How To Convince Yourself You Don't Totally Suck At Parenting

by Meredith Ethington
SunKids / Shutterstock

All you have to do is spend about 4.5 seconds on social media and you’ll see another mom crafting better than you, a dad who plays football with his son every day after school, another parent taking something in stride when you would be a total basket case, and of course, a mom bragging about her 3-year-old reading at a fourth-grade level.

It’s easy to feel like we suck at parenting when we use other parents as a barometer for our success. In fact, you don’t even have to be on social media to believe you suck. I’m convinced that parents’ brains are wired to constantly tell ourselves, “You suck at this.” Maybe it’s so we’ll try a little harder — I mean, some weeks, it is really tempting to give my kids Fruit Loops for dinner every night.

Maybe it’s kind of like an innate survival skill, except the opposite of that because it’s making us feel bad about ourselves. So we curl up in a fetal position, crying, convincing ourselves we were never meant to be parents.

But I also hope that parents are possibly born with this “you suck” mentality just so we will try a little harder. Because honestly, when we are first starting out, we do suck a little bit. But that’s the whole point of growing as a parent, isn’t it? To not suck and to try harder. To become more kick-ass as our experience grows and to learn right alongside our kids.

The question is, though, how can we convince ourselves (once we’re past the latest parenting trial) that we don’t really suck?

Here are some ideas:

Remind yourself that there is no manual for this. You might see on Pinterest that there are 25 ways to speak positively to your child from that mom, but guess what, she isn’t perfect either. She doesn’t always speak positively to her own kids either. If there were an e-course that would teach me how to be the parent who doesn’t forget school picture day every single time, I’d totally sign up. But the reality is, there is no manual. We are all doing the best we can, and we need to remind ourselves of that fact despite what we see on social media. Even though someone has figured out the secret formula to stop yelling at her kids, your kids are for sure going to pull some shenanigans that are going to make you lose it.

Which brings me to my next point: Kids are little button-pushers. They are born with this incredible ability to push your buttons. They don’t mean to do it. They are just navigating their world, testing the waters, and seeing if they can push mom to the brink today by refusing to put on pants when you’re in a hurry. So remind yourself that many of the issues you have on a daily basis while you’re trying to hold it together are because your kids are trying to figure out this big world, and you just happen to be the one they take it out on. It’s not your fault. It’s theirs.

No one has it together all the time. From time to time, I’ve seen the cute mom who strolls in for her kid’s well visit looking like she just stepped out of a catalog. She probably has 18 million followers on Instagram, I think to myself. And then there’s the kids who look like they stepped out of a Baby Gap ad. In those moments, I look down at my sweatpants and shirt that’s on inside-out, stroking my stray chin hairs I forgot to pluck and wondering if she wakes up like that or if she rises at 3 a.m. to have time for self-grooming. But the truth is, she’s just having a good day, and I’m not. I can only hope and pray that every once in a while I walk in looking like the catalog mom while the hot mess mom eyes me, thinking the same thing. Bottom line: Don’t compare your worst day to someone else’s best day. It’s that simple.

The biggest thing that has helped me not feel like such a sucky parent is to focus my attention on what I do accomplish each day, no matter how small. If I read one more story, I make a note of it. If I stop what I’m doing to play a game with my toddler, I give myself a mental pat on the back. If all I did was put away the one basket of laundry that’s been sitting at the foot of my bed for a week, then I take note. Parenting is a job that is thankless and never-ending. But you don’t suck just because you didn’t do sensory time with junior today. Count your victories. Write them down if you have to, but give yourself the credit you’re due.

The thing is, most of the time, the parents who are thinking they suck really don’t. We’re learning — that’s all. And we’re trying so hard to keep up that we aren’t recognizing that we are doing the most important things for our kids every day. The mundane daily tasks matter. Showing up and just being there matters. Fixing 42 snacks a day matters. Doing 14 wardrobe changes for the toddler matters. Feeding them cereal to save your sanity matters.

It all matters. We just have to stop beating ourselves up and comparing ourselves to everyone else to believe it.