It takes a village to raise a child but it often feels more like the village is looking over our shoulders rather than actually helping. Judgmental stares from strangers when our child is tantruming in the cereal aisle at the super market. Passive aggressive comments from our own parents letting us know “back in their day” spanking was what kids needed in order to learn right from wrong. Even our own friends can give us shocked looks when our 2 year old takes a toy out of their child’s hands making us feel as if our little one is a bully. Sometimes we feel anything but supported in our parenting. And when we feel questioned by others we start to question ourselves.
Parenting is a vulnerability minefield and insecurity is certainly par for the course. But when we feel insecure about the way in which we are parenting it makes us feel disconnected from our values, ourselves, and our children. We deserve to feel secure in the way we parent so that we can act as confident guides to our children showing them a world that allows them to make mistakes, to learn and grow, and to be loved no matter what. But being able to raise kids that believe that means we have to believe it too.
Our society likes to make us think that there is so much at stake when a child has challenging behaviors. We talk about kids going down the “wrong path” or see articles and studies that make gross exaggerations about how smaller everyday parenting decisions can have lifetime impacts. But I believe that parenting is not about the everyday choices as much as our overall perspective. We all see parenting through a different lens choosing what we want to focus on and what we don’t. Our lens then becomes the lens in which our children view themselves and when we find a lens that sees our child for who they are understanding their limitations, their strengths, their needs, and their own unique being then we have found the sweet spot. But it can be hard to do this when there is so much noise, so many differing perspectives on the right way. So how do we tune it out and find our own way?
1) Remember that a child’s behavior is NOT indicative of your worth as a parent.
It can be true that having an unhealthy response to our children’s needs or behaviors can elicit some challenging behaviors. But this is not always the case and I’d argue that many of the challenging behaviors we see our part of normal development (there are exceptions of course). High and unfair expectations of children in our society immediately transfer to high and unfair expectations of parents. For example when people are judgmental when a toddler is loud in a restaurant. Someone may judge and think that the parents can’t “control” their child enough to get the toddler to be quieter. However, the expectation of having a toddler be quiet in a restaurant not only developmentally out of their control but also out of the control of the parents. Aside from the unfair expectations society places on us as parents we may also internalize that when we make mistakes, lose our cool, or try an approach that backfires that this mistake makes us a “bad” parent. We must remember that our choices and our worth are not one in the same. Shaming ourselves for when we make mistakes and believing that we have somehow “messed up” our children does not motivate us to change, it keeps us scared and insecure. Owning our choices as parents is crucial for our own growth but we can not develop the awareness to become more effective until we honor that we, just as we are, are worthy to be the parent of our child, flaws and all. We are worthy of guiding them through this world, worthy of their love, and worthy of support in our own journey.
2) Remember that many challenging behaviors are part of a normal developmental process.
Aside from the times when our choices actually do impact our children’s behaviors we must also remember and believe that our child are their own separate human beings making choices for themselves and learning through them. Sometimes rejecting societal attitudes that children should be able to meet high standards of behavior not appropriate for their age range, be “seen and not heard”, or meet milestones at very particular times is necessary so that we can see our children for who they truly are instead measuring them against unfair exceptions. It is our duty for us to know and understand this as parents no matter how much judgment we receive from others. We must also give our children space to learn as they grow in their ability to reason, learn right from wrong, and navigate this world. Growth takes time. This space can become liberating for us in realizing that our children’s behaviors don’t need to always be controlled or fixed but rather the journey in and of itself of the challenging behaviors is an essential part of their learning.
3) Remember that parenting authentically isn’t about the choices you’re making but the reasons you are making them.
It’s amazing to me how much is out there in the way of “how to” guides for parenting. As if there are clear answers that work for all parents and all children. With so many different philosophies and perspectives its easy to get caught up in the choices themselves we are making. Taking time to reflect on the real reasons you are making certain choices and making sure they are coming from a place authentically believe they are the right choice and not because its what others say is the “best” way is a great way to find your parent power. A simple exercise you can do it to write down a decision you have been feeling insecure about and dissect all the various factors that are leading you towards one choice over another. If you find certain factors such as comparing yourself to other parents, being pressured by a family member to make this choice, or wanting to be seen in a particular way by others are at the forefront of your decision you may want to take some more time to reflect on what feels most authetic to you. If you can find one of those factors fits with your values, your strengths, and the unique qualities of your child you can feel more secure in your choice.
4) Remember that consistency is key so that allowing ourselves to question, second guess, and then change our approaches frequently interrupts our consistency.
When we change our approaches often or don’t feel confident about an approach because we’ve felt coerced into it by someone else it shows. Think about if you had a boss as a job who was very uneasy about how to instruct you on how to carry out your tasks. How would you feel? Anxious that you weren’t performing your duties correctly? Or perhaps feel that you could take advantage and skirt by with little effort? Or maybe you might feel frustrated if policies and orders were changed frequently so that you didn’t have a clear understanding of your expectations? We aren’t the “boss” to our children but we are the guide to help them understand how to function and thrive in this world. Being clear about the parent we want to be, making definitive choices and sticking with them for a period of time to allow the approaches to become second nature is crucial for creating healthy dynamics in our relationship with our child by clearly communicating expectations and so that our children feel more secure as well. So try to take time to reflect before making choices, to reject societal pressures, and find your confidence and power to stick with the choices you make. This doesn’t mean you can never change your approach but it does mean that when you so do you will take time to be consistent and confident in your new approach.
5) Remember to focus on your strengths.
Insecurities aren’t necessarily about letting go as much as looking in a different direction. We shine the light on all the things we are NOT and not the things we ARE. Who wouldn’t feel insecure if you had to interview for a job and all they asked you about was your weaknesses? Yet that’s what we do in our heads as parents by constantly instilling doubt and criticism in our hearts by focusing on where we don’t feel “enough.” Self-defeating thoughts, constant self-criticism and doubt become major blocks to the connection you have with yourself and with your child. This often takes a lot of work to improve upon but in the long run both you and your child benefit immensely. Start with writing at the end of each day one thing you did that was a positive choice as a parent. It could be a simple as saying “I love you” before they walked out the door or as deep as taking the time to talk to them about their deepest fears. Finding all the ways you are showing up for your child helps keep you in a positive and confident space. Insecurities don’t have a chance against reminders of our strengths and a strong foundation of worthiness. Give yourself the amount of self-love you want your child to give themselves.
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