Thanks for the responses. This is helping me figure something out.
I want to be a parent who doesn't need a measuring stick, but I'm struggling with always feeling sort of...lost at sea without a compass...which is perhaps just what parenting is like! DD isn't even 3 years old yet, so I still feel very much like a "new parent."
When she was a baby, I think I did constantly look to her and think, "she's eating, she's growing...I must be doing something right." And that got me through some hard times in those first months when traumatic birth/breast infection/sleep deprivation were making me feel so awful. I think I needed some kind of reassurance at the beginning that I was doing things right and since I felt so horrible, the only thing I could look to was her.
As she gains independence, I'm working on freeing myself from the need to look to her to validate myself. I just find it really, really hard. When she seems happy and healthy and "good", I feel like an OK parent. When she's doing things that I find challenging, I feel like I must be doing something wrong.
Lately she has been doing some things that I find very annoying (whining and being very bossy). I am trying to find a different way of thinking about those moments...not so much "here she goes again, this is so annoying, what am I doing wrong?" but instead, "here's that behavior that I find so annoying. How do I want to respond?"
Thus far parenting seems to be a lot more about getting ME to change than about getting her to do anything.
I don't know if I'm making any sense, but I hope people will keep responding to this thread!