During “normal” times, being a parent is hard. It’s important to stress less about being a perfect parent. Finding the balance of work, parenting, household responsibilities, and all the extras is very stressful. Now, add in the stress of the new COVID-19 concerns, the isolation, and the safer-at-home orders. Circumstances may be even more challenging. Now, we get to add to our list “distance schooling” which isn’t quite the same as homeschooling, but it is close.
Honestly, I find “distance schooling” to be more pressure than the idea of homeschooling. Why? Someone else (your child’s teacher) will know if you are doing a good job or if you are falling on your face. It is nice to have work prepared and provided for us–but some of this stuff we no longer understand or remember how to do. Math seems the obvious trouble subject since it is now taught in a completely different way than when our parents were in school. The pressure of distance learning on parents is real.
We also have to entertain our kids at home and not in school. We are used to a break from each other during the day. This is no longer happening unless you are an essential worker who still goes to work daily. The rest of us are working from home, with kids in our faces, all day.
Tempers are flaring by this point. Guilt and shame are real. We are all wondering what kind of job we are really doing as parents. The idea of being the perfect parent you always thought you could and would be is thrown right out the window. And I say, “Good!” Throw those expectations far, far away.
As parents, we often place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. We lose our patience because we are human, and then we feel guilty about it. We think we can be the perfect parents we see on TV, or in the movies. But we need a reminder sometimes that they are just characters, not real life. These parents do not truly exist.
It is hard to remember that we also all struggle in these times of social media. Most parents are only posting parenting wins online, with smiling kids, and wonderful achievements. Everything tends to be sunshine and rainbows in our newsfeeds rather than the true life behind these moments. Nobody is posting the photos of their toddler running out of the perfect family photo 19 times, all the bribes and yelling that went into picture number 20 finally being good enough.
All the “perfect parents” are not posting the struggle of distance learning with a fifth-grader who is having a hard time understanding math, and are trying to re-teach kids with the method previously known and understood. Meanwhile, the child is rolling her eyes and insisting the parents are doing it all wrong, and the lesson ends up with everyone frustrated and angry. Instead, there is a post about how wonderful the second-grader did reading today, and how we are all loving this extra family time together. Insert parent guilt here.
It is hard to talk about hard times. Those moments that things didn’t go quite right, just like that time you lost your temper and maybe shouted at your child. I confess I am a sweary mom sometimes, and that is totally taboo. I know it, and my kids even know it. My kids will test me sometimes, away from home, to see if I will respond the same. The joke is on you, my darlings, I am too old and tired to care what other parents think of my parenting skills.
When you reach the point of realness where you stop being concerned if your neighbor hears you swear, or if each photo is picture perfect before you share, you feel so much less stressed. Realizing that we are all human, and therefore imperfect by design, is a key to parenting success. We cannot compare ourselves to other families, other children, or those lifestyles. We do not know their story, and they do not know ours. We only know what we choose to share; what we choose to share is not the full story.
It is time to let our guard down. It is time to be okay with not being perfect. Our children will never be perfect either. And we shouldn’t try to hold them to that expectation. We need to let them know that mistakes are part of life, and that even parents make mistakes.
One of the biggest lessons in life a parent can provide a child is to apologize when you make a mistake. This doesn’t undermine your authority as some may think. Instead, it gives room for error and sets the standard in correcting mistakes. Apology, the intent to do better, and acceptance, is a greater lesson than perfection. None of us can live up to perfection.
When you see another parent struggling, instead of looking at them in judgment, offer them an understanding smile, or even an encouraging word or two. What a difference this would make for all of us when we are having a hard day.
I had unrealistic parenting expectations prior to actually becoming a parent. I definitely thought that my kids would never shout at me. My kids would never throw a fit in the store. I can go on and on. I am sure you can too.
Newsflash: all parents struggle sometimes. My kids have definitely shouted at me; and I at them. It happens. It doesn’t equate to failure. My kids have thrown a fit in the store. I have been embarrassed looking at my little child screaming in the aisle, wondering what everyone is thinking about us.
Thankfully, I am learning as I go. Now, if my child decides to scream in a store, I don’t worry what others are thinking. I have gotten more comfortable with myself, and my parenting style to realize it doesn’t matter. My reaction is not based on what will get others to stop staring, or what will quiet my child the quickest. I will not hand them the toy to quiet them, nor will I buy them something they want after I have already said no. I am not a perfect mom. My kids are not perfect kids. I am not here to make the lives of others around me more comfortable at the expense of lessons my children need to learn. I am being the best parent I can be by allowing them to express their anger, without giving in to how uncomfortable it is at that moment.
