What to Do When You Feel Like The Worst Parent in the World
One of the most important things a child therapist can provide is a boost in the parents' self-confidence. Parents need to have faith in their own skillfulness, insight and instinct as the experts on their child. Every parent I have ever worked with has thought at some time (if not all the time) that their parenting was substandard. It's a damn shame, because I know you are doing your best. This job is really hard.
Affirmations can be helpful in counteracting negative thought habits. I call these "habits" because we tend to have a running loop of the same sorts of negative, down-on-ourselves thoughts. Some examples might be, "I'm just like my mother, always yelling" or "I gave in yet again. This is why the kids never listen to me." Negative thought habits are usually dripping in contempt and veer toward extremes and absolutes: never, always, everyone, forever, nobody. . . You get the picture. These are the sort of mantras we repeat to ourselves -subconsciously or consciously- in our lowest moments. Mantras that drag us down and make us feel even worse.
Now, there's probably some part of you that feels that when you've made a big mistake in parenting, you deserve to suffer. You screamed profanities. You spanked in anger. You refused to help with the book report because Antiques Roadshow was on, and you were just too exhausted to pretend to care about "Ramona Quimby, Age 8." But you know what? Punishing yourself will only make matters worse. Punishing yourself will only make you a less effective, less emotionally available parent. It won't help you change. It won't help your child feel better. It won't fix the mistakes you made in the past.
Your thought habits can have an important impact on how you parent. We tend to struggle more as people and parents when we are feeling down on ourselves vs. when we are feeling confident and self-assured. When we are confident, our actions are more clear, we demonstrate more resolve with decisions, and our flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness are all improved. When we are feeling confident, we know we can make things right and that no lapse in judgement is too big to be mended.
Affirmations are a way to "talk back" to these negative thoughts and get ourselves back into a more confident headspace.
Affirmations are short, specific, honest and personally meaningful phrases written in the positive. For example, instead of "I'm not a shitty parent," try "I am an attentive and caring dad." Instead of "I'm not horrible at being a mom," try "My children love my playfulness and energy." The idea is to give your brain new mantras- new habits- that lift you up when you're in a low parenting moment. With enough practice, these will come to mind when you are struggling instead of the negative garbage.
There are several ways to work with affirmations. You can post them around your house, places you will often read them such as your bathroom mirror or the coffee maker. You can write them down in a journal over and over again at a certain time each day. You can say them to yourself in the mirror or even give them to a friend to read to you when you are feeling low. Be creative!
Here are some affirmation ideas to start you out:
"It's okay to parent imperfectly. I am doing my best today and that is enough."
"When I make a mistake, I can apologize and work to make it right. These are great skills to model for my children. I can show them how to be accountable in their relationships."
"Every day I become better and better at holding healthy limits and following through with my kids."
"The more I practice, the more being consistent comes naturally to me."
"I can breathe and trust my instincts as a parent. I know what my child needs in this moment."
"I am practicing being patient with my children."
The immense effort you put in every day to parent your children is so very, very important. Try your best to be gentle and kind with yourself in the difficult moments. This isn't easy; this is hard work! Effort counts more than perfection when it comes to reversing negative thought habits.