I recently came across a blog by a parent daydreaming about being alone in the woods. She deeply loved her family and married life, but at times she wanted to disappear for a little while. She longed to be where no one would demand she pour them a glass of juice, she had no schedule, and nobody would need her to make decisions or referee. She dreamt about a place of beauty and solitude where she could listen to the wind, write poetry, take a nap, and indulge in whatever struck her fancy. She didn’t want to disappear forever but she recognized that sometimes we all need to take time for ourselves. What struck me about this article was this mom’s willingness to discuss a taboo subject, the pressures of parenting. Parenting is one of the most difficult things you can do, the work is unrelenting, and the stakes are high. But the expectations of our society can make us feel like we need to live every moment like it’s an Instagram moment. Our society puts a high value on happiness and that can cause feelings of guilt or inadequacy when we admit how hard our lives can be. Somehow having it all became doing it all and self-care has become yet another item on our to-do list. What we need is not a face mask, a spa day, or a meditation app (although all of those are lovely if that’s your thing), we need a break, we need solitude, and we need to feel safe to hold space for feelings of resentment, frustration, or unhappiness.
Pressure from the World at Large
Most of us have a long list of people who are willing to offer advice. Our parents, friends, a nosy neighbor, the person behind us in the check-out line, anyone and everyone may be offering unsolicited opinions. If our child has a tantrum, screams, “I hate you,” or takes a toy from another child, we may feel embarrassed. People are eager to tell you how to deal with teething, potty training, and discipline. You may be following the perfect mom blogger who posts about positive parenting every day, have a pile of unread parenting books, or have ideas about what you thought parenting would be like and your finding the reality is different from what you planned. And you may feel like everyone else is getting it right while you are struggling.
The truth is that everyone is struggling, especially now. We are living through a global pandemic, watching a horrifying war, and dealing with a climate crisis. Many of us have been uprooted, lost our jobs, or have been unable to see loved ones. Our lives have scaled down to play dates with our pods, a runny nose could mean missing a week of school or work, and our child care facilities and jobs have been disrupted and even closed. We’ve had birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries that we haven’t felt like celebrating. Vacations, family reunions, and valued traditions have been postponed and canceled. Many of us have lost loved ones, struggled with illness, or feared for those we love. The angst and anxiety of the last couple of years will stick with us and we remain uncertain of when things will get better, and for how long. When we first hunkered down two years ago, none of us knew how long this would go on. It’s always okay not to be perfect, but it’s even more okay right now. This is true for all of us, but especially true for those of us who have children who depend on them for love and protection. If you are a parent, you may be worried about your child’s development of social skills or how they will succeed in school when they have lost so much time. You may wonder how to talk to children about illness, world events, and staying safe. How do we inform and prepare children without scaring them?
The best and most challenging thing about children is that they live completely in the moment. Although your child might have fears, most of the time they are not worried about what happens next, they are too focused on the now. If you have had a child, you know how easily a toddler can be distracted by a piece of tape or a catchy tune. Children remind us of how beautiful and mystifying and magical our world is. They are enraptured by a dandelion blowing in the wind, will insist on story after story without worrying about what time they need to wake up, and will gleefully jump into a puddle with no concern for wet feet or clothes getting muddy. Through our children, we get a glimpse of what it is like to live without any regard for a schedule and with no qualms about expressing emotion, even if that means collapsing on the floor and howling. Children are completely themselves without apology and with no regard for consequences. And that is exactly why they need us to guide them and keep them safe.
What that Looks Like
My mom loves to recount the story of the time she had pneumonia and I asked her what was for dinner. Most of the time, our children are only concerned about their own well-being. Your baby doesn’t care that you are missing out on sleep, your toddler will grasp and howl for a cracker, and your preschooler will scornfully dismiss the meal you spent hours making and demand you warm up chicken nuggets. It takes time and patience to form little humans into beings who can care for themselves and have regard for others. Manners, responsibility, compassion, and self-sacrifice are all skills that are taught. All of the time and attention our little ones demand can leave us feeling drained. The pressure to be relentlessly happy, to snap pictures of our perfect lives, to meditate ourselves into calm acceptance, can leave us further drained. Parents wonder why their child doesn’t sleep through the night like their neighbor’s child does, why Sam’s mom never struggles to get him to school, and why the other kids on the playground seem more comfortable making friends. And yet parents are reluctant to discuss their doubts, to admit that sometimes their child can be difficult, and admit that they are fantasizing about a life of quiet contemplation.
A Place of No Judgement
One of the reasons why I love being a parent coach is because I want families to feel comfortable voicing their doubts, admit that it’s hard, and talk about the fear of failure. My job is to listen, not to judge. I give parents space to discuss challenges, big or small, and then we sort through them together. My job is not to tell you how to parent because no one knows your child or your family like you do. What I do is help you sort through the noise, gain tools and techniques that work for you, and make a plan for change. One client recently told me that when he first started working with me he felt like every day was a battle, every transition was hard, he wanted things to change but he didn’t know where to start. I helped him figure out where to start, suggested techniques to practice, and checked on his progress. Sometimes you need an objective opinion to help you figure out where to start. Parenting doesn’t come with a guidebook and parents may have limited knowledge of child development and positive guidance techniques. This is where a coach with expert knowledge can step in and help you create a plan, practice new skills, and become proactive instead of reactive. Remember, asking for help doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that your child is bad, it means you have come to a bump in the road and would appreciate some advice from an expert. Whether you are having a bad day, a bad week, or a bad month, it’s okay to say you are struggling. Even if you don’t try coaching, find a tribe, build a network, find other adults you can talk to for support. We all need people who will sit with us when we are at our worst, listen to our doubts and fears, give us a pep talk, and cheer us on as we move forward.