Does “parenting doubt” plague you? Often wondering whether your parenting choices are the right ones?
It’s hard to feel sure about your choices when you see another parent doing things differently and their child seems so much better behaved than yours. Or when your mother-in-law comments how your child is “a handful, isn’t he?” You start to immediately question what you’re doing and wonder if you’ve got it wrong.
Today I want to help you feel confident about your choices and let go of any nagging doubts.
I believe there are two main ways to know if how you’re parenting is ‘right’ or not.
(1) Is it working (for you and your kids)?
(2) Does it feel right? i.e. does it fit with your values and beliefs? Does your gut instinct tell you that it’s right?
Parenting is not clear-cut, like a maths test, with all the answers right or wrong. We have to make choices to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, once we make a decision, many of us have a habit of giving ourselves a hard time about anything that doesn’t seem to go right. We even blame ourselves for our children’s’ natural behaviours, like night-waking, crying, sibling rivalry or tantrums. Things that all kids do!
I’d like you to feel sure about your decisions, so let’s unpack these two criteria a bit.
1. Is it working for you, your partner and your kids?
By this I mean, are you getting the outcomes you want with your children? Are they turning into the kids you want to be raising? And are they behaving in the way you want them to - most of the time? Above all, are your methods raising happy and emotionally-secure children?
Of course, our kids don’t behave just as we want them to all the time (otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog!). They have phases where they go off the rails (read my last blog on this) and there are certain times of the day or situations they can’t cope with (e.g. my daughter is worn out by dinner time and is tricky to manage most evenings). There’s no such thing as the perfectly-behaved child so there will always be some issue you’re grappling with.
First, we need to bring compassion to how much our young kids still have to learn, and not expect them to be acting well beyond their years. And then ask yourself: looking across the weeks, are your children mostly being the sort of kids you want to have around? Are the current challenges you face with them likely to be just a phase of their age and stage that will end soon enough?
If they are not and it's not then perhaps you need to change your methods or approach in some areas. Before you make a big change do your research - parenting books and good quality blogs (like this one!) are a good place to start, plus you can talk to other parents who have similar values to your own and whose kids you like to be around.
Here’s an example: a friend of mine has a 6-year-old son, Joshua, who was often getting into trouble at school for hitting other kids, and also spent a lot of time hitting his brother and sister at home. This was a real problem for Joshua socially and also not something his parents were okay with at home. So they realised they had to change how they parented him. After doing lots of reading about it they realised that, although they had been telling him not to hit, they hadn’t explained the reasons WHY not to hit. They had also not looked deeply at why he was hitting (it was because he didn’t know what else to do when he didn’t get his way). As a result they began to be a lot firmer and clearer that hitting was unacceptable and spent more time talking with him about the negative consequences of hitting (e.g. that he won’t make friends that way). They also coached him about what he could do instead when he didn’t get his way.
2. Does it feel right?
When you're faced with a parenting dilemma, stop listening to your mother/doctor/mother-in-law/neighbour for a minute and ask yourself: does this feel right to me?! Am I happy to do this with my child?
Sometimes we do things because we’ve been told to or we’ve read it in a book, but deep down it doesn’t feel good. Stress and tension forms in our heart and belly – it feels wrong.
For example, a few years back when I was grappling with a night-waking toddler I read books and blogs by so many so-called sleep experts all with their “formula” for how to improve her sleep. But most of them didn’t feel right to me. But not doing something to fix her sleep was not working for us either – my husband was beside himself with exhaustion and I was damn tired too. So we had to find a way forward that felt right but also did something to help us all sleep better.
I read so many books and blogs detailing a step-by-step process of letting my daughter cry for varying lengths of time before going in to soothe her, then going out again for longer and so on. It all boiled down to letting her cry for longer periods so that she’d learn we weren’t coming – I just wasn’t comfortable with that at all. I recall my relief when I tracked down a book with a detailed plan of how to STAY in the room and help her settle without picking her up or feeding her. I drove all the way across town to a library to get the book that same day! This approach felt right to me deep down, but it was still proactive.
These two tests – is it working for you and your children and does it feel right – come down to a big underlying thing – TRUSTING YOURSELF. We parents need to trust that we know the most about what’s right for us, our partners and our children and stick to our decisions when they feel right to us.
So it’s an ongoing process of learning but always trusting your gut instincts. I’m honoured to be part of your journey!