I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life, but none as hard as being a mom.
Here’s the thing: When I was younger, I assumed that by the time I had children, I’d have a handle on myself. I assumed I’d have developed good habits, like exercising on a set schedule. Or that I’d be responsible and hang up my clothes at the end of each day. Or that I’d be able to control my emotions and not lose my temper or let little things rattle me into tears.
But, surprise, surprise—I have accomplished none of that. And now, on top of trying to mature and grow into a better person, I’m nurturing my children, teaching them to do all of what I say and only some of what I do. See? Parenting is hard. The road is rough, but thankfully, not impossible.
Early on, I decided that the best mode of action as a mom was to be transparent with my children. Age-appropriately transparent, of course, but transparent nonetheless. That means that when I’m struggling, I share with my kids what I’m dealing with, why I want to overcome it, and the steps I’m planning to take.
This is especially true when I identify a toxic mindset that is poisoning my parenting, and thus, poisoning my children. Sometimes it takes me awhile, but eventually I find 30 seconds of peace and quiet to hone in on what’s causing our family strife.
Sound familiar? Have you identified things throughout in your parenting that you want to change? Mindsets that are an issue? Here are a few common mindsets that plague moms and dads these days accompanied by insight from Emily McMason, a parenting coach at Evolving Parents.
Playing the Comparison Game
Have you ever found yourself thinking “I wish I had it all together like them”? Or “I’d be a better parent if…”? Or “If I just lived there, or “If I just had more money…”? Maybe your comparison was focused more on your kids, with thoughts like “If only my child behaved more like that.”
Social media is a shame factory.
Realistically, we’d be foolish to say we’ve never played the comparison game—I know I have, and I know for sure that it’s a mindset that can easily ruin the parenting experience. Comparing makes everything about everyone else, and effective parenting isn’t about other people. Effective parenting hinges on the relationship between just two people—you and your child. It isn’t influenced by what others are doing, because no one is like you and your child. Each relationship is all its own.
I asked my mom if she played the comparison game when she was raising me and my sisters in the 80s and 90s. She said yes, that it was part of human nature to compare. But she did bring up an interesting point in how comparing has evolved from her parenting experience to mine—social media. The prevalence of seeing what others do on a daily basis makes comparing almost unavoidable.
“Social media is a shame factory,” says McMason. “Its job, while it seems to be about sharing, is actually about shaming. It says ‘this is the perfection you should aspire to’, and when we don’t, we feel shame.”
“There is nothing more toxic than shame for us,” she continues, “because we are creatures that need community. And shame tells us we don’t belong. That we aren’t enough. So it is important … for ourselves and for our children, that we consume media very carefully. Very consciously. That we use it to fully see others, not to judge them or judge ourselves.”
Laura, a mom of two, shared a bit of her personal journey in overcoming perfection.
Parenting isn’t algebra.
“I struggled greatly with my body’s inability to produce enough breast milk for [my son]. I thought that since I’d homebirthed and cloth diapered and done everything ‘right,’ I was a huge failure for just not being able to nurse,” she says. “Once I realized how unhealthy my body was and how to care for [polycystic ovary syndrome] and depression, things got better. But I carried that guilt with me for a long time.”
Laura experienced the age-old mindset of “I thought if I did X, Y would automatically happen.” And that’s just not the case—for any of us. There is no guaranteed output; we cannot project perfection.
McMason applied this faulty theory to how we parent our children, too.
“Parenting isn’t algebra. There is no equation that says: if I do X, add Y affection, divide by Z discipline, my child will equal perfection. Because in the mix of all that is our little one, who has their own personality, their own quirks, their own wishes,” she says. “They add to the equation factors we can’t predict or control. And while that can feel really frustrating, it is the beauty of it, too, because it means they can take a really hard moment and spin it in to joy.”
So although the math never adds up, we can rest in the fact that our little miracles are bound to do far better than we can imagine in most cases. It just might not look how we imagined in our projection of perfection. They’re perfectly imperfect, and that’s something to hold on to.
Believing That Parenting is Your Everything
Parenting is all-consuming. In the early days, we’re always awake tending to our babies’ every need. Later on, it turns into juggling school and extracurriculars (on top of a bevy of emotions). If you want your children to be your number one focus 24/7, it would be easy to do so. But should parenting be our everything—our only thing?
No, no, it shouldn’t, because you’re a person, too! Believing that parenting is your everything is a mindset that will eventually drive you crazy—or make you really, really tired.
Kids read our temperature—and act accordingly.
Kymberlee, a mom of three, says that the idea of “me time” being selfish for a mother to take nearly ruined her parenting.
“I didn’t need it with my first, or want it, but I needed it more and more with subsequent children,” she says. “I think if I had realized it was normal and necessary to take breaks, I could have avoided postpartum depression being as extreme as it was. I realized quickly [that] breaks make me a better mom.”
Recognize that “me time” will benefit your children. A well-cared-for parent almost always creates a well-cared-for family. When you invest in yourself, you can more easily invest in others.
Fighting No-Win Battles
Have you ever found yourself “fighting” with your kids? How did that end?
Not well, I assume. And that’s because functioning with a mindset of “I’m the parent, I’m going to win” is truly a no-win battle.
“When there is friction between a parent and a child, we are often thinking ‘Are you kidding me?’ or ‘We’re doing this again?’ or ‘You need to follow my directions. NOW,’” says McMason. “And when we are thinking these things, our perspective is that we want to win the situation.”
Making a shift in this mindset, though, can alter our parenting in enormous ways, according to McMason.
“If we can move our mental feet, and instead of standing toe-to-toe against our child, we can be shoulder-to-shoulder … it changes everything. We can say things like ‘Oh, sweetie. You are so sad.’ Or ‘I can understand your frustration.’ Or ‘It’s disappointing. Transitions can be tough.’ We don’t have to agree with their emotions, [but] we need to empathize with them,” McMason says.
“When we do that,” she continues, “they feel seen, heard, and valued. We aren’t caving or capitulating or giving in, we’re simply acknowledging their truth. And when we do that, they are far more ready to move forward the way we hope they will. It means that we are more connected to them after the conflict than before, and that is parenting magic.”
Just one of these four mindsets could be affecting your parenting, or maybe more than one has crept in and caused havoc in your heart and mind.
You’re not alone. We all get caught in the trap sooner or later. Poisonous mindsets are a given; It’s the will to overcome them that will define you and your parenting.
These solutions aren’t one-size-fits-all, but they’re a starting point. Starting is the beginning of a new, healthier parenting experience, and that means both you and your children will benefit.
First, you must recognize that your family is unique. There is no perfect mold; There is no right way. Believe that you know your children best, have their best intentions at heart, and, with the right support, can guide them to become their best selves.
Next, focus inward instead of outward. So much of parenting is about the adult. From her years of coaching and parenting herself, McMason has seen that “kids read our temperature—and act accordingly.” Practice managing your temperature, and you might be happily surprised at the outcome.
Finally, invest in counseling or coaching for yourself and your kids, even when you don’t feel that you need it. Personal reflection and an expert who can speak wisdom into your life is priceless. You don’t have to be broken to receive enhancements. Because truly, who doesn’t need more tools in their parenting toolbox? Partnering with a trusted resource will always be a valuable investment.