” thoughts?
- How do you deal with them?
- What can you do to shield you kids from your personal fears and doubts?
- What are some of the thing you get right?
For obvious reasons, I am terribly interested in hearing your stories. Please share them in the comments section below. I can’t be the only parent who lets her parenting insecurities interfere with her parenting abilities, right? Right?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Over the next week, anytime you catch yourself screaming at your kids, stop and think – are you really screaming at them for what they did, or are you just venting out your own insecurities?
And slowly start putting together a plan of action, anything that works, that you can use to defuse your insecurities and to shield your kids when you are not on your A-game.