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By Chelsea Kelly
When you enter the world of parenthood you enter a world of commitment, lack of sleep, tears, laughter, fun, growth, frustration, love, and a constant questioning of your values and practices.
Parents also tend to be under a microscope all the time, whether their own or somebody else’s. Everybody has their opinions about what constitutes “good” parenting and it seems to me that it is often something people are not afraid to be vocal about. Particularly as a young parent, you probably run into uncomfortable situations often, where you feel judged and begin to question your abilities. The constant pressure to fit within society’s little boxes of “perfect parenting” is disheartening. When you could be using that 2 hour window when your baby does not need to be fed, changed, rocked, sung to, or played with, to shut your eyes and recharge your batteries, you may instead find yourself fretting over that one spazzy moment you had when little Tommy projectile vomited all over your last clean shirt, which Tommy has since forgotten about. As parents, we are our own worst critics and sometimes we need to take a moment to remind ourselves of everything we are doing right. So I begin with some tips on how to be kind and forgiving to yourself throughout the challenges of parenting.
Your three year old princess has decided it is not very princess-like to poop in her diaper, so instead she seeks out your brand-new beautiful pink sun hat and decides it is the perfect shape for her royal little bottom. “Aren’t I clever!” she thinks to herself. As you walk into the room, you drop the platter of heart-shaped cookies you were planning to decorate with her and start screaming like a banshee and using a few choice words in the process. Miss Princess is confused, bursts into tears and crawls into the purple princess tent you FINALLY tracked down for her on Used Victoria. You leave the room and are tempted to slam the door but you remind yourself that you are responsible for helping your daughter to learn how to deal with strong emotions. Once you have calmed down and reminded yourself that you purposely bought a machine washable hat for exactly this type of situation (although perhaps you didn’t picture it exactly like this…), you feel terrible for yelling and scaring your precious child into hiding. You sheepishly re-enter the room to take some damage control action. Here are two potential responses you may have to the situation.
You are so devastated and embarrassed by the fact that you lost your temper on your child that you cannot imagine how you could ever rectify the situation. You look at your daughter, still snuffling a bit, and blame yourself for every tear she shed. You cradle her in your arms and tell her she deserves better. You cry together on the couch and you ruminate about all the things you did wrong in this situation. Then, all of a sudden Miss Princess gets up, puts her tutu back on and says, “Let’s have a tea party!” You can’t imagine how she could ever look at you again, let alone ask you to play with her. As the day goes on she appears to have forgotten about the whole episode yet you have thought of nothing else.
You step back from the situation, take 10 deep breaths from the bottoms of your feet all the way up to your head. You refocus your mind and remind yourself of what exactly happened and what should happen to heal any hurt feelings. You decide that this is a perfect teaching moment to share some thoughts about emotions with your daughter. Once she emerges from her tent, you invite her to come sit with you. She walks towards you with a questioning gaze. Is mommy still sad or is she happy now? She crawls onto the couch to sit next to you and you tell her that you got upset because you did not expect to find her using your hat as a potty so it startled you. You ask her if she ever feels mad or sad about something, then tell her that grown-ups feel this way sometimes too. You explain that you forgot to use your words and that next time you will remember. You remind her that when she gets upset sometimes she needs some time to herself to calm down and this is what you were doing when you left the room. It was not because you did not want to be with her. Then you tell her that you are proud of her for noticing when she had to go to the bathroom and that she has a great imagination to think of such a…unique…place to do her toileting. You ask her to tell you about the game she was playing so you have a better idea of the thought processes that may have gone into this decision. Together you decide that maybe you can look for a princess potty for her to use so she doesn’t have to make her own again. After your conversation, you look at your daughter, who is setting up a tea party for the two of you and you are thankful for the ability kids have to be in the present. Now that you have talked to her about what happened, she understands and is happy to move on to her next game. You decide to forgive yourself in the same way that she has and you picture the scenario, put it into an imaginary raindrop, visualize yourself as a duck, and fluff your feathers so the raindrop rolls off your back into the pond. You swim away, content that it is resolved and with the knowledge that it no longer serves you to hold onto it. You and your daughter spend the rest of the day enjoying each other’s company and being in the moment together.
Tools to help you change Response 1 into Response 2:
1. Look at your strengths: You love your daughter . You show this by taking the time to notice what interests her. She is in a princess phase so you create activities to embrace her princess-ness. You took control of your emotionally charged self . You left the room so you could collect your thoughts without allowing them to escalate. You recognized when you were over-reacting to the situation and apologized to your daughter after . You felt remorse over the situation, which means that you value your daughter’s feelings and strive to maintain appropriate responses to undesirable situations.
2. Practice mindfulness. Notice the thoughts you are having and do not make judgements about them. Do not try to change them. Just accept that they are present. You can picture them floating by like clouds if this fits for you. When the thoughts are not helpful to you, picture a gust of wind blowing the clouds away. If a thought needs to stay with you, it will be too heavy for the wind to carry away and will be available to you to process in your own time, unclouded by the unnecessary crap.
3. Be in the moment. Avoid obsessing about what happened or worrying about what might happen in the future. Guilt and worry are not helpful.
4. Change guilt into discomfort and worry into action. Guilt holds you back, while discomfort helps you recognize where your values lie. If something is making you uncomfortable, you are likely breaching your own values. Change worry into action by taking the value breach and deciding what to do in the future. These re-conceptualizations can help you become un-stuck.
There is not one parent in the world who has not become overwhelmed, over-reacted, or acted in a way inconsistent with their values. Parenting is the most demanding and exhausting job to undertake so give yourself some slack when you find those self-deprecating, judgmental thoughts entering your mind. You cannot do anything about what other people say, but you have the power to decide how you will talk to yourself and how you will handle the comments that others may make. Will you let it go, like the drop of water on the duck, or will it be the tar that sticks to you and prevents you from moving forward?
Love your kids and love yourself and they will learn to do the same!