Yes, I said it. Parents who are letting their kids holler in the aisle are doing a good job. In those moments when we feel like we are being judged, we are. We all do it. However, we must remember we have no idea what we missed. We are seeing a mere snippet of a day and did not see whether the rest of the day was awesome or an absolute shiz show. So, when we see another parent lose temper, or react in a way we feel is extreme, before passing judgment too quickly, try to remember how you wish others would react to you in your moments of parenting frustration.
We all judge each other, it is human nature. We all compare our children to other people’s children, trying to validate our skills as parents and make ourselves feel better about our lives. The act of making parenting into a competition is what makes us all crazy. This is what makes us all strive so hard for an impractical goal of perfection. Instead, we must realize that we are all individuals, and what is right for one may not be right for another.
I have found that in parenting multiple children, that even realizing that what is right for one kid in the same household may not be right for another in that household. We can’t hold our kids to the same standards since they are not the same people. This is something that is hard to realize and to follow through on. My 8-year-old is not the same as his 10-year-old brother. Just because one kid was capable of something by a certain age, this does not mean another will be.
Similarly, their emotional needs are different. While one child may have conquered his fear of the dark as a 4-year-old, and is capable of laying quietly in bed to sleep, the other, as an 8-year-old, may still need a nightlight and a bit of cuddle time before he is ready to fall asleep. I cannot hold them to the same standard. I cannot question or dismiss them because I expected one thing, and they need another.
This is one of the issues that I feel causes an internal struggle with our perceptions of ourselves as parents. If one kid can do or be a certain way, why can’t the other? Am I failing one of them?
We are too hard on ourselves.
When we are having a tough day, it is okay to let some things go. Our mental health is important too. The need for an adult time out is real and necessary sometimes. We should not feel guilty that we need some time to ourselves. It is healthy to take the moments you need in order to recharge, recoup, and refocus. When we don’t take the time we need, we are leading ourselves into a trap where we will only feel disappointed in ourselves later for losing our patience or overreacting. Some days, we may play with our kids for hours and feel great. Other days, we may beg them to play alone while we try to read a few pages of a novel to escape into a fantasy world for a bit. Some days we serve up a nutritious snack; other days we let them eat candy. This is totally acceptable.
If you have a long day at work, it is okay to get take-out food for dinner. It is okay to get take-out if you had a fabulous day at work. Similarly, it is okay if you are swamped, and have to eat on the road just to make time for a meal. I called this “picnic in the car” and my kids looked forward to it. I took what felt like a parent fail, and turned it into something my kids looked forward to and enjoyed. Rather than feeling guilty that the day was too busy to squeeze in time to eat lunch, it became an event. The super fun, super time-saving picnic in the car. I can’t wait until my children realize that these picnics were really just for my convenience on busy days.
At the end of the day, we are in control of our emotions, and what we hang on to or let go. As parents, we will have days where we are so overwhelmed and we feel like we failed. Honestly, maybe we did. Maybe the day was an awful day, filled with angst and failure. How many of these days do you remember from your childhood? Maybe a few. I can recall a few days where my parents were not at their best. However, if I think about childhood, these aren’t the first things I remember. I remember fun things first, because my memories are filled with love and happiness too. Sure, there were a few times that things didn’t go right. There were times I was yelled at, or grounded, and I felt it was unfair. But, honestly, can I think of the specifics behind these events now, as an adult? No, I really can’t. These days didn’t leave the impression on me that my parents worried they would. My mom spent time worried about the job she was doing, and as kids, we were all just fine. We didn’t see it as a failure when we had boxed mac and cheese for dinner. We didn’t think she was a bad mom on days she told us to get outside and play and give her a moment of peace. So, why do we worry so much now that we are parents?
I don’t know why we all hold ourselves to these ridiculous standards when it comes to parenting. I do know that we need to stop doing it though. The comparisons, the harsh judgments, the know-it-all attitudes all need to stop. Instead, support one another and find common ground. Sympathize with others rather than shaming them.
We all have hard times. We all have moments when we think we are failing. We all feel stress to be the very best we can be. We are all human. We are all trying. And that is really all we can do at the end of the day–try our best. Isn’t this something we tell our kids all the time? Yet, we don’t accept it within ourselves. It is time to practice what we preach to people. We need to give ourselves some wiggle room to make mistakes and be comfortable with them. We need to do our best, and accept imperfection.
Jennifer Kaldwell is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.