Our thoughts and images of what an ideal parent should be can get in the way of just being the best we can be in any given moment.
There’s a common misperception that practicing mindfulness imposes another idealized picture of what our lives as parents or lovers or close friends or leaders at work should be: Always calm, always in control, and always knowing what to do, like a stereotype from an old TV show. We can’t help but fall short of this idealized vision. Recognizing that view itself is something to notice, and then we can practice setting it aside.
Our relationships, our career, the way our kids turn out—these rarely match the pictures in our minds.
This is an excerpt from “Let Go of Being the Ideal Role Model,” by Mark Bertin from the July 21, 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine. