Monday, August 6, 2012

You Aren't Good Enough

Sometimes the headlines, the studies, the arguments are too much to hear. Everywhere we turn, no matter what “side” we are on, whether mainstream or crunchy or flaky…we are told that we are not being good enough parents.

If we made a mistake, or even if we made an honest attempt with the best intentions and the research says it was wrong or harmful, we are left with a variety of negative emotions. Guilt. Fear. Anger. Regret. Inadequacy. Even depression and anxiety can rear their ugly heads.

We can’t change what is already done. We can’t go back in our time machines and tinker with our lives, hoping the information flows differently and people change their behavior to create another unique moment in time.

So what can we do?

Well, you have all probably heard the phrase, “When we know better, we do better.” Yeah, sounds comforting. But doesn’t mean much when you can’t change something permanent. You can’t change the day your baby was born. You can’t glue foreskin back onto your son. You can’t take back that rude word or the slap of a spanking, hanging in the air.

And what about when you DO know better? What about when you know what is good, what is right, what is biologically normal, but for a thousand and one reasons, that’s not how the story ends? What about when you feel deep down that your baby is okay, but somehow you end up with a scheduled c-section? What about when your throat closes and you know the vaccines aren’t right for your child, but you don’t say a word as you watch the nurse go about her routine injections? What about when you told yourself over and over, I WILL NEVER be like my parents. But there you are, yelling and spanking, your heart sinking even as you feel you have no choice.

Are your children scarred forever? Has their story been written in stone, never to depart from the cycle of violence that you vowed would end on your watch?

We have a big toolbox, filled with various parenting tools from our own childhood or from researching. Many of them were placed there without our consent, such as the instant ability to snap at our children when we really want to talk to them about life. Or the reflex to spank when we really want to draw them close to us and hug them. The time outs, when we want nothing more than companionship. The loads of forced praise fall out of our mouths by habit, but the deeper, authentic words get stuck in our throats. We don't like these tools. We want others.

Here are some tools you might be undervaluing: Humility, forgiveness of SELF, perseverance, and true courage. 

The truth is, no matter how stark the headlines show up on the computer, blaring out their truths to us, no one is perfect. Not one human being is perfect. We have all failed. We have all made a mistake. We have all uttered a word and regretted it as it slid out, hitting a loved one with chilling accuracy. We have all experienced that moment where we realize we didn’t ask the right questions or look in the right spot, as if we could have magically known something we didn’t know. We have all ducked our heads and let the stronger person take the lead, even if in our hearts we felt the path was dangerous. We all have more to learn…so much more to learn! So much more to live, to grow, to improve and to gain in this world.

Humility is a beautiful tool in our parenting box. Humility lets us get down to our child’s level and say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m not better than you. I’m human, too. I’m learning, too. Let’s do this together.” 

Forgiveness of self is attached to humility. If we do not have humility, if we let our fragile egos rule, then we cannot forgive ourselves. To forgive, you first have to accept. If you cannot accept a mistake, then you cannot forgive your mistake, learn from it and move on from it. Forgiveness of self also models unconditional love to our children, letting them know that no matter what, we are all still lovable.

Perseverance is such an important yet ignored tool in our culture. Our society asks: what’s in it for me? What’s it worth to me? Is it worth my time? Why bother? If we aren’t given immediate gratification, we decide it’s a failure and we give up too soon to develop strong character and good habits. Perseverance uses humility to realize we have a long way to go and it uses forgiveness to keep going.

True courage is not the tall, sculpted soldier fighting in the amazingly violent and choreographed movie. True courage is about accepting those little acts throughout the day where we could take the easy way out and no one would notice. No one would know or care if we just gave up a little bit in our hearts, in our homes and families. We still look nice to others, right? Heck, punitive parenting is embraced in our culture. You can dabble a bit and avoid the tougher road. But it takes a lot of courage to keep trying when no one else will see. Inside your home, you must remember that you are modeling courage to your children.

All of these tools together send a strong message to our children. They DO see us and they DO see our struggles. They are carefully watching us, trying to decide how THEY should approach life’s obstacles. Our children will go out into the world to face their own adversity, their own temptations, struggles and unjust violations. How they react and how they learn and grow is going to be at least partially based on our behavior. In their minds, they will go back to that moment where we made a mistake and analyze our reactions. They will think back to the time they saw us fail and mimic our behavior.

 I am reminded of one time I saw my mom struggling. I was young, at an age where most parents perhaps don’t think their children can quietly observe and make conclusions. But I was making them. See, my mom homeschooled us from beginning to end. But, as she continued to homeschool us past the laidback, play-based fun of the younger grades, she started to dig into deeper topics. She started to find holes in her own academics.

One time, I approached her with a question about something in my science book. I don’t even recall the question. I intently watched her as she took my book and carefully began reading the question. I saw her shoulders fall, just a tiny bit. I could almost hear the thoughts racing in her mind as she struggled to accept that her teachers and her parents had failed her. She struggled to accept that she had more to learn. She squirmed with the personal worry that perhaps she could have worked harder on her own to learn, too. And finally, I saw the anxiety flit through her eyes.

If something as simple as this was new to her, how could she hope to teach her own children? If she was not good enough, how could her children be good enough? If she failed, how could her children succeed? 

She found courage in that moment. She set her shoulders straight again. Her voice came out warmer than I expected. “Let’s learn this together. It sounds really interesting. I don’t remember learning this when I was a kid. I’m glad we are homeschooling so we can learn about these things.”

It was only a second in time for her, but that small interaction has remained with me into adulthood, standing as an example of how far we can go in life when we are willing to accept what was (or was not) given to us or where we failed. We can go far in life, and we can bring our children even farther.

Science went on to be my favorite subject, a topic I cared about almost every waking moment of my life. And today, I share science because I know, from my mom, that EVERY parent has the ability to learn about science, to understand it and to utilize it in her parenting journey. Science is not an obscure, difficult subject that only doctors and researchers can talk about. I know this because I watched my mom sit next to me and learn with me.

Add these tools to your parenting box if you haven’t already, and let your children know that it’s okay to make a mistake, to feel failure and to realize you didn’t do good enough. It’s okay to be imperfect, to be human and to feel negative emotions. Let them know they can always find forgiveness and try again. It’s the most important lesson you can give them. Isn’t it great that you aren’t one of those perfect moms?

Two imperfect moms, persevering for their children

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. There's so much in this that resonates with me, especially the guilt I feel when I hear "when you know better, you do better". I knew better when I agreed to induce my daughter's birth. I knew better when, during that birth, I asked for an epidural after being forced to stay strapped to the monitors. I didn't speak up for myself and demand to be let out of the bed, so the only control I *did* have was getting pain relief when I set out to have as natural a birth as I could. I failed myself, I failed my daughter, and I've felt that pain daily since. Thank you for pointing out that I'm allowed to feel this way.