But, first let’s make sure the choice is really YOURS!
When I meet with a family, I always ask them to share their parenting values with me, and I aim to honor these values. Some families have very set values, while others say they, “sort of wing it.” Both are valid paths of parenting. In this post, I want to highlight genuine choices versus choices made from shame, self-doubt, or fear. I work with many families who believe they are making their own choices about their parenting values but in reality are following someone else’s philosophy or ideology. There is a real difference between making authentic choices based on your values and your child’s needs and rigidly following a parenting ideology or philosophy. Dr. Meggan Hartman (2015) found that mothers who follow strict parenting ideologies have a higher risk of developing shame and a delay in the development of their own identity as a parent. Parents are inundated with information and advice about how to raise their children – best discipline practices, sleep strategies, developmental milestones, how to share, how to bond – you name it, opinions are out there. With all of this information at our fingertips(or from family and friends), it is important to note that shame-based decisions are not the parent’s authentic choice. This felt choice is often based on fear of messing up, fear that one doesn’t know enough, fear that one is not a good enough parent, or pressure to be the perfect parent (because a philosophy promises some flavor of perfection). It is even common for parents to mourn not being able to practice a certain philosophy if they feel they failed at an ideal birth or breastfeeding. The shame is real and raw. And, it is unnecessary. Parenting is already hard enough, and no matter how “good” one is at it, children will continue to “test the limits,” and “push buttons.” It is part of their job as children. These behaviors do not happen because the parent messed up or didn’t follow the perfect recipe for parenting. They happen because children are growing and there are a lot of things they honestly aren’t that good at yet. Their behavior and communication sometimes comes out sideways, because they still need to practice and not because the parent did not do their job. Parenting is messy, because being a child is hard work! Growing is a full-time job – like getting a PhD in being awesome! Guiding a little human to be the best version of him/herself is not about finding the perfect philosophy or making your child listen, it is teamwork. And, this teamwork functions more gracefully when parent and child are free to navigate how they work best as a team.
It is healthy to have different intentions and goals in parenting than your friends. It is also really awesome to have values that stray from the opinions shared in parenting books or philosophies. Children are experts at picking up on big emotions like fear and anxiety. They are adept at sniffing out self-doubt. Both parental shame and self-doubt affect the parent-child dynamic and make parenting more of a puzzle than it needs to be. Parenting is challenging and making choices based on someone else’s ideals make it even harder. This added stress from blindly following expert advice occurs because it causes the parent to step outside of the moment they are having with their child and consult with all the conflicting messages swimming around in their head about what they need to do in order to handle this situation “correctly”. While the answer can sometimes be found in the swirling buffet of opinions, it is more readily found in the dynamic that is happening right in front of them. And, finding the answer in that moment brings about confidence and a sense of self-mastery in parenting. This experience carries on to the next moment and continues to build trust in oneself as a parent and trust in the process of nurturing another human being.
By honing in on what is important to YOU and YOUR CHILD, parenting becomes a much more enjoyable journey! It won’t take away the messy days, because we all have them. In fact, they are important (more on that another day). But, it will help you feel more confident, and your child will begin to trust the confidence they see. This trust you are building in yourself and in the relationship will not only become the cornerstone of your interactions with your child, it will help your child feel seen and heard. And, when this happens, child and parent both benefit.