Mid-term reports are out for my 13-year-old son. It is easy to see his progress as a student--the homework he has completed or not, the tests he aced and those he failed. It even shows his effort. While not always an accurate assessment of his abilities and actions, it is a benchmark. He does not like getting his.
I want an assessment for me, too. Having a new teenager is enough to throw anyone for a loop. You adjust to this stranger in your house who on some days barely resembles the boy you thought you were lovingly raising. It is just one of the many times over the life of a parent when it is easy to question your skills. It would be nice to get an independent report card, wouldn't it?
The path to discouragement is well-trodden by parents. You may hold unreasonable expectations for yourself, hoping for a level of perfection that you imagine others achieve with ease. Work and child-raising demands may be in conflict making you feel like you aren't doing anything well.
One of my friends reminds me that any parent is only as happy as his/her saddest child. We feel the sadness, pain and confusion our children experience as they come to recognize the harsh realities of life--great friends move, people make unfair judgments, success requires significant motivation, luck is sometimes absent. When their hearts mourn the loss of innocence, so do ours. My 11-year old faced such a loss of innocence this past December when Papa confirmed what she knew to be true--Santa is a joyful creation not a real magical person. Through her tears, she explained, "But, Papa, I was not ready to know."
It is so easy to lose perspective because we are so close to these precious ones we love. But perspective is what we need. We are not perfect creatures, nor are we meant to be. We are trying. It is always good to sit back, perhaps with a journal, and ask yourself some good, hard questions when you doubt your parenting skills:
- What am I doing to contribute to the current situation? Do I make things better or more difficult for my family?
- What choices do I make that my child is reflecting back to me?
- Where is the intersection between unconditional love and necessary boundaries that creates the best results?
- How does my mood and tone affect those around me?
- Are my expectations reasonable for my child?
- What will my child remember from this year? What have I said or done that will carry with him/her for a lifetime?
I can't always find peace in the answers to these questions. When this happens, I find it is helpful to grab a parenting book or learn from a professional who knows a hundred kids like mine. In reading and listening, I can pick and choose and eventually create a path that works for my family.
Sometimes, the questions don't lead to any real answer and only reveal our deepest vulnerability--we care so deeply for someone outside our own skin, whose life we only guide and never control. In order to do it well, we need to be at our best. We need some self-care:
- Once in a while, give yourself time to lick your wounds and admit to yourself and others that this parenting thing is hard.
- Be authentic. Don't pretend you have it all under control. Brene Brown writes, "Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen."
- Admit to your shortcomings. Surprisingly, our children can handle our weaknesses very well and will be pleasantly surprised to learn that they are not alone in trying to get life right.
- Gather friends around you. Isolation is punishing. In the rush of soccer games and spring concerts, don't forget that you need time outside of the car pool to connect with other parents who can sympathize and best your stories. In so doing, your commonality will emerge.
- Learn the path to happiness is through acceptance. Always wanting you or your child to be someone else is the path of suffering. Who doesn't want to be loved as they are?
- Be patient. Your largest challenge that drives you nuts today will barely be remembered six months from now.
- Immerse yourself in music, go for a walk in the woods, meditate. Be irreverent. Laugh.
- Stubbornly resist the clarion call of never being enough. Believe in your heart that you are the only perfect match for this child, and the universe is conspiring for your mutual growth.
Let's begin a conversation about how we, as parents, can deal with discouragement. What works for you?
Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.