As a child therapist, I hear a common theme from parents is that they tend to talk down to themselves for their parenting, especially when their child has a diagnosis of some kind or is the victim of a trauma. Many times parents can tend to blame themselves for anything bad happening to their child, or how their child is behaving. While this may seem to be an appropriate response to difficulties in your family, it actually has the opposite affect. In fact, I would venture to say that blaming yourself and talking down about your parenting does more damage then it actually helps with changing the situation. Allow me to explain what I mean here. Blaming yourself or others for what it is happening, actually creates a cycle of self abuse and control rather then a system of personal responsibility and respect. You, as a parent, can only take responsibility for your actions, your words, your feelings, and your teaching as a parent. You can’t take responsibility for what happens outside your home, or for your child’s diagnosis, or what your child does or decides. Now many of you may say, “But they’re my kid. What they do reflects on me!” And I agree with you. However, I would argue that our child’s behavior or what happens to them does not have to define what we do or who we are as parents. What do I mean? I mean that we as parents need to learn how to show ourselves love and kindness when it comes to our parenting. How do we do that?
First we need to recognize that we are not perfect people or parents! When we find out that we are going to be parents for the first time, we tend to form high expectations of ourselves to not mess up our children and do everything that our parents didn’t do for us. But then life happens and we find ourselves mimicking what we swore we would never do to our kids. Let me encourage you by saying mistakes and mishaps are inevitable. Beating yourself up for making these mistakes only wastes time and only makes the situation worse. If you make a mistake as a parent, admit it to yourself, your spouse, and to your children. Additionally, take responsibility for this mistake and say what are willing to do to correct it. Don’t be afraid to involve your kids in this process! Does this mean that you allow your kids to disrespect you? No! Allow your kids to vocalize their feelings about what they might need from you if you’ve made a mistake.
Second, we need to separate our actions from the actions of other people, including our kids. This is extremely important when it comes to teaching our kids responsibility for their actions. This goes beyond just offering an apology when we’ve done something wrong. It also includes us focusing on what we are capable of providing or doing on a daily basis. As parents, it’s our job to protect, provide, love, teach, guide, discipline, and prepare. It is NOT our job to convince, change, or control our children or other people in our lives. Many of you may be thinking, “My kids’ actions reflect on my abilities as a parent, especially when they are misbehaving.” I would argue that your kid’s behavior is their own. They are responsible for their actions and their choices. You as mom and dad, are responsible for your response. Please understand, I’m not saying that you allow Jimmy or Jane to act up in the grocery store aisle without giving them a consequence or disciplining them. I’m saying that you focus on your response to what your child does and not allow their behavior to define whether or not you are a good parent. It’s tempting to always blame ourselves for our kids acting up or making poor choices, but we have to remember our kids aren’t an extension of our own person-hood.
Third, we need to recognize that our children are not us! Many people tend to see their children as an extension of themselves as people, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. I think we can all agree on the idea that our children have a mind of their own! And it can be very hard to get them to change it! This can be hard for us as parents to deal with, especially when we want our children to think the same way as we do or do as we do. How do we deal with it you ask? I think we can sum it up with these statements right here. My job is to tell my kids the truth and model it for them. It is their job to respond to it and apply it to their behaviors and mindset. When we focus on our role and responsibility as a parent, it takes the pressure off of us to do everything, and we can focus on loving and accepting our children.
Fourth, we need to give ourselves encouragement and kindness as our parenting journey continues as well as seek it out. Parenting requires a lot out of us as people. It also requires a lot of emotional energy. Without support of any kind, we will burn ourselves out and not be emotionally available for our children when they need it. That’s why it is important to seek out fellow parents as friends and maybe even reach out to grandparents or relatives for extra support when needed. Sometimes we may even need breaks in order to avoid getting overwhelmed with parenting duties. It is not a crime to take care of or encourage ourselves whenever we are feeling down.
As I stated earlier, parenting is not an easy task. It can be, however, a rewarding one. Let me impart some encouragement to each of you. All the hard work that you’re putting into love, caring, and raising this child will all pay off in the end. If you don’t see it now, don’t lose hope. Keep trying and working to be the best parent that you can be. Your children, if they are smart, will see it and appreciate what you are trying to do as they grow older.