Why is parenting really this hard?
Parenting is a lot of work, we all know that: the sleepless nights, the cooking, the scheduling, the unexpected tantrums, the opposition, the sibling fights, the vomit clean-ups, the pick-ups, the bedtimes, the homework, more opposition, the appointments, the stains, the broken stuff and the sticky everything.
Parents don’t get much of a break; they have a 24-hour job. We have all heard it, and it is true.
But I think parenting is hard for many more reasons than just the amount of work it is, and sometimes we make it worse for ourselves—let’s dive into it.
Parenting is hard because science now tells us that the way a lot of us were parented… just didn’t align with child development
This is a very hard one to accept! Once we look at the research, and there is a ton of research out there now, it turns out that spanking, yelling, punishing, threatening, shaming and isolating children actually has a significant negative impact on both the child’s behaviour and their well-being later in life (no surprise there!). Previous generations meant well, they really did, and a lot of us struggle with shifting our parenting styles while still honouring the work that our parents did.
This means that not only do we need to make peace with how we ourselves were parented, but we have to relearn a whole new set of skills and have the confidence to apply them in a world where everyone is looking, and everyone is judging.
Parenting is hard and very uncomfortable because it will make all our inner child wounds resurface
Don’t roll your eyes at me! You have inner child wounds like we all do, and you don’t have to have suffered severe childhood trauma to carry them.
A lot of this hidden stuff tends to lay dormant inside until you become a parent, because no one on this planet carries the buttons to reactivate these wounds, or the tools to excavate them from the depth of every one of your cells more than your precious offspring.
Have you ever heard yourself say:
“I don’t know what came over me!”
“I never thought I’d say/do this to my child!”
“They just get me so angry!”
“I don’t want to yell but I just do!”
I remember reacting, overreacting, and almost feeling like it wasn’t me, like I was observing myself from the outside. It was something within me that was mounting, escalating until I just had to burst. What on earth was that? The simple answer: inner child wounds!
Intellectually I knew that bursting like that wouldn’t help and from my observations (I am quite the detective), it made things worse, and yet I still did. Over and over.
So yes, parenting is hard because it triggers you in a way that you never thought you could be triggered. But this is also a great opportunity to finally address all of this, to learn from it, to use your children as mirrors that reflect back to you your own hidden stories and beliefs. When you start to listen to your emotions and reactions, you can start to understand yourself better. Start by asking these simple questions:
“Where is my need for control coming from?”
“Why does it bother me when my child says/does this?”
“Why do I feel like I am failing and where is this message really coming from?”
“Why do I care what others say?”
Parenting is hard because we are constantly questioning ourselves
“Am I doing the right thing? Is my child stimulated enough?”
“Does my child need more love? Less love?”
“Is my teenager spending too much time with peers? Not enough time with peers?”
“Should my kid be crying this much? Am I overindulging my children?”
This all goes hand-in-hand with our inner dialogue, the one that makes us feel not good enough, that impacts our sense of self-confidence, and makes us afraid to step into our decisions with assurance and without looking around us for approval.
There are many reasons for this constant questioning, at the source of it though I believe there is an illusion that there is a “right way” to do this, which brings me to my next point:
Parenting is hard because we are looking for the perfect way to do it
There is no perfect way!
There is just having the right mindset to be more present and available for your child.
There are many ways to parent your kids, many choices you can make, many words you can use, and we shouldn’t be constantly looking outside for what “the right word, action or strategy is”, rather we need to be looking inward for what feels like the right flow at any given moment.
These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself:
“Is this decision aligned with my family values and our priorities right now?”
“What does my child need from me in this moment?”
“What boundary do I need to set to meet my needs and those of my child?”
It will look different from family to family, and it will change and evolve as your family grows. Don't overthink it! Feel it, and remain connected to your child in the process.
Parenting is hard because of social media
Getting a lot of information is great but you do need to filter out what isn't working for you. If the images and words you see online only serve to feed your sense of fear and inadequacy as a parent, it’s time to cut some of them out.
We have seen all these pages. Impeccable homes, children with matching outfits (matching each other and their homes), beautiful educational wooden toys (that also match the homes and the outfits), organic meals eaten by happy children sitting around a nicely decorated dining room table, idyllic family picnics…
It’s crucial to remember that all these picture-perfect Instagram accounts do this as part of their job and there is nothing wrong with that. I can guarantee you that behind the scenes, or just behind the photographer, lies a mess of sticky cheerios, dried out Play-Doh and a pile of unpaid bills (or at least that’s what I like to tell myself), but really if you feel bad about your home not looking as glamorous as it can look on some social media accounts just DM me, I’ll be glad to share pictures of some corners of my house, then you won’t feel so bad anymore.
Picture perfect does not mean happier or better than yours!
Too much parenting advice
Not only are we exposed to how perfect everyone else’s lives look on social media, but there are also those accounts and blogs that bring you loads and loads of parenting advice and information telling us how to do things, or how not to do things (yes I realize the irony as I am writing this post and I give online advice to parents regularly!). This can add to parental pressure and the guilt that we may be screwing up our kids if we haven’t shifted every word and every breath we take in the right direction.
