Being a mother and father provides a deep sense of love and profound reward. Despite this enormous love, parenting is hard work and we can all agree that the task of raising a human being is complex and difficult. There are also risks involved in parenting. Making things worse is the consistent and often constant criticizing of individual parenting skills—most of which is harsh, unfair, and untrue.
Examples of self-critical thoughts range from “I’m a below average parent” to “if I don’t attend all of my child’s events, I have failed.” More often than not, parents do a better job than the credit received. Likewise, it is inevitable that conflicting commitments will arrive. It is unrealistic to believe that you can be super human and be physically present at two places at once—do not be critical of this perceived limitation.
In private practice, I also see parents struggling with the idea that their child’s wants, preferences, and interests are more important than their own needs. Yes, parents make sacrifices daily and parenting requires selfless behavior. However, the key is balance and parents cannot always take the back seat. If individual needs’ are not considered, tanks will become empty and resentment will rise. After all, you cannot pour from an empty glass.
Another struggle is using too many “should statements.” For example, I should never yell at my child, I should be more patient, I should not be frustrated, I should not find time with my child boring, etc. These thoughts and emotions do not make you any less of a parent nor do they indicate that something is wrong with you or that you do not love your child.
One important thing to remind yourself daily is that children are resilient, robust, and have the capacity for much love and forgiveness. When you feel down, remind yourself that your children would not be better without you. Use your experiences to model, teach, and grow. Additionally, when you feel the criticism increasing, take a minute to write down what you are feeling bad about (e.g., raised voice) followed by writing down what you think the behavior actually means (e.g., bad parent). Next, look for evidence that supports and does not support your initial thought. Focus on making a balanced thought and reducing the black-white and related emotional thoughts happening in the present moment. The sum, not the individual parts of you parenting experiences, is what really matters!