Over time, Mandi will contribute to discussions about mental health on the Advice List whenever she believes it would be helpful, and is already helping the PSP team plan workshops that will help parents with issues affecting kids of all ages. (She helped us connect with the folks doing our January 24th Executive Function 101 event.)
We asked Mandi to weigh in on a specific issue that's recently started coming up in our anonymous mailbox. We’ve seen an uptick in parents getting more and more worried that their parenting isn’t “good enough.” Parenting has always been challenging, but it's even more difficult when you feel like you're doing everything you're supposed to do, and behavior isn't changing for the better. Mandi wrote this reply to help us all exhale about being perfect parents.
PSP's Anonymous Post Moderator sees a lot of our parenting struggles, and one theme prominent lately goes like this: “I've been following XX parenting method (gentle, attachment, secure) to the letter, and things aren't getting better. What's wrong with me (or my child)?” The short answer is that parents aren’t perfect, and parenting is always a work in progress. The reality is that every new parenting movement wave tends to foster self-doubt in some parents.
For example, Gentle Parenting is very popular right now, and there's a lot to love about it: having empathy for and curiosity about your child's emotions and stress, trying to keep your cool, acting in the service of building your child's (and your own) self-regulation, and others. But there's a lot of room for critique here too, such as how there's no room for parents to have their own emotions and reactions, how kids' behavior is discussed as if you're operating in a vacuum (without siblings or real-life obligations), and how kids' emotional experience is the #1 priority, to be monitored at all times. Together, the message from Gentle Parenting tenets is that parents have the ultimate power to shape kids' behavior––and when it's not working, well, then it's your fault. This isn't a realistic or sustainable conclusion. Our kids have personalities all their own, independent of our input.
Some parents have wonderful success with Gentle Parenting (or other) philosophies. Will it work in your family? It depends! Many parenting influencers sell the conviction that their methods will work for everyone; they may truly believe this, since it worked wonders for their own dysregulated children. We all have moments when something works like magic and other times when it's a disaster. You may sometimes feel like The Best Parent Ever one minute and then a hot mess in another. Any parenting method that will stand the test of time and stress will be one that is flexible and that matches your family's style. Also, it's unrealistic to think you can follow all the practices in a parenting method all the time. For example, sometimes empathizing with a child's struggle is important, but, sometimes, they just need to put on their shoes and get out the door! And while angry responses will escalate some unwanted behaviors, increased attention through verbal empathy and problem solving in the moment can also increase the behavior.
Parenting philosophies can work spectacularly when strategies mesh well with a parent's values and their child's temperament. However, if you follow “the latest trend in parenting” and your child's behavior doesn't change, you can feel defeated and ashamed. You can worry that there’s something wrong with your child (or you). And that's not helping anyone.
The point is that every child is different, and no one parenting style is going to work for every parent-child relationship or every situation. The goodness of fit is more important, as well as flexibility depending on circumstances. Which style of parenting will be comfortable and practical for the parent to employ and also will be received well by the child and also serves the family well as a unit? Gentle Parenting might be the right answer for some families, but it might not be for yours 100% of the time. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you, but maybe you need some extra help to find your right path. You'll need some extra time too, because changing patterns of behavior is a long and gradual process. Parenting is hard, and we're all doing the best job we can. #dowhatworks.
Please welcome Mandi!
And a personal caveat. Remember, your child can influence YOU as much as you can influence them, impacting your feelings of self-worth. That’s a side of parenting that we sometimes forget. Also keep in mind that the parenting industry is a multi-billion industry that feeds on the idea that you’re not able to do things without their expert guidance or the latest gadget or toy that will keep your child on their perfect developmental tract. We need to resist the hard-core marketing and the message we’ve got to be perfect parents 100% of the time. Instead, keep in mind that we’re just human beings trying our best to guide other human beings to be resilient, compassionate, kind, and thoughtful with the tools to solve problems, overcome diversity, and be dependent without us.