The child-rearing principle of consistency, where you stick to the rules and follow through with consequences, makes a lot of sense. But because it’s so hard to live up to, this parenting rule is a source of guilt for many parents. Children ask for things all day long. Sometimes, it’s just easier, even automatic, to say no. But then, a moment later, it dawns on you that you really could have said yes. So you reverse yourself. To be thoughtful, purposeful, and unselfish every time a child asks for something is next to impossible because each day is different.
Your stress level has a lot to do with what you can tolerate. Maybe you’re tired and not in the mood to put yourself out. Then, when you come to your senses, it becomes painfully apparent that you were wrong. Giving in and being inconsistent courses through the routine of everyday life, no matter how many parenting books you’ve read that advise you to do otherwise. Recognizing this pattern is discouraging. Nonetheless, these nagging feelings (along with nagging children) remind you that it’s time to re-dedicate yourself, yet again, to being a more consistent parent.
You’re also well aware that you shouldn’t let your son or daughter do something just because their friends are doing it. Kids frequently beg for what they want. “But Michelle’s parents are letting her go to the party!” How steadfastly parents stand up to this kind of pressure varies. Sooner or later, though, most crack. “Okay, if Michelle can go, I guess you can go too.” It feels good in the moment to give children something they really want. But soon afterward, the doubt in the pit of your stomach causes those good feelings to fade. You’ll ask yourself, “Did I really say yes to that?”
These are just a few of the daily interactions that go on between parents and children. There are so many others: “Can I have a cell phone? Can I go to the mall? Can my boyfriend come over? Take me; buy me, please may I.” The list goes on and on, as does your struggle to handle your feelings, when in spite of your good intentions, some days fall apart.
As you struggle with the complexities of child-rearing, it’s very, very difficult to feel good-enough.
Luckily, good-enough parenting is an appropriate goal.
We all know (right?) that there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. So perfectionism isn’t a reasonable approach. It’s better for everyone if you can accept yourself warts and all. Daily mistakes are troubling, for sure. While serious transgressions are even harder to forgive. However, relentlessly beating yourself up for things that have gone wrong won’t make you a better parent; it makes you an unhappy one. Plus, if every day were perfect how would children learn to cope with their own disappointments and frustrations?
Admitting to mistakes, learning from them, making amends, and practicing forgiveness are the emotional challenges of family life – and are opportunities to deepen our most meaningful relationships.
Loren Buckner, LCSW is a psychotherapist in Tampa, FL. She is the author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How to Deal With Them