Pay No Attention to That Crazy Mom Behind the Curtain
I’m Not a Real Parenting Expert, I Just Play One on Medium.
It happened again yesterday. I was having coffee with a mom friend, just chatting about the various trials and tribulations of motherhood. My friend said, “Well, this is what you do for a living. So you know how to handle it.” People say that and probably think things like that all of the time.
But here’s the thing. I don’t.
I know a lot of stuff. And a lot of that stuff is actually about parenting and child development. I even know a lot about anxiety and the factors that impact success in life.
And I am very good at seeing how all of that “stuff” can help YOU when YOU struggle.
However, when my child is struggling, most of that stuff goes out the window. At that moment, I’m just a mom.
Know what else is crazy? Even though I should know better, I’m guilty of making the same assumptions about other moms too. When one of my therapist friends shared a frustrating conversation she had had with her teenaged son, I heard myself saying, “Yeah, but at least you know how to talk to him about it and stay calm.”
She just looked at me like I was crazy.
As I thought about my friend saying “I’m sure you know what you’re doing” to me and me saying the same thing to my friend, I asked myself:
Is there really such a thing as a “parenting expert”??
It’s kind of hard to imagine that anyone is really an “expert” when you consider how little training we get to become parents. We typically get this really important and difficult job after watching and experiencing only one set of ill-prepared and imperfect people do it. And it’s hard to really learn what works and what doesn't work when it’s being done to you.
Most of us are completely unprepared when we embark on this amazing, overwhelming, and often triggering experience of parenting. And as a result, we usually find ourselves acting without really thinking. We tend to either repeat what our parents did with us and hope for the best. Or completely rebel against what we experienced just because we are bound and determined we aren’t going to be like them.
It only recently occurred to me that that was exactly what my own parents were doing too. And their parents were doing it before them. When you stop and think about it, generations of children have been parented based on what their grandparents did or didn’t do. That seems like a flawed system.
While I don’t consider myself to be an expert by any stretch, I know enough to see that the shaping of an entire generation is way too important to do based on a flawed system.
I can’t simply do what was done to me and hope for the best. And doing the opposite of what was done to me - just because it’s the opposite — doesn’t make a lot of sense either. When the well-being of a small human is at stake, I feel like I am called to do better and be better.
The question is how?
I gained a bit of insight from an unlikely source this week. I had an ah-ha moment as a result of what I thought would be a simple light-hearted text conversation. You’re probably like me and have a few friends you text when you are having a bad day or just want to vent or complain.
The ah-ha moment started with me texting a friend to complain about the fact that I needed to do something but I was avoiding doing it.
I should probably take a step back and mention that one of the great benefits of my job is the fact that a lot of my friends also happen to be amazing coaches, and pediatricians, and therapists. My friends are wise beyond measure. And because they are so filled with wisdom, many normal text threads or phone calls can turn into deep coaching. My text threads are filled with truth bombs that were delivered without warning.
Instead of simply saying “Girl, me too!” my friend responded and asked me why I was avoiding doing the thing.
I knew she wasn’t kidding around. She was genuinely asking and I had to be honest with her. And more importantly, I had to be honest with myself. I had to admit that I was afraid.
Again, she asked why. When I thought about it, I realized I had no idea what I was afraid of. When I told her that, she reminded me that we first must reveal in order to heal.
Reveal to heal. So wise and so true.
We must reveal in order to heal, especially when it comes to doing this parenting job to the best of our ability. I often find myself doing so much parenting while operating on autopilot. And unlike my wise friend, I don’t ask myself the simple question, “why?”
Why am I doing it this way? Why is this making me so angry? Why do I feel so — Fill In the Blank — … Terrible? Stressed? Afraid? Freaked Out? When I ask myself those questions, I don’t always like the answers.
Sometimes, I realize I’m doing something because it’s how my parents did it. But I’m not actually thinking about whether it’s the best or even a good way to handle a situation.
Or I realize that I am doing the opposite of what my own parents did because I am still carrying around pain from the way they handled a similar situation. I realize I am making parenting decisions based on the reactions of a hurt and angry child. I’m not acting as the wise adult that my job as a parent requires me to be.
Sometimes I find myself being steered by what everyone else might think if I don’t parent in a certain way. Perhaps I think I need to impose a restriction or allow my child to do something because everyone else is doing it that way. When I do this, I’m not considering my specific child and what they are capable or incapable of handling right now.
When I stop and ask why the answers aren’t always great. They don’t really make me feel good about myself as a person or a parent.
But they often reveal something that needs to heal.
When I am doing the parenting job, I know I’m not an expert. I’m just a mom figuring it out as I go along just like everyone else.
But here’s how I am an expert. I’m an expert on the two humans I’ve been parenting for over a decade. And because of that expertise, I know they’re both pretty awesome people who deserve better than me just rehashing the tired old parenting I experienced or reacting to them based on my own hurts and traumas. They deserve better than me parenting them based on what I think everyone else will think.
When I ask myself “why”, I reveal what I need to heal. And only then can I start to be the parent they deserve. While it will never be perfect and certainly won’t get me to “expert” status, it will at least be the best I can offer.
And as an added bonus, it might just help them to be the best parents they can be. If I can teach them to ask why, maybe they will parent more mindfully. Maybe I can teach them that they don’t have to base their parenting on the things I did right or on the many many things I got wrong.
And just maybe when they become parents, no expertise will be needed.
If you’re struggling to parent a perfect but anxious child, I’d love to give you a free downloadable copy of my book, Stop Worrying About Your Anxious Child.