Feeling Like an Inadequate Parent – How to Cope
Do you ever feel like you’re an inadequate parent? Does this feeling creep up on you when your child doesn’t listen, doesn’t do as their told, have a meltdown over spilled ice cream? Or does it pay a visit when you’re lying in bed at night recounting the day? It’s a difficult feeling. But we all go through this. The most important part is to remember that it’s human to feel inadequate. But to feel inadequate is not the same as to be inadequate.
My Inadequate Parent Moment
What you can’t see in this picture is that my son peed through his diaper and the cover he was sitting on.
Picture this: you’re out shopping with your toddler. He is peacefully sleeping in his stroller, while you and your partner devise a plan on how to get everything you need quickly and not wake him up. Vroom!! A car goes by and you hear unhappy noises coming out of the stroller. Yay us! You try to walk around to calm the toddler down but the noises only increase in volume and are now coupled with violent thrashes inside the stroller. So you make a decision: let’s take him out and take him inside the store.
As you carry 20 lbs of wiggling and screaming toddler, you decide to put him down on the ground to try to talk to him. Except he is now running away, sobbing uncontrollably and trying to lick everything in sight (primarily the nasty store wall). As the two of you try to calm the toddler down and figure out what to do next, a well meaning older woman comes up to give some advice. She is actually not trying to shame you, but is trying to be helpful, except all it does is frustrate and annoy you. While trying your best to be nice and politely telling her to go away, you decide to scoop the toddler up, take him to the car and show him cartoons.
You walk away under the heavy gaze of the well meaning stranger, sit down, turn on cartoons and said toddler starts to calm down. You on the other hand are stewing about the whole situation and wondering how this could have been avoided.
How could you be so stupid and so inadequate at managing something so simple?!
We’ve all been there: doubting our parenting skills, sobbing in the corner on the floor because the kids have been too much, dodging comments about our parental shortcomings. IT SUCKS! It’s hard to keep hearing the negativity and not reacting or internalizing it. I’ll be honest, I’m guilty of it. While I mostly think I’m an awesome parent and have a great relationship with my son, it still stings to hear that I’m doing things wrong. According to others, I’m spoiling him and he’s much better behaved around them. Those types of comments make me feel inadequate. Unfortunately, it is all too common to blame mothers for everything under the sun.
So what do we (mothers) do about this?
You Are Not an Inadequate Parent
First and foremost, we need to be kind to ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves for whatever shortcomings we have and move on from there. And a way to this is through self-compassion.
The first time I was made aware of this term was in one of my therapy sessions. My therapist made me aware of Dr. Kristin Neff who has been the leader in self-compassion research. She has done some great Ted Talks on the topic of self-compassion and has written books on the subject as well. I highly recommend poking through her site if you’re struggling in this department (most of us are). But while you can find much more detailed information on her site, I will just say that self-compassion boils down to one simple point “Be as kind to yourself, as you would be to a friend, if they were in the same situation”. It’s so simple and yet so hard to do. And a lot of it comes down the messaging that our society has bombarded us with.
It is trying to make us believe that parenting is an exact science. That there is a right or wrong way to parent. But there really isn’t. (Barring neglect and abuse).
Parenting is a fluid art form that evolves with every generation.
Parenting advice changes all the time. And while there is wisdom to be carried out from the way previous generations parented, there is no reason to treat the old ways as gospel. Make sure you take the time to listen to your intuition and figure out the way to parent that fits into your life. It won’t be perfect and there will be mistakes, but it will be authentic.
It’s OK to Ask for Help
Second, we need to realize that we can’t do this all on our own. The feeling of inadequacy rears its head when we are stuck making all the parenting decisions on our own. But the truth is: we’re not superhuman and are not good at everything. If we were, we wouldn’t need partners, friends or mentors. It really does take a village to raise a child.
So ask for help if you need it. And never be ashamed of doing it. We are social creatures, meant to grow up in large social groups. But our modern society no longer allows for that. Instead it has isolated us into nuclear families that are expected to fill the roles of way too many people. Ask questions, share your concerns, read reputable material. Gather the information you need to be the best parent you can be. Asking questions or asking for help does not make you an inadequate parent. It makes you a wonderful parent who wants to learn and improve.
How To Not Feel Like Your are an Inadequate Parent
Once we have forgiven ourselves for being human (i.e. used some self-compassion), we should assess our strengths and weaknesses. I suggest you make a list of both. Ask your partner to make a similar list. Now, compare notes. Are there things that are in your weakness column but in the strength in your partner’s and vice versa? Good, highlight those. Now see how you can split up tasks that cater to each others’ strengths and eliminate those that are weaknesses. When you have more time and capacity, teach each other how to turn the weaknesses into strengths. If you have help available in the form of grandparents or siblings, get them to make a list as well. Tap into as many resources as you can and life will become much easier.
But one thing still remains: how to deal with all those well meaning comments about things we do wrong with our children? Well, there are a few ways to go about it: ignore, come up with a witty response, or cut off communication. When the comment comes from a stranger, do any of the above. All are fair game when someone is sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. However, you can’t do the same with someone who is important to you. Depending on your relationship with the person, ignoring may be all you can do. Then, do yourself a favor and walk away from the conversation. You are not required to listen to negativity, no matter the source.
In an ideal situation, you should be able to calmly discuss with this person why what they say bothers you and ask them to stop it. And in an ideal situation, they will calmly listen and abide by your wishes. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Even if they don’t listen and respect your wishes, it is still important to learn to calmly express yourself. It is important for you as a person and it’s an important lesson to teach your children. They will come across this in their life and learning good coping skills will help them in the future.
Just remember, you won’t always feel good about your parenting and the truth is, you won’t always be good at it. You will make mistakes and they may be noticed by others. But there is no need to feel inadequate. No one is adequate. Everyone falters and it’s OK. The best you can do is learn from your mistakes and move on.
Show yourself self-compassion! You deserve it!
Quote of the Day
“Even the people we admire often feel inadequate” – Andrew Matthews
Mental Health Tip of the Day
When the seeds of doubt start sprouting in your head, remind yourself that you are doing fine. Not perfect but fine. Remind yourself that no one is perfect and reaching perfection just creates more anxiety. Find something that inspires you and refer to it when you’re down. And if you need some inspiration, read my post Guide to Being a Good Mother.