When we think we’re bad parents…

Posted by Samantha on February 20, 2012 in Hope, Mistakes |

A couple of weeks ago a mother of 3 teenage children was sharing with me how she had noticed that whenever she started being down on her kids, she would usually discover that behind all that impatience and irritation with the children, she was actually being down on herself.
Her insight reminded me of a blog I wrote a while back about how lovely it would be to think our children were wonderful despite all the mistakes they inevitably make.
My daughter knocked over and broke a lamp on the weekend. My husband was instantly cross. After we’d dealt with the broken glass and everything was back to normal, my husband was able to recognise that he’d actually been cross with himself first and foremost. This was because he knew the lamp was in a precarious condition and he blamed himself for leaving it somewhere that our very bouncy five year old might inadvertently knock it over. Of course, blaming himself for being a bad father felt so awful that, completely unconsciously I must add, he projected that uncomfortable feeling onto our daughter and blamed her for breaking the lamp instead.
I continued playing this game for the rest of the weekend and I’ve found that WITHOUT FAIL when I get cross with the children, there are actually one or other of two simple things really going on:
a) I’m actually cross with myself for not being a “better” mother (because obviously if I was a better mother then my children wouldn’t be doing / not doing whatever it is I’m cross about)
b) I’m worried that SOMEBODY ELSE will think I’m not a good mother (because if I was a good enough mother then my children wouldn’t be doing / not doing whatever it is I’m cross about).
Here’s another example. My daughter wouldn’t put on a hat and scarf when we went for a walk yesterday, despite her headcold and my requests. Somewhere deep inside me I started thinking that I must be a bad mother or she would put on the hat and scarf when I ask her to and explain why it’s important. But what I’m aware of on the surface is my rising irritation with HER! Either I’m to blame for this or she is. The unconscious idea that I’m to blame for this is just too uncomfortable for me, so I decide my daughter must be to blame instead.  Now I’m irritated.  This “shouldn’t” be happening.
What if I could have got out of the “blame” paradigm and just let go of my need to control what she wears?  Ok, so I’d have liked her to wear a hat and scarf. She didn’t want to. Was it really that important?

Actually, in the end my daughter DID wear the hat and scarf because I gave her a choice to either wear the hat and scarf or go back to the car with me while the others continued on the walk. But as I looked back on the situation, I could see that I stuck to my boundary but I didn’t do it as lovingly as I would have liked, because the blame was getting in the way.
Incidentally, there was a study done in Japan recently where one group of children wore the clothes their parents chose for them all winter long and a second group was free to wear what they liked all winter. This second group wore way fewer clothes than the group dressed by their parents. They also got fewer colds and illnesses over the course of the winter.
Go figure.
I think it’s worth repeating a little of what I wrote in my original blog on making mistakes:
“Just as your parenting mistakes don’t make you a bad parent or a bad person, your children’s mistakes do not make them bad children.”
Now I just need to remember this more often!

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