Yup. It happens to Therapists too.
Those moments where you’ve said something bad, haven’t paid enough attention, or completely lost it. I hate that feeling. It’s accompanied by a small dose of shame – which for me is usually cured by confessing to my husband how I screwed up, him listening and agreeing I didn’t handle it well, but then sympathizing that parenting is the hardest thing either of us has ever done and reminding me that he loves me and our girls love me and I’m not so bad.
Phew! See? Happens to all of us at some point. When my clients tell me they feel like a bad parent I turn to jello. I scream inside “I know that feeling I know that feeling” then of course, being the prudent therapist I am, I remind myself to get it together and that this isn’t about me and to hear exactly what this parent’s experience is and to accept it for them and hold it – not to toss it away by jumping too quickly to make it better.
So I sit with them. I hear about all the ways they think they’ve gone wrong and I let myself feel that with them.
If you’ve ever wondered what unites us all as parents (aside from the whole child rearing thing) my theory is guilt. The moment my first child was born I felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn’t fulfill my birth plan, guilty that I couldn’t breastfeed, guilty that I had to go back to work – yea you get it. Now let me be straight here – I’m not talking mountains of guilt but more like little pebbles. Just enough to get in your shoe and be a real pain in the ass sometimes.
I have another theory – I don’t think that “bad” parents worry so much about being bad parents. Not to say that any good parent should be worried constantly or anything, but more a willingness to self critique and be vulnerable and sit with those moments where we know we didn’t handle it well. Then own it.
You know what helps to remind me that I am a good parent? Taking responsibility. If I’ve yelled at my kid and felt out of control I apologize to her (yea she’s only three but let me tell you my three year old knows how to give a genuine unprompted apology when she is acting bat shit crazy and I have to think she’s learning that from us).
Being a good parent isn’t about perfection. We aren’t perfect. Our kids aren’t perfect. Bottom line we are all going to screw up. What matters is that when we do – and we know it- we own it. We lead by example.
I think that for most of us “good” or “bad” parenting is pretty black and white, when in reality we all fall somewhere in the grey – good people that sometimes make bad choices or react badly.