Many parents believe that raising their children is their most important job, but very few trust that they are parenting successfully. We frantically wonder if we are doing it right, and too often answer ourselves with a despairing no. Feelings of doubt, guilt, and shame are overly abundant as we strive to be perfect parents.
The pressure to achieve parenting perfection spirals into the trap of not good enough. So many times I have agonized over the possibility that I am ruining my son. I fall prey to my imagination as it creates a web of potential catastrophes my son may face throughout his life because I wasn’t patient enough or sensitive enough, or because, despite my best intentions, I don’t always offer the validation, reassurance, or guidance needed in a given situation.
I am a good mom. I am a good mom who has bad moments. While I know this now, it took time and practice to get to this place of acceptance.
One year ago, compassion for myself was limited, and I subsequently lacked tolerance and sympathy for others. I allowed my mistakes to define me, whether it be yelling at my son when sleep and patience were in short supply, struggling to balance the demands of virtual learning with family life, not meeting work and career goals, or failing to make time for my husband (yet again). These “bad moments” grew into days and weeks of irritability, lack of energy, and general negativity.
When I realized that I was becoming my "bad moments" by allowing them free rein in my life, I also began to see how this was affecting my son and our relationship. At the age of six, my son couldn't understand why I was grumpy so often, and he wasn't sure when or how he had contributed to my bad mood. He cycled through reactional behaviors such as crying and yelling and distancing behaviors such as isolating and excessive TV watching. When I looked for his unmet need, I saw that the roots of it were growing from me.
I knew this wasn’t what I wanted for my family … my child … or myself. I wanted to disrupt the cycle, and I realized that while I couldn’t change the past, my power was in the present moment. I looked for the next step forward and found that it was also a step inward.
To begin the process of changing my mindset, I released the guilt that was holding me in shackles by acknowledging that “bad moments” do not make me a bad parent, they make me human. I viewed my mistakes as a catalyst to learn, heal hidden hurts, and grow parts of myself that I had previously kept small.
Next, I looked for patterns and triggers in my daily life that landed me in that repetitive rut of reacting versus responding. When I followed the thread to its source, I could identify and name my feelings, downsizing them into a manageable stressor rather than the intimidating adversary I had come to expect.
Using “I statements,” I took ownership and control of huge emotions that had previously seemed unrelenting, overwhelming, and all-consuming. And, as I became more clear on my unmet needs, I found I was better able to communicate them respectfully to my family.
Finally, I focused on cognitive reframing, training my brain to release the automated reactions that had become my norm and create new links and healthier emotional connections. I practiced taking dysfunctional thoughts such as “I am a horrible mom” and replaced them with statements such as “I am doing my best in this moment” and “My son knows he is loved.” I repeated these statements to myself even when I didn’t believe them. In time, it also became easier to communicate more appropriately. Instead of yelling at my son saying “You NEVER listen,” I might say “You know, I really appreciate when you work hard to be a good listener.” Taking a negative interaction and reframing it into a positive one is such an empowering experience!
This inner work helped me realize that mistakes are but drops in the ocean, “bad moments” in the landscape of a good day. We all have them, and when I make mistakes safe for myself, I make them safe for my son and husband, too. It’s beautiful to watch those efforts ripple outward.
With consistent practice (and certainly not without missteps), I went from being a person who regularly has bad days... and bad weeks... and negative thoughts... and unpleasant feelings... and a downward trending relationship with everyone in my life to simply being a good mom who has bad moments.
I am proud to be a good mom who has bad moments. When I choose to let my bad moments be what they are, mere instants in an otherwise colorful and vibrant day, I can free myself and my family from the burden of perfection. This is a commitment and a process that I choose to work at every day, and it is so gratifying to celebrate each small victory along the way.
All of your moments won't be shining. All of your responses and reactions won't be gracious. And all of your good intentions won't be perfectly honored. Choose to recognize and accept a "bad moment," forgive yourself, and find your next step forward.
- K.D. Williamson is a writer who loves knowledge, words, nature, and adventure! She has her M.S. in Clinical Psychology and has experience with children, parents and families in therapeutic settings. She currently devotes her time to raising her delightfully precocious seven-year-old son and writing articles about positive parenting, psychological health & wellness, and environmental awareness.