This is a picture of my three year old sitting in the exam area of my chiropractor office while I got adjusted. I posted this photo to Facebook with the caption, "Winning and losing at parenting…"
The win here is that I took care of my need to get my back adjusted and my daughter was occupied with a show she enjoys. I'm "losing" because I'm occupying her with headphones and a screen. I could well imagine the criticism: screen-time is not good for her brain. A good mother would occupy her with books, coloring, or puzzles. Yes, it would be better for her brain if she were looking at a book, or coloring, or putting together a puzzle. However, these would not occupy her consistently and this visit could turn into a struggle for us both. This is how I got my need take care of my back and her need to be occupied with something that interests her. This avoids an inevitable struggle. Neither of us wants that. It's one of the many calls I make throughout the day. Sometimes I do the hard thing. Many times I do the hard thing. And sometimes (each day) I take the easy route to get through. Hashtagsorrynotsorry.
Mothers have never had as much access to resources, ideas, suggestions, science and help as we have today. We know more about how children develop and what they need than ever before. This instant access to help and support has also meant instant exposure to opinions, criticism, and judgment. As moms, no one has expectations as high as ours for how we will care for our children, and yet, no role in life demands more from us: more time, more energy, more emotional fortitude, more problem-solving. We are constantly confronted by the depth of our limitations on a daily basis. Each decision is fraught with trade-offs and no matter what we choose, there are reasons it's right and reasons it's wrong and each one is fodder for regret and self-doubt.
Whatever insecurities we had before motherhood will be both minimized in our shift in priorities and magnified under the crushing demands of modern life. But, here's the thing, our children do not need us to be perfect. Our need us to understand that we are in a dance of connection-disconnection-re-connection with them. They need us to be tuned into them, responsive to them, focused on them, 30% of the time. We have to get it right 30% of the time. The rest of the time, they need us to be taking care of ourselves, learning to deeply care for our needs, so we are nourished and available for the fullness of life with our child(ren). They need our example of how to live and how to be.
Taking care of our needs means imperfectly parenting ourselves. So, let's try something:
Right now, pause and notice how you are feeling.
If you are a mom, you probably have some "I messed ____ up with my kid when that thing happened…" Ok, so pause and notice that self-judgment.
Now, imagine you have a perfect, loving, attuned, caring parent who comes up beside you and puts their hand on your back to gently comfort you. This parent says something that is comforting and relieves your worry. What do they say?
(Mine says, "awe, honey! You are trying so hard! It's ok. I love you no matter what. You don't have to be perfect. Sometimes you win, sometimes not. It is all good. I see you. Let me hug you, and when you are ready, let's try again.")
If this isn't the kind of parenting you received, it may feel challenging at first to "let in" this kindness. Keep giving it a try and see if you can let yourself feel comforted.
Guess, what? When I give this to myself, I have this to give to my child. We are both doing this life thing for the first time. We both deserve gentle kindness, compassion, encouragement, acceptance. We are both allowed to be imperfect.
You see, better than feeling we are good enough because we are perfect, is feeling we are good enough in our imperfection.
Today, you have permission to be perfectly imperfect, to be doing the best you can, to be a precious human in need of warmth, hugs, compassion, and acceptance. In this well-tended garden, you and your child(ren) can bloom radiantly.
Be Kind to Yourself,
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...