I’m a dad of 3 great kids, 2,6 & 8 and this may come as a surprise to some but a degree, post graduate diploma, masters and clinical qualification in psychology did not prepare me fully for parenthood. In fact my family teased me in advance that they couldn’t wait until I had kids so I would experience the reality of how the textbooks I read and advice I gave was one thing but putting it into reality is another thing. They were correct!
A tweet from a colleague recently inspired me to wander on this blog topic. He reminded us that ” Being a psychologist doesn’t make a better parent I don’t think. But I think being a parent has made me a better psychologist“. This I can fully endorse.
I think what I realised when becoming a Dad, that training and textbooks never prepared me for is that parenting is bloody hard. Babies, toddlers, kids and teenagers don’t arrive with “how to do” text books or instructional videos on Youtube and even if they did the best of kids would probably not follow the plan anyway. Babies can’t talk, but they can cry with unbelievable skill and for a parent, especially a first time parent, the challenge is to guess are they tired, hungry, constipated, too hot, sick or maybe all of the above! How do we do it, how do we know which option to choose to make baby feel better? We rely on our instincts our gut as a parent to do what we think is best for our baby to keep them safe. We have our doubts but we overcome those because our babies need us to. Babies don’t have the cognitive ability to think about “Is Mum or Dad doing the right thing” they are completely dependent and out of necessity have to trust us implicitly that we will keep them safe. And we do our best to stick to this.
As parents there are times when we are forced to take implicit leaps of faith, leaving our kids with a babysitter when we go for a long overdue and well earned parents hour or two out, dropping them off at the child minder or creche, their first day at school when they could be crying their eyes out, holding onto our legs for dear life begging us not to leave them. So why do we do it, why do we leave a visibly distraught child with a child minder or at school? We do it because we instinctively know that even though our child is upset we’re not doing anything deliberately wrong to upset them, we know we are are assisting them with becoming independent and supporting their education. It’s difficult, but we know its justified, that it’s the mostly right thing to do, we can’t be 100% sure but ultimately we take that leap of faith. We do our best to ensure that they have a balanced diet, even when they’re pleading with us for treats and the temptation is to give in because they’re lying on the floor of tesco screaming for a kinder egg, we hold the line, despite our embarrassment and fear that other shoppers will think we’re not good enough parents.
This comes to the crux of this blog, parenting is hard but modern trends and expectations have made it even harder. Modern society is a pretty judgmental one. As a parent you’re expected to be not just good enough but the best educator, the best at managing behaviour, sleep time, diet, exercise, digital literacy, best taxi driver, best emotional coach and if you’re not then you’re failing as a parent. This is on top of many working 40 hours a week, trying to (& mostly failing) to stop your home from looking like an atomic bomb has hit it. How many of you have tidied one room and while you do that the little terrors have explored (wrecked) the other room. I think good enough parenting in this scenario is leave the place thrashed until they’ve gone to bed and if you have any remaining energy then bring some semblance of order back to the place before groundhog day starts all over again tomorrow. Deep down (sometimes very deep down) you know that emptying out every toy drawer & pulling every book from the shelf is all in the name of learning and exploration so despite your back feeling like you’ve the flexibility of a 90 year old you know it’s worth it.
In the era of social media, twitter, facebook, podcasts and blogging parents are bombarded every day with alleged standards that they are expected to meet to be, at a minimum “good enough” parents. What I’ve been experiencing with parents this year more than any other is so much self-doubt. What must be really frustrating for parents is coming to me to hear what they already know is the best way to proceed. I’ve been really struck by how often recently I’ve been pleading with parents to trust their instincts, to not doubt their ability as parents as much and to continue to act in the best interests of their children as they had done before they ever came to see me.
I think part of the pressures that parents feel under is that their kids should never experience or perhaps never be seen to experience negative emotions. Parents unfortunately seem to interpret their child experiencing negative emotions as a failure of parenting. The reality is that supporting kids to experience the full gamut of emotions in a safe and secure environment promotes their sense of resiliency in the face of the inevitability of difficult life experiences.
By most standards I’m pretty well qualified in what I do and have been at it for 17ish years so have built up some good experience. Despite all of that, what I have come to learn with absolute certainty is that for many referrals I get, one hour with me per week is not within an arses roar (apologies for the profanities) as effective as educating and empowering a parent to support their child in their home environment in the actual situations that a young person feels overwhelmed. I’m minded to think of the Jigsaw campaign of the importance of #onegoodadult and much of my work is convincing parents that not only are they the #onegoodadult in their child’s life but they are simultaneously both good enough in any given situation and at the same time can always do better. In role modelling for our children that we are fallible we also communicate the message to our children that we don’t expect them to be “perfect” and that we love them for both their strengths and also their areas for improvement.
As parents if we can improve our capacity to be more compassionate in our expectations of ourselves as parents then we have a much greater chance of being “good enough” parents for ourselves, and for our children.