There is no doubt that our personal stories have a powerful impact on the way we parent. However, our personal history is only one side of the coin, the other is the story society tells us. While there is no doubt that our cultures, religions, and societies can provide us with a rich context for the way we relate to our children, they can also impart some unhelpful beliefs and expectations about raising kids and what it means to be a ‘good’ parent. Western culture in particular places a lot of performance pressure on parents and children, and not measuring up can be a cause for significant stress and anxiety.
So, what are these pressures? And how do we prevent them from negatively influencing us? In her book The Awakened Family, Shefali Tsabury refers to these pressures collectively as the “parental Kool-Aid” and describes them as a series of myths that dictate what effective parenting looks like. In this blog, we will briefly explore each of these myths in the hope that bringing them into our awareness will allow us to begin challenging them. As Tsabury says:
When we break out of the collective parental trance and see society’s parenting myths for what they are, we open the way to seeing our children as the are…We begin to connect with who our children want to be, instead of what society tells us we should want them to be.
Myth 1: Parenting is About the Child
The first myth is parenting is about the child. Because being a parent requires an enormous amount of sacrifice, time and energy, it might seem at first glance that this myth is indeed true. And in reality, we do direct an enormous amount of mental and emotional energy towards our children. However, as Tsabary argues, we would be better served directing this energy towards ourselves, for as long as we are focused on who we want our children to be, we will be unable to see who they want to be. Thus, we miss out on an amazing opportunity to appreciate our children for the unique individual beings they are.
Indeed, we often get so caught up trying to ‘shape’ or ‘manage’ our children and their behavior that we fail to see how our attitudes and actions are influencing them. For example, when our children are doing well we have no problem taking credit for their excellent behaviour or amazing accomplishments. However, when our children are not doing as well, we just as easily turn the tables and blame them for not meeting our expectations. The pressure to be perceived as a ‘good’ parent is undoubtedly daunting, so it’s not surprising that we often feel defensive. But the truth is that our children don’t care whether society thinks we are ‘good’ parents, they just want us to be present and connect with them. By shifting our focus to what is happening within ourselves and within our relationships with our children, we free them from our expectations and insecurities, and give them room to grow into their authentic selves.
The courage to deal with our own baggage is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, so rather than focusing on changing or ‘fixing’ your child, why not focus on the only person you can change? Yourself.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What kind of person do you envision your child to be when he or she grows up?
2. In what ways does this vision reflect your child’s authentic nature and desires?
3. In what ways does it reflect your nature and desires?
4. Expectations can be difficult to navigate when it comes to parenting. Although they are important for teaching and guiding our children, they can become harmful if they fall outside of our children’s developmental and personal capacities. For example, if you have an extremely shy child, expecting them to socialize at a large family gathering might go against their inherently introverted nature. With this example in mind, what are your expectations of your children?
5. In what ways do these expectations reflect a desire to teach and guide your child? In what ways do they reflect a desire to control or manage them?
6. Are there any ways in which you could adjust your expectations to make them more appropriate for your child’s unique personality and developmental stage?
7. Have you ever experienced someone making a negative comment about your child or your parenting? If so, how did it make you feel?
8. In what ways do you judge yourself as a parent? In what ways do you judge other parents?
9. One of the best ways to defend against the pressure to be perceived as a ‘good’ parent is to reconnect with what really matters to you. For example, what is more important to you, the quality of your relationship with your child? Or what other people think of your parenting? Write a list of 3-5 things that matter to you when it comes to parenting.
10. Another way to defend against societal pressure on parents is to have the support of others. Can you identify 2-3 people who know and care about you and your children and would be open to supporting you as a parent? What could you do this week to reach out to them? Reaching out requires an enormous amount of courage and vulnerability, but the benefits are beyond compare.