I just had a very interesting conversation with my 22 year old.
We were talking about my policy from their childhood of only letting them watch documentary channels on TV. All the usual kids’ channels. Disney, Nickelodeon, etc., were blocked so the only ones they could access were things like Nat Geo and Discovery Channel.
I commented that they must have felt like such deprived children and I must have been the worst mother in the world as far as they were concerned.
He said, “Oh yeah, we thought we were so deprived and it was so unfair but we never actually judged you like that? We never thought you were a bad mother because you didn’t let us watch the TV that the other kids did, we just thought we were hard done by.”
That brought me up short. As a mother, I always assume that when kids go into feeling sorry for themselves, they turn the blame outwards onto whoever is making them feel bad, in this case, me, but apparently that’s not the case.
I should know this: all the work I do is about what we make things mean and how we make it reflect on ourselves yet I thought that when the kids felt deprived or hard done by – and let’s face it, no matter what you do, kids spend half their lives feeling hard done by! – they made it mean something about ME!
I don’t know about you, but even after almost 23 years of mothering, I still feel like I’m being judged constantly: judged by other parents, judged by other kids, judged by the teachers, judged by myself and judged by my kids, and in my mind, I’m judged and found constantly lacking.
Oh, my kids have turned out okay, in fact, they’ve turned out really well, but I haven’t been as strict as I could be with regards to things like mobile phones and computer usage, and to be honest, as the years have gone on and I’ve run out of energy, the youngest (who’s currently 13) gets away with so much more than her older siblings ever did just because I can’t be bothered putting the energy into stopping it any more!
I sometimes feel like the poor child is dragging herself up! And the older kids remind me of just how much Keeley gets away with on a regular basis, all couched in the affronted righteousness that comes out in this kind of situation.
I’m not consistent therefore I’m a bad mother.
I don’t let them do the things other kids do and they feel deprived therefore I’m a bad mother.
I don’t give them lollies/sweets/candy therefore I’m a bad mother.
Actually, that one DID get said by my child. When Kira was about 3, she took herself off to my neighbour, Enrica’s, house and announced to her that she was moving in with Enrica because she didn’t think I was her real mother. When Enrica asked why, Kira said “Well, because if she was my real mummy, she’d give me lollies because they make me happy and real mummies want you to be happy. YOU give me lollies so you must be my real mummy.”
I was so caught between being horrified and being incredibly amused that I didn’t make it mean anything!
With regards to the other stuff, though, I’M the one making what they say mean that I’m a bad mother, the kids certainly aren’t saying that.
I’M the one who’s taking words out of the kids’ mouths and saying “well, if they think that then they must think I’m a bad mother”.
The kids don’t actually think that.
Consider that: what if the ONLY person saying you’re a bad mother is YOU?
Now consider: what if you could change what you said to yourself? Oh wait! You CAN! You can change what you’re saying to yourself at any moment!
How would it change your experience of being a mother if instead of saying to yourself “I’m a bad mother” even if you only say that sometimes, you instead congratulated yourself on the awesome job you do – even if it’s only sometimes?
Instead of putting the focus on the things we get wrong or the things we don’t like, instead of putting words into our children’s mouths, we could focus on what we DO get right, the love we get and give, the support and the energy we put into our children. It would change our whole energy around parenting from being something that we’re constantly struggling to get right to one where we have wins.
Change the focus from what you’re doing wrong to what you’re doing right. It takes some practise but it makes a difference to both you and the kids.
Forget your mistakes. Celebrate your wins. What you focus on, you get more of. If you want to be a better parent, pay attention to what doesn’t work ONLY TO LEARN FROM IT. Put most of your attention onto what DOES work because then you’ll get more of what does work. It’s actually that easy.
Your kids love you. Your kids will remember more of the happy times than the sad ones but they also know at some deep level just how much effort you put into being a parent. So give yourself as much credit as they do: they just love you. Focus on what you do right.
Learn from the things that don’t quite work out and then celebrate the things you get right. More than anything else, you’ll be teaching your kids to do the same thing for themselves: to focus on what they do right not to keep beating themselves up for what they do wrong.
You’re doing the very best you possibly can with the resources you’ve got. You deserve credit for that. I acknowledge you from the bottom of my heart, I know the effort you put in. Good or bad doesn’t come into it, you’re doing your best and that is, actually, enough.
Do you have any other tips? Share with us in the comments.