Happy Parenting recently surveyed parents about their biggest parent worry and concerns. A consistent theme when answering the question, “What keeps you awake at night regarding your kids or parenting?” was:
- Wondering if I am messing up my kids?
- Feeling like I’m a bad mother.
- Wondering if I am doing the best for my child?
- My daughter’s behavior and how I feel it reflects on me.
- Wondering if I should have handled things differently.
All of these questions seem to fit right in with my doctoral dissertation topic and the basis for my new book: Living in the Shadow of the Too-Good Mother Archetype.
Even though child-development expert Donald Winnicott coined the phrase “good enough mother” in the mid 20th Century, most of the mothers I meet question whether or not they are in-fact “good enough.” This has led me to believe that there is something in the unconscious we are not acknowledging that is living in what psychologist Carl Jung called “the shadow.”
If we look at the Happy Parenting Survey concerns, we can glimpse at what might be living in the “shadow” in each of these.
Am I messing up my kids?
Parents sometimes question and doubt themselves, wondering if one wrong look will scar their child for life. Self-judgment, shame and doubt seem to be common themes for moms. The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. Times have changed a lot, and parents today know more then previous generations about the emotional wellbeing of their children. That being said, parents are more critical of themselves then ever before.
Yet children know that no one is perfect. They don’t expect perfect parents, nor do they want to have to live up to a standard of perfection.
This Mother’s Day video illustrates the worry that mothers often have, and the truth about how their children really feel.
Feeling like I’m a bad mother.
I have heard so many women say they feel like a bad mother. They worry about getting angry, yelling, losing patience and being unkind. They don’t want to resort to the harsh, shaming discipline techniques used by their mothers, yet they can’t seem to get the techniques they are reading about in the latest parenting books to work. The reason it is so difficult is because we have learned a lot in a few short generations, and it takes time to change the parenting beliefs from the past.
Be patient with yourself and acknowledge how much you are learning as you go.
Wondering if I am doing the best for my child?
There are many conflicting opinions about the best practices for raising children. My oldest daughter is now thirty-three. When she was a baby I did not have access to all of the information parents have today on the Internet. I had many questions about how to raise a healthy child, and I often felt confused. I recently asked my daughter how helpful it is for her to have the Internet while raising her one-year old daughter. She said it is actually very difficult to know what is best, because there is so much conflicting advice out there. Parents often think that their child’s behavior is a reflection of how well they parented. The truth is, according to my early childhood teacher, Dr. Katharine Kersey: “Children come into the world like a packet of seeds with no cover on the front. It is our job, very much like a gardener’s to provide the adequate nutrition, water, air and light in hopes that the flower grows into it’s full potential. It is not our job to raise a carnation into a rose, or a rose into a carnation.”
Doing your best means tuning into your child’s best potential, as well as lightening up on your own mistakes.
My daughter’s behavior and how I feel it reflects on me.
Prior to the feminist movement, women as homemakers and mothers felt invisible and often powerless. Betty Friedan in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique called this “the problem that has no name.” Women now have opportunities to have careers and identities outside of the home, however many women still struggle to find a sense of purpose and meaning. When a woman wobbles in her own sense of self, she is more likely to identify her worth with her daughter’s behavior. This is detrimental to the normal growth and individuation of her daughter. Whenever you start worrying about your daughter’s behavior, it is important to take a look at yourself and ask yourself some brutally honest questions.
What parts of you are unfulfilled and how can you nurture them to their true potential?
Wondering if I should have handled things differently.
It is very common for parents to have doubts about the decisions they make. It doesn’t help to stay stuck in “should” or “would.” Instead, take an honest inventory of what happened and evaluate what you might do differently in the future.
You can never go back and change the past, but you can improve your choices by taking a moral inventory and striving to get better, one day at a time.
All in all, parenting today requires a willingness to learn effective ways to manage behavior and emotion; patience in the process of trial and error; and tenacity to keep on when the process feels uncomfortable. It is crucial to love and forgive yourself and your parents for messing up, and then try another way. Children need parents who are willing to show up, stay connected and love unconditionally. They do not want, need, or expect perfection.