Nine times out of 10, parents enter my office seeking help with a worrisome child but end up getting counselling for themselves. The kids aren’t the problem. What starts with questions around potty-training or playdate protocols is soon revealed to be a personal crisis of confidence. Parents curl up in the corner of my couch spewing tears of self-loathing and self-blame. “I screwed up,” they say. “I’m a terrible mother!”
Read more: How to build your child’s self-esteem>
The dawn of a new life isn’t the only miracle of childbirth. What’s equally miraculous is how instantly our self-worth is transferred to that little bundle of joy. They own us. Our self-esteem is wrapped up in their performance, and our self-approval rating goes up and down with every tantrum, like a jittery stock market.
That’s problematic. Those devilish, self-damning inner voices get in the way of good parenting. Those self-defeating beliefs make us overreact, over-scrutinize, overanalyze and generally over-parent. It’s time to rewrite the script of that inner dialogue. Ready?
1. Listen closely to your self-talk
Our sub-conscious self-rating system is fuelled by beliefs formed in our childhoods. Typically, that nasty self-talk sounds something like this:
Good mothers always…
Good mothers never…
“Normal” kids would certainly not…
On no account should I ever…
Words like “always” and “never” are red flags for psychotherapists. They reveal a dangerous kind of dichotomous thinking — a worldview based on absolutes. With your worth tied to such absolutes, you are bound to fail. You can never measure up against “always” and “never.” It’s an impossible standard. Pay attention to your thinking, and begin to change it.
2. Replace either/or with neither/nor.
Either/or thinking comes in many disguises: right/wrong, black/white, good/bad, winner/loser. But hey, the world isn’t black and white! Life is lived in the grey, muddy, messy middle ground. When you find yourself thinking in these terms, remind yourself you aren’t either a good mom or a bad mom; you are neither perfect, nor worthless.
3. Keep your eye on the prize.
What’s really at stake here? It’s not test scores and screen time. What we really need to model for our children are the biggies — those life lessons that are value-based, not performance-based. And, listen up, those of you who are self-blaming parents, it all starts with you! Are you practising what you preach? Are you choosing to champion the kind of self-love that is wide, deep and forgiving?
Solid self-esteem is based on this sacred quartet:
Acceptance: We embrace our strengths; just as the turtle doesn’t condemn himself for not having the vision of an eagle, and the eagle doesn’t despair that he doesn’t have the plodding determination of a turtle, we know that there is no one just like me.
Courage: We dare to be imperfect, to have flaws, to be vulnerable; we know that learning and growing requires us to risk, to make mistakes.
Humility: We can admit our weaknesses and failings; we can apologize for goofs and slip-ups; we are a work in progress.
Humour: We get a few things right and a few things wrong; we can laugh at our humble efforts as humans; we treat ourselves kindly and so learn to treat others kindly, too.
Remember: Perfection is an unattainable goal. So forget it. Let the possibility of it go. Instead, embrace an attitude of good-enoughness, trust that you are doing your best, and give yourself a break.