Posted by Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer on 1/31/2011
Parenting is an odd thing. Just about the time it starts to feel easy,
your kids grow up and move out. There have been many times in the years
since my son started college that I’ve wanted to tell him, “You have to
come back—I’m so much better at this now!”
One of my clients was telling me about her struggles with a difficult
parenting challenge recently and she groaned in frustration. “I’ve been
working on this forever,” she said with a deep sigh, “and just when I
think I’ve finally figured it out, it happens all over again.”
I know exactly what she means. Parenting is like a
gigantic game of “whack-a-mole.” You whack a problem here, and it pops
up over there. You whack it there, and it moves again. Sometimes you can
go for days or weeks without losing your temper, yelling, or doing that
thing you hate to do—and then, just when you relax your guard, whack!
There it is again.
I’m not sure anyone ever masters the art of
parenting. There’s always something new to learn. I’m now 53 and my son
is in his second year of graduate school; he lives in another city and I
miss him every day. I no longer need to worry about homework, chores,
allowance, or other day-to-day challenges. Now almost 24, my “little
boy” manages his money, cooks, cleans, and runs his life and
relationships quite well without any advice from his mother, although he
still loves to call and fill me in on his latest ad ventures.
I am still working on finding the right balance
between connection and independence. At some point, I suppose I’ll need
to work on getting along with his future partner and perhaps, one day
way off in the future, being a good grandma. My own mother still worries
about me and has been known to remind me to wear a sweater when I go
home for a visit. I don’t suppose parenting ever really ends.
We talk often about being patient with children,
understanding their developmental stages and temperaments, and giving
them room to grow and learn. We talk about having faith in them,
encouraging the positive things they try to do, and staying connected
even when it’s a struggle or they push our buttons. But there’s someone
else you need to be patient with, someone who needs faith and
encouragement every bit as much as your children do. That person is you.
In our Positive Discipline books we teach that
mistakes are nothing but opportunities to learn. Thank goodness, because
I’ve made so many of the darned things! Still, it gets frustrating to
come face to face on a daily basis with your own imperfections. Most
parents get up each morning with the intent to do their very best, to be
patient, loving, and kind, and to follow through when necessary.
I have yet to meet a parent, including some who
have made serious mistakes, who does not love his or her child. And most
of us go right on playing whack-a-mole every single day, hammering down
those persistent problems each time they pop up and hoping somehow that
tomorrow will be different.
No matter how hard you try, you will never be a
perfect parent. Your child won’t be a perfect child, either—and that’s
okay. Your child doesn’t need you to be perfect; he just needs you to
keep on whacking that mole, doing your best to be kind and firm, to stay
connected, and to be willing to learn from each and every mistake.
Remember, too, that when you can treat yourself
with kindness and gentleness, your child (who watches everything you do)
can learn to do the same. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could learn
to laugh at our mistakes and those of your partners and children, to
accept our own humanity, and to dust ourselves off when we fall and try
again without shame, blame, lectures, or judgments?
I think I have finally accepted the sad truth that
I will never be a particularly patient person—but I have learned to
fake it pretty well. And I’ve learned that when my own impatience gets
the better of me, it’s time to take out the mallet and whack that
problem until it disappears—for a little while, at least.
As you continue on your parenting journey, take a
moment to appreciate yourself. No, you’re not perfect; no one is. Yes,
you keep wrestling with that same irritating challenge; everyone else
does, too, until that challenge fades away and another pops up to take
its place. First it’s sleeping through the night and toilet training;
then it’s sibling rivalry, homework, and setting limits. Take time this
evening to catch your breath, to hug your child, and to smile at
yourself in the mirror. As long as you’re willing to keep doing your
best to be a “good enough” parent, you and your children will be just
fine. Cheryl Erwin
is the co-author of several books in the “Positive
Discipline” series, as well as the “Everything Parent’s Guide to Raising
Boys.” She is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in
Reno, Nevada, and has a weekly commentary on parenting on KUNR (88.7
I love this article! I linked it on my blog. http://cakeandcup.blogspot.com
Thank you for your wise words - I am a recovering perfectionist, and your encouragement truly helps. : )
I really enjoyed this as well. It is a great reminder that I am doing my best and so are my kids as well. Thanks
Cheryl, such a wonderful article and so true! I will share this with my families who attend Children's Playroom. I am sure I will refer to the "Whack-A-Mole" theory many times this year. I love Positive Discipline!!