Being Kind to Ourselves
written by Jennifer McCormack, Copyright June 2011.
For most parents, on first learning of their pregnancy, the first reaction they have is to read and talk to as many people as possible to learn about all the things that they can do to understand pregnancy and to become wonderful parents. Armed with our research into gentle birthing, nutrition, breastfeeding, sleep and behaviour, we think we are ready. Ah … little did we realise that all we have learned, and many of the values we held prized, will constantly be re-assessed, even dropped completely as time goes by. Parenting is not a set of skills that can be learned and ticked off a list. It is not something you can become accomplished at by reading a book. Parenting is a living process of constant learning and re-learning. It is something you can be wonderful at one moment, and then be really bad at the next. Becoming a parent means we have to learn a LOT more about ourselves (and our partners) than we would otherwise have explored.
I don’t think that parenting has ever been an easy thing for anyone. If we listen to the stories of our generations of parents before us, parenting certainly appears to have been simpler than it is today, but I believe that it challenges each and every one of us regardless of what circumstances we are in when we become parents.
When I first became a parent I had read a lot, and as an early childhood teacher I had already begun to form a pretty clear philosophy of my own about how this parenting caper was to be approached and managed. I had enjoyed a wonderful career as a teacher of young children, and had proven myself as someone who could work instinctually with little people. When I became pregnant it was expected by many that parenting would be a breeze for me!
I guess to some extent I had that expectation too, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road all the time. I just never knew how often I would end up dropping my parenting ideals, and everything else, because I just didn’t have the time, the energy or the opportunity to make them work. I never knew how often I would kneel at the altar of motherhood and beg for some inspiration or at the very least some energy to continue the task.
I would be really very surprised (and delighted) to meet a parent who hasn’t, at some point, been in the depths of parenting where dinner every night has been baked beans on toast (or just straight out of the tin), where arguments, shouting and sarcasm has replaced laughter, conversation and storytelling. When you’ve all been so tired and worn out that simple solutions to even the simplest of problems just don’t present themselves immediately and the only solution you can think of is to pray for a moment’s peace. I knew there would be some rough bits to navigate as a parent, but I had no idea how often they would come up, how rough they’d be, or how just how helpless those experiences can leave you feeling.
Early in my parenting, one of my friends introduced me to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Principle. This principle is an observation of nature, and notes that, basically, life is not fair. We cannot expect 100% perfection when we are more likely to achieve 80% of our goals only 20% of the time (as an example). Please try an internet search on this term – it is very interesting! The Pareto Principle has often come back to me in the years since as a comforting little thought, that none of us are meant, nor are statistically ABLE, to be the people we want to be ALL of the time. What a relief it is to have something like this to explain that we cannot live up to our ideals of perfection – that we are meant to be imperfect and must give ourselves permission to drop things from time to time.
It is what we do, isn’t it? We know what we WANT to achieve in our parenting – but actually achieving it is something else. I would honestly have never guessed at just how many obstacles could arise in one day to prevent me from achieving one simple thing, such as mailing a letter, or getting the clothes off the line (or even INTO the washing machine!).
- we don’t talk to our children in sweet voices all the time (Get over here NOW!),
- we don’t always model such wonderful problem solving skills of our own (who taught my child THAT word?? Oh .. it was me),
- we aren’t as organised as we’d like to be (Six trips between the car and the house and I still haven’t found my keys and I’m 20 minutes late ..)
So you aren’t perfect? Are you happy at least 80% of the time? Then you are doing well. Remember that it is our imperfections that give us the opportunity to learn and (eventually) laugh. If nature was 100% perfect then it would be pretty boring. That random imperfection makes our world a pretty interesting place to be.
Be kind to yourself.