What to do when you’re doubting yourself as a parent

Parenting is hard. There’s no way around it. Whether it’s the physical exhaustion that comes from infants who stage a coup against nighttime sleep or the emotional fatigue from worrying what your teenager is doing when he’s out with his friends, raising children in this increasingly complex world is a marathon of epic proportions.

There are days when I feel like I’ve got this motherhood thing down—when my plans for a fun activity with the kids actually play out as expected, when I manage to fold the laundry on the same day that I washed it, or when my five-year-old actually says, “Mom, thanks for making this dinner. It’s really good!”

But there are also days where it all falls apart—when the kids can’t seem to be in the same room without fighting, or I lose my temper when the toddler throws his food on the floor, or my wonderful Pinterest-inspired “fool-proof” activity leaves my house a mess and me feeling very much like a grumpy fool. Or all three…at once…and then it starts to rain.

So many times I question my mothering. Am I doing enough for my kids? Am I doing too much? I question my motives, my tone of voice, and even my very capacity to be a good mom.

There are days when I feel like a failure.

I know deep down I’m not a failure. But on those hard days, it’s easy to get lost inside my own head filled with worry and self-doubt.

Slowly though, I’m learning not to give in to the dark thoughts that stir inside me on the especially difficult days. Usually, they are days when I know I didn’t get enough sleep, the kids have been sick, or sometimes just because it’s Monday and I desperately want it to be the weekend again so Daddy can be home.

I’m learning when the hard days come that I need to have a plan—a way to remind myself that I really am a good mom—a normal mom.

If you’ve ever found yourself doubting yourself as a parent, here are three things to try that have worked for me:

1. Watch your kids sleep

This is one of the first parenting tips I remember my own mom giving me. She told me that whenever I’m exhausted and worn out from being a mom to go in the kids’ rooms after they fall asleep and just watch them for a moment. In those moments, the tantrums and messy floors of the day melt away, and you can see your children for the amazing little people that they are. I see how small my boys are in their beds, and I realize that all their frustrating habits are their desperate attempt to learn to navigate the world around them.

You can also see yourself for the amazing parent you are. Think about it. If you are watching your child asleep in bed, it means that you have kept that child alive for another day. With a three-year-old who has a habit of jumping off things, that’s no small accomplishment! It means they have a cozy bed…in a safe room. They felt comfortable enough in your home to fall asleep. Even if you did everything else wrong today (which I’m confident you didn’t), you can at least claim that you’ve provided those basic necessities. You’re doing better than you think.

2. Make a “done” list

I’m a list-maker. I get a little high from crossing items off my to do list each day. However, as a parent it can be frustrating when life doesn’t go as planned as you’re not able to be as productive as you would like (which is pretty much every day). It’s easy to focus on all the things we didn’t get done in a day: the floor still needs to be mopped, the mail still needs to be sorted, the breakfast dishes are still in the sink at bedtime, that sewing project has been sitting half-finished in the closet for three months now. To make matters worse, you can’t escape from the evidence of all those “failures”—they glare at you from around your house all the time.

Stop and think for a moment though about what you did accomplish today.

Maybe you spent four hours nursing a baby. No wonder you didn’t have time to mop the floor!

Maybe you took your kids to the park. That explains why the dishes are still in the sink. You were off having adventures!

Maybe you drove your kids to school, soccer practice, piano lessons, and attended a PTA meeting. So what if you fed them cereal for dinner? They were probably thrilled.

Maybe you didn’t do any of those things, but life got in the way, and your “to do” list is still sitting there untouched. It’s okay.

Instead of focusing on the things that you weren’t able to do on a given day, give yourself credit for everything you did do. Preparing meals, cleaning up endless messes, teaching life lessons, reading stories, offering kisses for boo boos, running errands…these fill my days. A lot of the tasks we do as moms don’t always feel significant or productive, but they are essential to keeping our families and our homes running. Don’t discount the importance of what you are doing each day. Having a done list has made a made a difference.

3. Connect with other moms

Sometimes, I feel like I’m failing as a mom because my kids don’t meet my expectations. One throws toys when he gets mad; the other refuses to eat pretty much any vegetable. Surely, if I had my act together, I would be able to change these behaviors immediately. In a world of social media that highlights the best and brightest moments of life, I sometimes feel like I just can’t keep up.

It’s not until I connect with other moms of young kids (in real life—not on social media) that I realize just how normal—if imperfect—my kids are. They are still small, after all, and the skills I so desperately wish they had already mastered take time to develop. When I talk to other moms, I realize that we’re all in the same boat—just struggling each day to figure out what to do next.

One Monday morning recently I was in a serious mommy funk. My kids weren’t being particularly disobedient, but every little infraction on their part drove me nuts. I knew I needed to snap out of it because it was making all of us miserable, but I wasn’t sure what to do.

Seeking some advice, I texted my sister (a mom to three-year-old twins) saying, “I have a serious case of Monday doldrums. How are you today?”

She replied, “Well, it’s Monday here, too.”

Right away, I felt a little better knowing that I wasn’t the only mom who felt overwhelmed with the prospect of mothering that day. Over the next few minutes, we exchanged funny stories of our kids’ recent antics, and encouraged each other. I hid in my room and folded laundry while I texted her and ignored the fact that my boys were piling up every pillow and blanket they could find in the middle of the family room. By the time we finished our conversation, I was ready to go greet my boys’ chaos with a smile and a sense of humor rather than an iron fist of fury.

Connecting with another human being over the age of five helped me feel less alone and renewed my energy to be the mom I want to be. We still need our villages. Reach out.

Good days, bad days, and hard days

Truthfully, ALL days as a parent are hard days. That doesn’t mean they are bad—just difficult. Parenting requires all the physical energy, mental problem solving skills, and self-control I can muster.

Some days, I’m not the parent I would like to be. At times, I’m grumpy and short-tempered rather than patient and fun-loving. If you’re anything like me, you have those days, too. And that’s okay.

Just like our children, parents are imperfect. No one expects us to be perfect—except perhaps ourselves.

We’ll all have good days where we smile and laugh and snuggle. We’ll all have bad days where we lose our patience and consume copious amounts of chocolate in the pantry. Most days, we’ll do a little of each.

When you start to feel like a bad parent, cut yourself some slack. Offer yourself forgiveness (and ask it of your children if needed), and then focus on the future. As I tell my kids, “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

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