They sit on the therapy couch pouring out their deepest, darkest parenting secrets. They look away.
They don’t make eye contact.
They wait for my judgment.
They wait for the lecture they are sure will come.
But they aren’t telling me anything new.
They could be you. They could be me.
They are revealing thoughts and feelings that many of us feel. Guilt that none of us are willing to talk about. Based on myths we are all taught to believe.
Parenting is the biggest scam.
No one will say it, but it is true. We scam ourselves.
We scam each other. We perpetuate untruths until it becomes so ingrained in our psyche we start to believe it ourselves.
We develop this construct of what a good parent is, and we hold ourselves (and others) to this high standard.
I am lifting the curtain. Looking behind the happy posts and status updates.
Giving you the raw picture. The real, messy, lovable truth. We all deserve it.
As a child and family therapist, I get to see parenting in its natural habitat. Not as it is presented to others, but how it really is.
I get a rare peek where parents are candid with me about their shortcomings. They are candid about their struggles.
They are real.
It is important that we all start debunking these parenting myths. It is crucial that we all start giving each other a pat on the back and start lifting each other up.
We can start with these four parenting myths:
#1: You can tell you are a good parent when your children adore you.
If you are gauging your success based on your little person’s undying adoration for you – good luck! Your child will hate your guts for giving her a waffle instead of a pancake.
They will think you walk on the moon when you buy them that overpriced toy that will sit in their toy bin, never to see the light of day again. If your child’s assessment of your parenting is your watermark for success, get ready for a very bumpy ride!
Ironically, it is when you are doing the absolute best job that your kids think you are the worst parent on earth.
Setting boundaries, being consistent, and enforcing limits isn’t going to make a child your biggest fan. And that’s okay, because you are raising a child, not a best friend (that can come later).
#2: You are a good parent if you don’t shout at your kids.
Be gentle on yourself.
We are all human.
We all lose our cool.
We all (brace yourself) shout occasionally. Yes, it isn’t a great thing. Yes, we should all work on it.
But – and I mean a big BUT – you aren’t a bad parent for having a human moment.
Turn a bad parenting moment into a learning experience. Apologize.
Yes, we can be humble to our kids. We can show them that we are human, too.
We can let them know we make mistakes.
The other day, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. It was a rough morning.
My middle child had been up several times that night with nightmares. I was dragging big time.
I grumpily got breakfast together and barked orders for everyone to get their clothes on. We were running late because I gave myself an extra 10 minutes to sleep.
As the clock ticked, my heart began to race. I did the math in my head.
Ten minutes to the elementary school.
Twenty-five minutes to the preschool.
Forty-five minutes to work.
I wasn’t going to make it. The first domino wasn’t dropping fast enough.
I turned and saw my oldest child sitting on the couch petting the cat. Shoes off.
Hair not brushed, and not a care in the world. My blood boiled as my stress spewed like vomit out of my mouth.
It wasn’t pretty.
I will spare you the gory details, but it wasn’t one of my better mom moments.
When three shell-shocked kids got into the car, I paused and then turned around. I apologized.
I told them that I was stressed.
I told them that I was tired.
And I told them that my behavior was not okay.
I explained that everyone has bad days, even moms, but it doesn’t mean I am allowed to take it out on them. They learned two things that day.
That mom is crazy, and more importantly, that mom is human. And that everyone, even parents, make mistakes.
#3: Good parents always enjoy their kids.
Oh look, Billy is doing that cute little thing again where he arches his back and refuses to get in his car seat.
Oh, Sarah warms my heart when she falls to the floor at the grocery store and forgets she has legs.
My favorite part of the day is when my bundle of joy wants to bond with me several times a night when I am in a deep sleep.
I love that.
Let’s face it – parenting doesn’t always conjure up warm, fuzzy feelings. I know most people won’t admit this, but it is okay if you do not always enjoy your kids (blasphemy – and from a child therapist to boot)!
In fact, brace yourself – it is okay if you have periods of time when you really don’t like your child. You are not going to go to parenting purgatory, I promise.
We have feelings. We cannot script our feelings, regardless of how hard we try.
If you are going through a difficult time with your child, or if your child is permanently difficult, it may be hard to really enjoy them.
It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent.
It just means you are human.
Not every moment is going to be rainbows and butterflies.
#4: If your young child throws tantrums, it is because you’ve done something wrong.
Toddlers have three jobs:
#1. Don’t listen.
#2. Be destructive.
#3. Have tantrums. Lots of them.
And repeat. Often.
If your toddler is having tantrums, pat yourself on the back. It means you are doing a great job. In the toddler chapter of the parenting playbook, it should just have these words:
Your job is to say no. Your job is to set limits.
Their job is to ignore you. Their job is to push limits.
That is pretty much all you need to know.
When I had my first child 13 years ago, I had been a child therapist for three years and an Infant and Toddler Mental Health Specialist for a year.
I was a complete newbie. I had been touting what I had learned to all the frustrated and exhausted parents I served.
Then I had my own. Gulp.
Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. This parenting gig isn’t as easy as it seems!
This advice I was touting isn’t really working for me. It got real.
It got ugly. It got real ugly.
Not only did I have a toddler of my own, but she was flooded with anxiety and sensory processing issues.
She was not easy. And I am not saying that because she was first, although that didn’t help.
She was legitimately a challenge. Two more kids and a decade later, and I can reflect on how full my plate truly was.
I often avoided going out in public because I was petrified of her having a tantrum in front of other, judgmental people.
Worse, what if we bumped into the clients I served? Would I be labeled a fake? A fraud? A child therapist impostor? Would people whisper, “She can’t even handle her own kid!”?
Over a decade later, I laugh at my paranoid, concerned self. Toddlers have tantrums.
It is natural and normal. It has does not reflect poorly on the parent AT ALL.
Yes, there are some inconsiderate, judgmental people out there. But that’s on them, not you.
When my last two kids were toddlers and fell to the ground in an emotional puddle, my heartbeat did not quicken. When they screamed bloody murder in the parking lot, I did not look around to see if people were going to call the authorities.
I knew it was normal. I knew it was an appropriate developmental stage. And I knew if I was consistent and set firm boundaries, it wouldn’t last forever.
Hang in there, momma, you’re doing great!
Parenting is messy. It doesn’t look like those cute little Facebook posts, although sometimes it can.
Parenting is chaotic.
It doesn’t always go as planned.
Your kids don’t have to nominate you for mother of the year for you to deserve it. The key is to listen to your gut, not opinionated friends and family.
To listen to your heart, not every parenting book. When you believe in yourself and not those parenting myths, your parenting will shine.
Are you a kid, teen, or adult who struggles with social anxiety? Check out my online course on how to crush social anxiety.
This article was originally published on my blog, AnxiousToddlers.com.