Dr. Elizabeth B. Briganti, PsyD
For so long I thought that I had to be the perfect parent; I thought I had to get everything right the first time.
But how on earth is that possible? I knew intellectually that is WASN’T possible, but emotionally it was a different story.
What qualifies as “good enough” parenting, anyway? Is that even something to aspire to? Or do I need to meet my child’s needs immediately in an empathetically attuned way every time?
I wanted answers!
But it’s taken time to find those answers. I have read, I have talked to friends who are parents, I have joined parents’ groups, I have thought long and hard. And after all this thought and discussion and after having had a second child and thought and discussed some more I have come to a few conclusions.
I have learned that having the expectation that you must get it right the first time is doing a disservice to yourself and your child. Having such expectations in the first place makes you a more anxious, rigid parent. And your child is on the receiving end of your anxiety and rigidity. And I realized that I not only had expectations of my own behavior as a parent but I also had expectations of how my child SHOULD behave. I realized that I would get angry with my son for not responding in the way I thought he should be responding, according to my expectations of myself as a parent, and my often unrealistic expectations of him. Not fair to either of us! I have tried to recognize him for the sensitive, cautious, and often fearful little boy that he is, and as I have done so, our relationship has enjoyed more love and less conflict.
I have also learned the value of repair. When I do not do things in the best way as a parent, or when my son is frustrated or angry with me, I now know there is something powerful that can be done after the fact. Not feeling as though I have to get parenting right on the first go has been liberating. I’m ok now raising my voice with my kids when they’re driving me crazy, and later apologizing for my outburst and explaining why I felt the way I felt. I have learned that even when there is a rupture in the relationship between me and one of my children there can also be repair afterwards.
I’m not condoning yelling at your kids, but learning that it’s not the end of the world and that accepting responsibility for an outburst is an opportunity for growth has been life saving for me. Having our kids learn about our “monster” feelings and teaching them that we all need to learn how to calm these down is a life skill. Holding in anger was worse for me and the kids, as my little emotion detectors could always feel my resentment. As a family, we’re not as fragile as I thought – in fact, we’re more like a rubber band than a glass bubble!
Thank goodness for all of us.
Dr. Elizabeth Bogado Briganti is a clinical psychologist and the mother of two children. She practices in Haverford, PA as a child and adult psychotherapist.