Parenting – It’s not a competition. What a concept, I know. Yes, it is a huge undertaking, and yes it is critical to how your children turn out, how they feel secure and loved (or not), whether they grow up with good physical and mental health. Of course it matters. Every bit of it matters. But so many parents see only their mistakes, and spend far too much time beating themselves up over every single one.
I was at a training recently that discussed attachment, among other things. It has long been known that infants and young children decide whether the world is a safe place, based largely on how their caregivers respond to their needs. Luckily, most of them decide it is a safe place and go on to live fulfilling lives.
But here is the part that was new and intriguing to me: Those slight breaches, the times when a parent or other caregiver is distracted or sad or angry—when the parent reaches out again, comforts the child, heals the breach—some breaches are actually beneficial to the parent-child relationship, because the healing is part of the connection. And without those breaches, what would there be to heal from? (Okay, I am talking minor breaches, not outright abuse or neglect; that is critical here.)
When my son was tiny, I had a wonderful friend Beth who had a Masters degree and a Phi Beta Kappa key—all the trappings of extreme intelligence and accomplishment. Beth told me something I will never forget: The most important thing you can give your children is You. Yes, You. Another parent might make more homemade goodies, keep a cleaner house, give the best birthday parties…and that is great. But that is them, and that is how they bond with their own children.
You have no need to compete. Hug your children. Listen to them. Help them process their emotions, I’m really big on that one. Compliment them. Protect them. Help them feel loved. If your children feel loved, they are likely to see you as the best parent in the world. (At least when they are little; teen years may be a bit more challenging.) Those are the things that will bond you to them. Doing your best is important; trying to measure up to the standards you think others set is not.
My wonderful friend Becca MacDowell told me a great story about comparing yourself to others. Becca was a single mom raising two young children, working full time, and had pretty much given up on her attempts to attend college classes in the midst of all that. She turned on the TV and watched an episode about a single mother of four who had decided to become a doctor. Of course Becca felt totally inferior, having given up on college courses with “only” two children to raise. She watched the entire episode, feeling worse at every turn while this woman was regaled for her tenacity.
Then at the end of the show, guess what? It was casually mentioned that during this entire period of Mom’s medical schooling, she had turned over total custody and care of her children to her mother/their grandmother. Kind of obliterates the whole story line of raising four children while you pursue a dream, doesn’t it?
The point being, we don’t know anyone’s whole story but our own. Comparisons can be very destructive. Are you supportive? Do you do your best? Are you there for your children?
Give yourself a little credit, okay?