Let me ask you something. What kind of parent did you imagine you would be? How about your children? Did you have a picture-perfect fantasy of cute little cherubs that would make your whole world light up just from their little smile? Did your reality measure up to your picture-perfect fantasy? I’d venture a guess and say, “No. It didn’t.” And the next thing I will say is, “You’re not alone.”
All of us had dreams about parenting and how it would play out. Some had a fantasy of being a parent since the time they were a child themselves. We had ideas of the type of parenting style we would use, how our kids would respond to our gentle yet firm corrections, how we would seamlessly balance work, kids, a vibrant social life, romance with our partner, and a few vacations a year.
And then came our children and ruined all our perfect fantasies of the amazing parents we would be! How dare they?
I ask in jest, but I also know I’m not the only one asking this question. The truth is — we were all perfect parents before we actually became parents. And when parenting hit, so did disappointment, bewilderment, ambivalence, guilt, shame, and utter confusion. While few of us actually thought that parenting would be like gliding through a cotton candy field on the back of a rainbow unicorn, most of us didn’t expect so many negative feelings and experiences associated with being a parent. And when they came, we felt shell shocked.
What Did You Imagine Yourself Like as a Parent?
Every one of us had a start to our parenting journey. Some of us had an easy go of it. We thought about it, did the deed, became pregnant. Others had to go through countless rounds of IVF, pregnancy losses, years of trying to conceive or adopting. But regardless of how it started, once we were on our way, we realized that parenting presented an endless smorgasbord of choices that would undoubtedly impact our children for the rest of their lives. So, naturally, we went on the quest to research and make sure we made “the right” decisions in child-rearing. Otherwise, we could just screw our kids up for the rest of their lives.
We read all the articles on the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding. And decided that we will absolutely breastfeed our babies for at least 2 years as recommended by WHO, and not a day less. We knew that we were going to room in with our baby for the first year, as recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). But that the baby would sleep in a bassinet attached to our bed. We would do lots of skin-to-skin during quiet cuddle sessions with our newborn. And that we would baby-wear all the time so that we don’t screw up our child’s attachment.
We made a list of things we would never do with our children. First, we would not bed share with them nor use the baby swing. We would always be responsive to their every cry. And we would be calm, collected, and poised. Exuding an aura of positivity and contentment to help our kids regulate their emotions. We would never yell, cry, or break down.
All in all, we would be the perfect parent, and all things would go our way.
Are You the Parent You Imagined Yourself to Be?
When I was pregnant, I made sure to take birthing classes, read books, and watch videos to prepare for my birth. But I didn’t read much about becoming a parent and what that transition would truly be like. I somehow felt that my degree in Psychology, coupled with my work experience, would be enough to carry me through whatever parenting would bring. The reality, though, ended up being completely different.
I was realistic in imagining that having a child would make getting out of the house a lengthy process. That getting ready for work would be hectic and prolonged. I knew it would be difficult to tend to a child while struggling through yet another severe migraine episode. I even realized that it would make it more difficult to socialize with friends and attend various events.
The trouble with making plans . . .
But I didn’t plan on an unplanned C-section birth, nor did I plan on suffering through a severe postpartum depression that lasted for almost 5 years. I also didn’t plan on losing friends, having little support and understanding through my postpartum struggles, and being completely exhausted all the time. I didn’t plan on being constantly irritable, touched out, not interested in anything except sleep. But most of all, I didn’t plan on being a parent that despised parenting.
There, I said it. The phrase that induces shame, guilt, finger-pointing, pathologizing, and people turning away from you in disgust. While we have made strides in normalizing postpartum depression and anxiety, mainly because we can classify them as medical disorders, it’s still taboo to say that you don’t enjoy the parenting experience. Even though the daily grind of being a parent is completely exhausting and often not pleasurable.
But to most people saying that you don’t love parenting is the same as saying you don’t love your children. And I’m here to say that it’s entirely untrue! You may absolutely love and adore your children yet not want to engage in the daily monotony of less than pleasurable parenting tasks. And there is nothing wrong with that.
How to Cope if You Didn’t Measure Up to Your Parenting Ideal
As you can see, I am the parent who didn’t measure up to my parenting ideal. In fact, I fell and continue to fall short in so many areas. But I’ve learned how to cope with these feelings, and I’m going to share my strategies with you.
Let Go of Your Parenting Fantasy
Whatever image you conjured up of the “perfect parent,” just throw it out. Forget that it ever existed because it wasn’t real. Perfect parents don’t exist. We all just do our best based on our circumstances and abilities. We can’t give what we don’t have, and that’s okay.
Accept Your Humanity With All Its Faults
After you throw away your “perfect parent” image, replace it with a realistic one. Now that can be hard to do because you may be very attached to your “perfect parent” image, and that’s okay. That’s where you might want to seek some professional help. It can come in the form of a therapist, or you may solve it yourself by reading books. I personally found solace in the following 2 books: All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior and Postpartum Happiness: What To Do When You Love The Kids But Hate The Job by Marissa Zwetow.
Stop Shaming Yourself
While letting go of the “perfect parent” image, you may experience a lot of shame coming up. After all, you are trying to go against all the ingrained societal messaging of what parenting should be like and replace it with your own vision. It takes practice and a lot of self-compassion to overcome this shame.
One of the best ways to overcome any disappointment and shame in your life is through self-compassion. Self-compassion is necessary for all parents, but especially for those struggling with not measuring up to the kind of parent they thought they would be. According to Dr. Kristen Neff (the pioneer in the self-compassion field), self-compassion is being kind and understanding towards yourself when confronted with personal failings. And parenting is filled with personal failings almost daily.
Offer Gratitude to the Parent that You Are
Even with all your faults and perceived shortcomings, you are still #1 in the eyes of your child. Always remember that. Your child is not looking for a perfect parent. They are looking for you, their parent. Always remember that and offer gratitude to yourself. You are amazing, and you’re doing the best you can. Nothing more can be asked of you.
Truly and Fully Let Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
My last words to you will be just to let go of the parent you thought you would be and embrace the parent that you are. This parent is real. This parent is the one that is there for their child whenever they need them. And this parent is filled with warmth and love. That is all that is truly needed.