How Pretending I Was a Better Parent Helped Me Be a Better Parent
I’m going to put myself out there and admit something that I typically do not admit in print. Vulnerability isn’t comfortable for me (understatement), but I am guessing that most of you have felt the way I do at some point in your parenting career. I am tired. I am often overwhelmed. I lose my cool more times than I care to admit with my children. At four and six, my boys have an energy that I cannot keep up with from time to time. The amount of fighting in the house can go from zero to full blown WWIII in 3.5 seconds and I am standing there in shock or can go into full fight or flight mode just as fast. The smallest things will set the Oldest One off into a full fledged tantrum and the Youngest One into a complete whine-fest. I am not trying to gain sympathy or ask for advice … or even be judged for saying “whine-fest”. I’m just keeping it real. No smiling photos some days … parenting isn’t always picture perfect.
I’m one to think I have access to all of the answers. I have my degree in Child Development. I’ve worked with children for 16 years. I’ve read countless books on peaceful parenting and have done a ton of soul work on what makes me tick and how to chill the F out to be in the moment .. .but still … sometimes the books do not help. Sometimes.When I haven’t had enough self care. When I have four things going on at once. When I am PMSing. When the boys are picking at each other and not listening and my husband is out of town … the wonderful advice I have received from a collection of amazing parenting experts from all over the world flies out of the window and I become the type of parent I do not want to be. And in comes the shame. In comes the disappointment in myself. In comes the guilt. And, hopefully… in comes the resolve to read more, reflect more, and try harder.
I was at the mall today with my children and a woman with a child about four years old was heard yelling and threatening him down the aisle. She stopped next to us and told him harshly, “You better start acting right! I can’t take it anymore!” as he tried to squirm away. I could have judged her. (She did have him in a monkey back pack leash … it would have been easy.) I could have lamented about how bad of a mother she was or wonder how she could treat her child like that in public. Instead, at that moment, I related to her. I had uttered almost those exact words to MY four year old and six year old just the night before in the privacy of our own home. I could see her face. She was tired. She was overwhelmed. Even if that woman had read every parenting book I had read, at that moment she was not able to access that information. She needed more support. She needed more practice. She needed more…
“Your Friend Said What?!?”
Many times I have heard that we should talk to our children as we would our spouse or our best friend. If we wouldn’t say it to our best friend, why would we say it to our precious children who are still learning about how the world works? I can see the importance of this practice when I am calm, well rested, and the children are in harmony with the family. But when they are kicking and punching each other, picking on one another, or screaming at me … all I can think in the moment is, “My best friend would NEVER treat me like this. If they did, I would be ending our friendship immediately!” In retrospect, I can see how their actions are really just communicating a need in the only way they are able to in that moment. (Repeat after me: “They are not giving me a hard time, they are having a hard time.”) But to talk to someone calmly and lovingly who is screaming, “I hate you! I’ve never loved you since the day I was born!” when he doesn’t get five more minutes to play on the computer takes a lot of skill! It takes someone with a lot of patience and practice … a near professional! And that’s when it occurred to me. I need a professional to deal with my children when we are in that state, not me with all of my past baggage, current issues, and future worries.
When You Don’t Have It In You…Fake It
I am not advocating sending your children away to boarding school or to getting a live-in nanny. However, for the rest of today I pretended that I was one of the parenting experts that I rely on for advice. When the children had a conflict, I would pretend I was Adele Faber from “Siblings Without Rivalry”
. When I was shopping for clothes and needed to honor both my needs and those of my children, I called on Naomi Aldort from “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves”
. When I was going through the bedtime routine, I channeled Dr. Laura Markham from “Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids”
. There are several other people I could list here because really, I have learned so much from so many on the way I want to parent. But I sometimes lack the confidence to implement those skills in a way that produces success, especially when I am under stress. Today, I decided to “fake it until I make it”.
In addition to faking that I knew what the heck I was doing in this parenting thing, I also thought about how I would want someone else to treat my children if I hired them for the job. We sometimes get a sitter and I would never ask her to come over again if she said some of the things I have said to my children in my worst moments. I would expect her to be patient and kind. I would want her to see each of my children’s strengths and give them her undivided attention as much as they needed it. I would hope that she was creative and fun, encouraging playfulness and cooperation. I would want her to have realistic expectations and limits, but also be able to empathize with them if they were expressing any difficult emotions. Today, I decided to pretend not only was I the parenting expert, I was also hired for the job of being the best person for my children to spend the day with.
I’m a professional…I’ve got this!
As I was doling out amazing responses to my children’s ups and downs, requests, and dialogue, I watched myself become the parent I have wanted to be. I was patient. I was creative and playful. I was empathetic (something that is typically hard for me to do in the moment). I let my children express their emotions and did not take it personally, but used it as a red flag that they were trying to communicate a need. I said yes more often. I preemptively headed off conflict by openly discussing expectations and asked for their help in coming up with possible solutions if problems arose. I was cheering myself on from the inside and cheering them on from the outside. I noticed their helpfulness and kindness and humor. I enjoyed parenting once again.
As for the children? They joked and laughed a lot. They came up with creative solutions to possible problems, and then used them when conflict arose. They listened to each other and to me. They were cooperative and kind. For goodness sakes, the Oldest One willingly shared a sucker with the Youngest One and they both were asleep an hour before normal. I call that a win!
So tomorrow, I will continue my plan to be a fraud. I will pretend to be a parenting expert and practice using the techniques that I am learning. I will take on the role of a hired caregiver and do the job to the best of my ability…which is high, since I am acting as a professional and all. I will tell myself that I am doing a great job and that “Parenting is hard, but you can do it”, just as I wanted to tell the woman in the mall with the little boy on the leash. I will fake it until I make it with no regrets.
Amber is a family and children’s yoga teacher, home-based child care provider, writer, and Mama to two homeschooling boys ages four and six. She believes children are her greatest teachers and blogs about her mothering journey, mindfulness, and creative endeavors at www.heartwanderings.blogspot.com.