The further I get into parenting, the more I realize that parenthood is just like anything else. If you are only happy when you’re perfect at it, you’re never going to be happy.
Parenting is tough. Every kid on earth is going to hand his or her own unique set of challenges to her caretakers. No matter how good parents are, there are going to be days when they want to pull their hair out, stay in bed, or take a permanent vacation.
And as convinced as I have become of that, I have also become convinced that one other universal truth exists. In parenthood, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Or perhaps a better way to put it would be, the good parents find it easier and easier while the poor parents find it to be increasingly difficult. I’ll touch on that more in a sec.
Ever since writing You just broke your child, I have received a steady stream of emails from parents who have somewhat or completely lost themselves as moms or dads. They have yelled, screamed, demeaned, tore down, and hurt their children over the years, and they feel defunct or ruined, not knowing how to turn things around for the better. And they all want to know where they can start.
To all of those parents, I have always responded with one single piece of advice.
Have better moments.
Deeply engrained habits are hard to break. But they’re not impossible. Learned and instinctually wrong behavior is even harder. But it’s also not impossible.
A person who has gained 100 lbs, often gets overly frustrated when they can never seem to make one solid decision to eat healthy and exercise forever more, and then keep that goal. They make the goal over and over again, and they ultimately fail every time. Likewise, parents who have badly parented themselves into a corner often get so frustrated when they can never seem to make that one solid decision to be a perfect parent, never yell, never lose their temper, never slack off, and never slip in their goals. These parents tend to make the goal over and over again, and they also fail every time.
The overweight person who sets goals this way inevitably gets bigger and bigger, packing on a few extra pounds every time the scale swings up again. The parent who parents this way inevitably gets worse as the frustrations of not being able to control everything the way they’d like increasingly weigh down their already low parenting self-esteem.
So what should parents in this situation do? They should work on having better moments.
Instead of saying “today, I’m going to be a perfect parent,” they should say, “I’m going to do something in the next five minutes (or better yet, for the next five minutes) to be a good parent.” They should forget about today. They should forget about tomorrow. They should focus on something small, and something they should do and can do now. What they’ll find is that if they start doing this a few times every day, everything else starts clicking into place. Good parenting, slowly and methodically begins to become “normal.” They’ll also find that perfection as a parent doesn’t exist, can’t exist, will never exist, and they will realize that the pursuit of such perfection is self-damaging and self-destructive.