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Being a parent is hard. Anybody with kids can agree on that. We all want what is best for our children, and most of us seem to have pretty strong opinions on what that might be. Sometimes, those opinions don't line up with reality. Twists and turns in our lives can throw us curveballs, and the way we end up handling our bumpy paths in life may turn out to be drastically different from the way we pictured ourselves handing things. And that is okay. Actually, it's not okay, it's awesome.
DEALING WITH JUDGMENT AND GUILT IS PART OF IT ALL
In a way, being a parent can sometimes feel like being under a microscope (especially in public). Starting in pregnancy, we get judged on all sorts of ridiculous things. Did we give up coffee? Did we remember to take our vitamins every day? Did we attend birth classes? Write a birth plan? Eat healthy? Do prenatal yoga?
The list goes on and on, and if we fail on any of those fronts, we can be made to feel like we are the worst parents in the world. It bleeds into birth with our guilt regarding epidurals, cesareans, long labors and other complications. Then into postpartum and beyond. Our harshest critics, of course, are ourselves.
I felt guilty that I let my bossy midwife confine me to a bed during my birth (I should have stood up for myself!)
I felt guilty when I fell laughably short of my goal to not let my son have sugar until his second birthday (I was failing my child!)
I felt guilty because it took me several days after birth for me to feel bonded to my baby (what is wrong with me?!)
I felt guilty when my baby was born below the tenth percentile because I had grown a small placenta (I had failed at organ-growing!)
My feelings of guilt and failure were valid. All feelings are valid. But that doesn't mean they were grounded in reality.
“My feelings of guilt and failure were valid. All feelings are valid. But that doesn't mean they were grounded in reality.”
I hear and read about a lot of people who feel they have "failed" in one aspect of parenthood or another. Every time I hear that, it makes me inwardly cringe a little.
For instance, it is impossible for someone to "fail" at breastfeeding. If you have put effort into forming a connection to your baby through breastfeeding, you have succeeded. If breastfeeding doesn't work out for you in the long run, it is not you who have failed your baby. It might have been your community, culture, and medical professionals who failed you.
You cannot "fail" at giving birth. We all dream up ideal birth scenarios, but the truth is that sometimes stuff happens that's out of our control. Sometimes we are bullied or lied to by our care providers. Sometimes we are not properly informed. Sometimes unexpected emergencies crop up. These things are unfortunate, and they don't in any way reflect negatively on you. There are so many things to consider, you can't be prepared for all possible outcomes.
NOBODY IS PERFECT
I often find myself stuck in a headspace where I feel I can't win. When I am firm with my child about boundaries, expectations and follow-through, I sometimes worry about being "too strict." I don't want to be overbearing or overly authoritarian. Yet, at the times when I catch myself being permissive, I worry about being "too lenient." I don't want to just let my kid do whatever he wants all the time. I want my child to have boundaries to give him confidence, and freedom to give him room to grow.
There is this illusion of the "perfect parent," the one that we see on television, hear about on the internet, and read about in parenting books. That parent doesn't exist. Anyone who claims to have all solutions is either totally clueless, or trying to sell you something.
“The perfect parent doesn't exist. Anyone who claims to have all solutions is either totally clueless, or trying to sell you something.”
5 WAYS TO COPE WITH FEELINGS OF FAILURE
- Be kind to and forgiving of yourself and others. Nobody's perfect. We're all doing the best we can with what we have.
- Remember that you are important. It's not all about your baby. You are a person, too. You have needs. It's okay to take care of yourself. It's okay to ask for help.
- When feelings of failure or lack of confidence come up: acknowledge your feelings, let yourself feel them, and then let them go.
- Don't project. (This is the hardest one for me). When you hear someone talking about succeeding in some way that you feel you have failed, realize that this is not about you. Be happy for their success... then see #3. Then...
- Praise yourself. Silently and aloud. Think about all the wonderful things you are capable of. Allow yourself to brag about something you did today, even if it's something small like doing the dishes.
“When feelings of failure or lack of confidence come up: acknowledge your feelings, let yourself feel them, and then let them go.”