It’s almost official — we’ve survived our first week of school, also known as “The Gauntlet,” a week where focusing on our kids demands tunnel vision. As if their needs, schedules and emotions don’t already require our constant attention, this week required more. I climbed into bed exhausted, after kissing foreheads of kids who fell fast asleep before the story ended, after making lunches, signing school forms, folding clothes and making note that this would all start over again in the morning. Raising kids is a never-ending job and unfortunately, the manual labor part of it isn’t even the hardest work — it’s the emotional weight we feel in the responsibility of doing a good job. Does that feel heavy? Wait. There’s more — there’s the guilt that comes from the deceiving voices in our heads that tell us we’re not doing a good job. And no matter how old our children are, or how many books we’ve read to them, or how many fits we patiently addressed, or how many kindness conversations we’ve had with them, let one of those voices loose in your mind and, within seconds, it grows to “I’m doing it all wrong.”
He’s not making friends, she’s struggling in school, he’s not adjusting, she was mean to her friend — because you yelled, you fed them a crappy dinner, you let them watch too much TV, you work too much, you’re not consistent, you spoil too much, you spoil too little, too many rules, or not enough boundaries. All these are moments of parenthood, not performance summaries of your job as a parent.
Perspective is a powerful tool in parenting, and feeling positive about our efforts in raising our kids sets the tone for good.
When the shaming voices in my head speak up, I can easily shift self-talk back into productive conversation when I remind myself of these things:
There’s no one way to be a perfect parent, but there are thousands of ways to be a good one.
“What if what I’m doing isn’t the right way?” is a silly question to ask yourself when you consider that “the right way” suggests there’s only one holy truth for how to raise your kids. I trust my instincts, make good choices, know my children and stay focused on what works for our family — not the hundred ways other parents are doing things (unless I’m looking for good ideas and help).
I have good resources.
Don’t have all the answers? No one does! But we are fortunate as parents to have so many resources — friends, moms, doctors, books, blogs and more that have great insights for raising kids. When I’m looking for support and parenting inspiration, I turn to things that make me feel uplifted and positive, not condemning advice or routines that don’t fit our family’s personality.
Look at how great this is working!
When your child gets a 90 percent on a homework assignment, you don’t chastise her for the 10 percent she missed — you congratulate her for the work that went into that 90 percent. If you’re feeling like you’re doing everything wrong, shift your thinking to focus on what you’re doing that feels good. Why are those things working? Transfer the energy from all the great strides your kids are making and let it multiply into other areas.
It’s never too late to change something.
One of my favorite parenting stories comes from the movie Gifted Hands, the true story of Benjamin Carson’s life. Growing up poor in inner city Detroit with a single working mom, Benjamin and his brother spent hours in front of the TV, waiting for their mom to come home — until one day. One day, their mom decided to change things with new routines, new rules, new challenges to read books, to work hard and to value their time. She didn’t tell herself that it was too late — and she didn’t beat herself up day after day for how she wished that she could be the mom who taught her kids to value their time. She became that mom. Carson grew up to be a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, philanthropist and speaker. If you don’t feel good about routines and habits in your home, change them. The window of possibility in making a positive impact in your child’s life doesn’t close. It’s always open, no matter how old your children are.
Mistakes are good.
Making mistakes, saying sorry, recognizing areas where we can do better, accepting all the beautiful, hard, ugly, redemptive moments of raising kids — it’s ALL part of being a good parent. You can’t have one without the other. Your kids need to see you make mistakes and recover from them so that they know how to handle making mistakes in life. What kind of tools are you giving them for when they have hard parenting moments someday if all they ever see is a perfect, happy, i-dotting, t-crossing mom?
When I feel myself wondering if maybe I’m doing it wrong, or when I feel like I’m not the best version of the parent I want to be, I remind myself of this: self-loathing parenting shame is the most unproductive place to be as a parent.
Raising kids is an everyday marathon. There isn’t a marathon runner in the world who can push through 26.2 miles without a stumble or a slow-down. And a successful marathon runner doesn’t push through the grueling parts by telling herself that she’s out of shape and no good. No, she empowers herself thinking, “I am strong, I am dedicated, I can do this, keep running, it’s worth it. Look at me go!”
This raising-kids-into successful-adults thing is definitely hard work. And we’re all doing our very best.
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