Parents, secure your air mask first!
“I have no clue what I am doing, I feel I am constantly failing as a parent and I honestly think my child hates me!”
If these thoughts have ever run through your mind, then congratulations, you are a ‘normal’ parent! Sometimes we shout, sometimes we nag and sometimes we say words that we don’t want them to repeat. For the past 13 years I have worked with countless families- in my consulting rooms, in schools and even in their homes. I get to have a front row seat to how different families work, so I hope you take comfort in knowing - you are not alone!
Sometimes I even think back to all the grand fantasies I had when I was pregnant with my first child –the type of parent I would be and the ease at which it would come to me…after all this was my job and would be practicing what I was preaching! Part of me rolls my eyes at that naivety, but mostly I feel like hugging that old version of me and saying, “Buckle up, it’s going to get messy, but that’s okay’. Because even with ‘knowing’ the field, it was, and still is, a whole different story when you are the parent and it’s your child in the situation.
So often when I am working with a child experiencing anxiety, one or both parent can identify with that feeling. Just the act of parenting, being responsible for someone else’s well-being, can be overwhelming as it is, but now you throw in so many different opinions, judgements, expectations and pressures, and no wonder the self-doubt, guilt and anxiety skyrockets. Parental anxiety has gained such momentum and we need to stop and reflect on ourselves before expecting our children to cope – we joke about helicopter parents and tiger moms but we’re parenting out of fear rather than calm, and the child can pick up on those feelings. But just as it’s unrealistic and unhelpful to expect perfection from our children, so too do we need to show that compassion to ourselves with parenting. Parenting is about being ‘good enough’ – which actually most of us are. It’s about trying our best and making mistakes, showing our children how you keep on trying, and giving them opportunities to build their resilience. As a parent, I find the concept so useful and comforting because if left unchecked, the constant anxiety and worry about failing as a parent can be very consuming and while some anxiety is normal, too much anxiety will negatively affect both the parent and the child. If you experience some of following symptoms it might be helpful to chat to a professional about your parental anxiety:
Outbursts of intense emotions over seemingly small things – anger, sadness, irritability etc
Difficulty sleeping because of racing thoughts
Struggling to enjoy the moment with your child because of distracting thoughts
Avoiding social situations for yourself and/or child because they feel too stressful
Constantly thinking about ‘what if’ and worst case scenarios
Doubting your decisions and changing your mind so many times, that you become frozen
You can see your child modelling some of your behaviours when it comes to worrying
Being “good enough” is not a cop-out, rather it is about being realistic, and insightful. It is about conscious reflection, looking at what worked and what didn’t and building confidence in yourself. It provides your child with a model of how to try your best, understand limitations, deal with mistakes and to treat yourself (and others) with kindness.