Thoughtful Parenting: I’m such a good parent, thought no one, ever
Following is a scenario that is very common but very real for most parents.
A mother sits, head in her hands, overwhelmed by her children. She worries that, because of this, her kids will not turn out OK. She does not think she is a good parent.
She had three children, ages 15, 12 and 3. The 15-year-0ld is spending more and more time in his bedroom consumed with social media. Mom wonders if he’s depressed, but Dad thinks it’s just a phase and she needs to back off.
The 12-year-old has just been written up for disrespectful behavior toward a teacher at school. Mom’s best friend thinks there should be a consequence at home, and they have a very awkward conversation, which leaves her feeling judged and angry.
The 3-year-old is looking spoiled and chronically moody. The preschool teacher talks about being consistent at home. Mom admits that, recently, she prefers to be a work than at home.
There is no other job in which you receive so much unsolicited advice. The noise of this advice, combined with your own internal uncertainty, creates endless doubt. At each stage of the journey, there seems ample opportunity to question each decision.
• Before baby: Am I ready to have a baby? Am I ready to be a father? What about our financial situation? If unplanned, what are our choices? I like our life together now; will it change everything? What if I make the same mistakes my parents did with me?
• Pregnancy: What doctor should I use for pregnancy and delivery? Do we want to know the gender of the baby before birth? If it’s a boy, should our baby be circumcised? What about a home birth? What about child care? Which place is best? How much will it cost? Who will take care of the baby? How many days per week? Is it affordable to stay home for three months or six months, or can I be a stay-at-home parent?
• Baby: Should I choose breast or bottle feeding? Should I employ co-sleeping or “cry it out”? Am I spoiling this baby? Why am I so tired all the time? Why does it feel like we are keeping score?
• Toddler/preschool: Should we have a second child? Why is our 3-year-old so difficult? Should we spank him? Why won’t she eat what I give her for dinner?
• Elementary school: Why does the teacher not understand my child? Should we get a tutor? How may extra activities are enough? Should I let him quit if he is not enjoying the activity? Should we call the coach to find out why she is not playing as much as other kids? Wait, you didn’t get invited to the birthday party?
• Middle school: Why are so many kids getting cellphones? I’m not sure about some of the friend choices; can I control this? Should there be consequences for grades that are below what I think is my child’s potential? How should we help with homework?
• High school: I don’t really want to let go. Do I have to let him drive around with an older friend? How do we balance our academic expectations with other activities? Is this friend a good influence? Is grounding really teaching what we want? Should we allow our child to drive to Denver without an adult? Is it a good idea to be in a serious relationship right now? Why am I always questioning my child’s judgment?
• After high school: More school? Job? How much, if any, financial help should I offer? Do we emphasize following his passion or the importance of seeking a viable career?
• Later: Wait, are you sure you are ready to be a parent?
There is no end to these questions; they keep going, and each new situation seems more paralyzing than the last.
Regardless of parenting style, all parents deserve respect. That said, it is an important skill to be able to keep the uncertainty in check.
For all you doubters out there, following are six thoughts that might be helpful.
• Parents who doubt themselves are actually great parents. If you are doubting yourself, you are considering lots of choices and taking the time to make quality decisions.
• Enjoy this moment, because whatever comes next will most likely be harder.
• That “perfect” parent at pick-up doubts herself, too.
• Find one friend, and spill it all. Vocalizing vulnerability and finding acceptance helps us to not feel alone.
• You don’t need to react right now. Our most proud parenting moments come after pushing the pause button.
• The absence of doubt equals arrogance; the best parents have an abundance of humility.
Susie Clark, LCSW, is a child and family therapist at Mind Springs Health. She can be reached at 970-879-2141.
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