This question can carry enormous weight for people as they move toward parenthood and even more so once it becomes reality. There is immense pressure to ‘perform’ as a parent. For most people, this pressure exists partly by virtue of their own expectations and partly due to messages in social media or from others to do things a certain way. It’s no surprise then that many parents experience significant stress in their efforts to live according to these ideals.
Sometimes these ideals emanate from unsatisfying experiences we had in our own childhoods, ones that we are looking to avoid replicating. Sometimes these ideals are based on what we think is right or good for our children. Most of us will, at some point, find that our ego gets in the way of us seeing our children for who they are, rather than who we want them to become. When we ask ourselves what kind of parent we want to be, we’re asking about the kind of relationship we want to have with our children, what values are important in our families, what hopes do we have for our children. These are admirable things to be thinking about.
But, this question can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s prudent for parents to take time to reflect upon the kind of home environment they want to create for themselves and their family. After all, much of what we create in our homes becomes the foundation of our children’s existence. On the other hand, there is much in life beyond our control and when parents becoming too fixated on certain things being a certain way, based on an ideal they’ve been carrying around in their mind, those ideals can render them anxious and inflexible.
We are a culture that tends to like labels and we tend to have a certain affinity for categorizing people. In perusing your latest social media feeds, you’re likely to come across labels such as: crunchy moms, attachment parenting, helicopter parenting, tiger parenting, etc. These labels help us organize our thoughts and our priorities by helping us identify themes but they also tend to alienate us from each other. And sometimes, we’re just overthinking things and these labels can interfere with our ability to parent our children from a place of authenticity and attunement (See Definition).
The truth is, parenthood is not so black and white; we exist in shades of grey. It’s a fluid, ongoing transformation, often oscillating between idealistic expectations we envision for ourselves and guilt-ridden angst when we feel we have failed. We think we should be able to be a certain kind of parent and then when we miss the mark, we beat ourselves up. We get stuck in all-or-nothing thinking that leaves little room for the vicissitudes of life.
Over the course of our lives, we will be many sorts of mother/father. We will be the sort of parent we admire, we will be the sort we loathe, and everything in between. In ways big and small, we will succeed and we will fail. And thus, we create a sort of microcosm of life itself for our children, one that yields both the good and the not so great. In treating ourselves with gracious forgiveness when we falter, we give our children an example of how to weather life’s turbulence.
It is not enough to hold ourselves to high standards. We must hold ourselves to high standards AND offer ourselves compassion when we fail. We must resist one-dimensional labels and grow into our own authentic parenting journey. When we nurture and encourage the effort and the process rather than placing results solely on the outcome, we foster resilience. And when we cultivate that kind of respect and compassion for ourselves, our children will reap the benefits of living in a home filled with those same values.