Being a child therapist is hard. Of course, hearing the struggles children go through is difficult, but the real struggle hits on a personal level.
As parents, we are sensitive and vulnerable to criticism. Well-intentioned husbands, friends and in-laws love to point out what we are doing wrong. “Umm…Shouldn’t you be doing it that way?” “Do you think that is really a good idea?” “Do you think he needs to have another?” Comments like these come flying at me like daggers. In one fell swoop, you can annihilate my parenting, my career and my competence. That’s a lot of pressure. That’s a lot of annihilation.
No one is perfect, but if you are a chef, you are expected to make a good dinner. If you are a child therapist, you are expected to make great kids. So as a young mom and child therapist, I listened closely to what society deemed “good parenting,” and my head started to swim. The checklist grew in my head before the fetus moved from grape to peach size:
– Give birth naturally
– Get an epidural
– Don’t breastfeed
– Sleep schedule
– Scheduled weaning
The rules and no-no’s grew as my baby grew …
– Avoid gluten, wheat, dairy
– Plastic and light up toys are not good
– Limit your child’s TV and screen time
– Put your child to bed at the same time
– Potty train early
– Potty train late
– Don’t tell your child “good job”
– Don’t call your daughter pretty
– Don’t do time outs
– Give your child time ins
– Don’t give your child consequences
– Give your child consequences
– Give rewards
– Don’t give rewards
– Don’t spank
– Have a schedule
– Don’t have a schedule
– Play with your child
– Let your child play independently
– Call them meltdowns
– Call them tantrums
– Praise your child
– Don’t praise your child
And then came the camps and the parenting labels …
– Attachment parenting
– Free range parenting
– Permissive parenting
– Helicopter parenting
What kind of parent am I? What is my parenting style? What parenting method do I follow? This was harder than graduate school. Can I shove that child back into the womb and try again? Can I change my major at 35?
I sit on the opposite side of the therapy couch listening to parents berate themselves.
She’s sleeping with me still … I know that’s bad.
He watches TV … I know I should limit that.
We don’t want to praise him too much … I know they say you shouldn’t do that.
She asks me to play with her … I know I should play with them more.
We have a strict routine … I know I should be more flexible.
We don’t have a routine … I know I should be more structured.
For awhile, I joined the club of “I am a crappy mother” thinkers and burdened myself with the guilt along with the best of them. I created a long list of no-nos in my head to go with my morning coffee.
I tell my child she is beautiful.
I am teaching her she is only valued for her looks – yikes!
I tell my kids “good job” all the time.
I am throwing out empty compliments – crap!
My kids have iPads.
I am destroying their little brains!
I sometimes get angry.
What kind of fraud am I?
As I got older, I began to care less and less. I started to question this disjointed, conflicting list of rules I was trying to follow (and failing at). By the third child I was like, Wait a second – I am feeling guilty about how I compliment my children? When I was a kid my mom piled us into the back of a station wagon without seat belts. We roamed around the neighborhood until it got dark, with no parents in sight. Dinner was microwave dinners in front of the TV, and I’m pretty sure I heated them up myself. I went weeks (I am trying to be honest here) without a shower.
Sometimes I think about my childhood and wonder how I survived. I gotta be doing better than that, right? And I am. Heck, my kids get bathed more than once a week. Win for me. I actually cook dinner three – maybe even four – days a week. That’s right. Sometimes, I even make pancakes for breakfast. True story.
I don’t judge. I don’t judge parents when they come and see me. I learn what their parenting style is and I offer my support. I respect their beliefs and work from there. Shouldn’t I do the same thing for myself? Shouldn’t we all do that for each other? Since when did parenting become as judgmental as high school? I have enough to worry about with stretch marks, lack of sleep and this whole business of keeping little people alive. I am throwing in the metaphorical white towel.