While it is true that there is a lot of research now, which can actually guide parenting advice in an evidence-based manner, this doesn’t mean that if you don’t do everything to the tee that your children will be messed up for life.
Let me make you feel better here: no matter what you do, you will mess something up! And that is OK!
Nature is not perfect; humans are not perfect, and parents sure as hell were not meant to be perfect either. So if some of your current parenting practices don’t align 100% with the evidence-based parenting programs or that fantastic parenting Instagram account that has over 600k followers, don’t start to feel bad and guilty, see what you can shift, see what doesn’t work for you and make small incremental changes without beating yourself up over what you did or didn’t do in the previous years, after all, psychologists count on us to mess up a little so that we don’t eradicate their profession.
Parenting is hard because of what everyone else says
I am a Conscious Parenting coach, so I have to bring that up again: if you care about what everyone else thinks, we have to go back to inner child wounds and looking within you not outside of you to find what works for you and your family at any given time.
As much as you may work towards being immune to everyone else’s opinion, it’s very hard, especially early on in your parenting journey.
My happiest moments as the mom of a young child were with my third and last one. Not because “I was experienced and I knew what to do”, although that certainly played a role in it, but mostly because I no longer cared about what anyone else said or thought. If you saw the way my daughter chooses to dress in the morning on her way to preschool, you would understand just how little I care.
So being more attuned to where my reactions came from and realizing that a lot of my responses as a young parent came from external pressures made me grow past all of this and realize that the tantrums in public are nothing to fear, the child fighting with a friend at the park is not an embarrassment, the youngster who is incapable of sitting still at a restaurant is not bad-mannered or impolite, and my kids’ messy hair (all three of them) doesn’t make us a dirty family.
Everyone will have an opinion and their opinions belong to them and have nothing to do with you. If you feel impacted by the judgments of others, it’s time to talk about where that insecurity is really coming from so you can release it once and for all.
Parenting is hard because we lose ourselves in it
Along the way we have all fallen into the belief that in order to be “good parents” we have to be completely selfless.
I call it the Great Myth of the Eternal Parental Sacrifice.
It’s a lie. Don’t fall for it.
Denying our own needs in order to give, give, and give some more is an impossible and unsustainable approach to parenting and life in general.
Then we get disappointed when we don’t win the medal for being the most martyred parent (spoiler alert, this medal doesn’t exist and no one will ever, ever, EVER, recognize or acknowledge your sacrifice).
Your children will love you even more when you love yourself and give to them from an overflow of what you have, not from a dried-up empty bucket of exhaustion, bitterness and resentment.
Parenting is hard because we never celebrate our successes
By the time a parent comes to me, they have a TON of negative things to say about their kids. Somehow all the wonderful things their children do have disappeared into thin air and are taken for granted. That is not to say that we don’t work towards finding solutions for what isn’t working, but instead of just listing all the “bad, annoying, rude” things your kids do, have a list alongside it with everything they do well, from being ready for school on time, to playing well, to helping out a sibling or clearing the table etc.
And this applies to you as a parent as well. Stop beating yourself up for all the things you feel you are not doing right, for that one time you snapped at your kids or that Cheerios dinner you gave them because it was just that kind of day. Start to list and notice all of the great things you do every single day. It will shift your perspective of things and automatically give you more energy to want to work on what isn’t working for your family.
And finally, parenting is hard because we live in a world of accomplishment…
…And we were taught to view our kids as an accomplishment.
Not only do we sometimes fall for the idea that our kids are part of our success story ("my kid plays the piano, is a straight-A student and learned to read at the age of 4, I am such a phenomenal parent!"), but we also want to start seeing them take part in our “accomplishment culture”.
That’s why parents often don’t like seeing their kids sit upside down on the couch staring at the ceiling, playing with pebbles or just roughhousing and playing silly together. We feel this pressure that our kids need to be doing “something useful”, and that something useful has to fit somewhere along the ladder of our goal-driven adult agendas.
But if we let go of that illusion, the illusion that childhood is just a preparation for adulthood and accept and trust that it is instead a very magical, precious, unique and essential part of life, to be lived fully, moment by moment, we can relax a little bit, and remove the pressure from our shoulders.
Our kids will get there! They will become responsible adults (why wouldn’t they?) but, in the meantime, don’t make parenting harder for you by adding the unnecessary burdens and pressures that childhood shouldn’t be tainted by.
Accomplishments are not just for adult, but accomplishments for kids look completely different and the accomplishments that will really matter to them are the ones that they drive, that come through their own self-directed play and discoveries. This is your invitation to stop feeling like you have to fill their boredom up with some more important endeavour, the more you do that, the more everyone will get stressed out, and trust me, it’s just not worth it.
These were just a few of the many reasons I believe we make parenting more stressful than it needs to be, and in the middle of it all we lose the precious moments, the only ones that truly matter, the ones that slip away if we don’t slow down to breathe into them and marvel in their beauty.