Most parents start with the best intentions. We promise we’ll be gentle parents. We believe we will have endless wells of patience that we’ll pull from in even our most trying moments. We swear we’ll always be attentive, engaged, and interested in every moment of our children’s lives. We work to continually expose them to exciting, enriching experiences that nurture their creativity. We anticipate a perfect future yet to unfold, and we do so certain that we are the ones fully in control—that only we steer the ship and are solely responsible for the direction it sails.
Our standards are high. And for a while, they can be easily met. However, as our children and families grow, we may struggle to stay on that perfect course. When you falter, it’s natural to want to berate yourself over your perceived blunders. However, wallowing in guilt does not help anyone. Here are four things you should do when you find you are not parenting how you wanted.
1. Give yourself a reality check.
If you feel like you are failing at being the parent you wanted to be, figure out why. Investigate. In what areas are you falling short? Do you find yourself not being as patient as you’d like? Are you not as attentive as you wanted to be? Maybe it’s some other area you feel guilty about — such as your kids’ screen time or what they ate for breakfast.
Whatever the problem, take note of it. Be honest with yourself. Now, ask: how can I realistically correct this? What are my options? What will work best for my family right now?
Create the ideal “in a perfect world” scenario for what you’d like to see happen. Then you can figure out what your most realistic plan of action is.
2. Create a realistic plan of action
After giving yourself a reality check, you should create a realistic plan of action. In a perfect world, maybe you would have the patience of a saint and the ability to give your children one-hundred percent of your attention one-hundred percent of the time. However, this is real life. And real life requires adapting to situations and giving your best, which may not always match the utopia you envision.
For example, if your goal is to feed your kids more nutritious, home-cooked meals, then determine what a reasonable expectation is. Factors that might influence your expectations include how many children you have, their ages and whether they can help in the kitchen, their food preferences and any allergies, whether you and your partner work both outside the home, and so forth.
There are certain time and lifestyle constraints that exist at certain stages of parenthood. Whatever you do, ensure that your expectations are ones you can realistically execute.
3. Give yourself grace as you start again.
Take a hard look and give yourself some tough love, but also don’t forget to give yourself grace. If you just had a baby or are going through another major period of adjustment, be kind to yourself.
Yes, that might mean your preschooler occasionally has more screen time. Or it might mean that you find yourself feeling exhausted by the new routine and unable to be “super fun mommy” every hour of the day. That’s OK. Your love still matters and makes a difference in the lives of your children.
Take baby steps. Don’t forget to breathe. Be honest with yourself, but don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well.
4. Check in with yourself.
Finally, after you’ve assessed your situation, crafted a plan of action, and carried it out, check-in with yourself to see that you are on track toward parenting the way you wanted. There are bound to be missteps at times. You’re human. The only thing you can do is begin again. Start over. Apologize. Hug it out. Move forward. Live in love, and know that your daily parenting work is creating good, strong, resilient, and well-loved people.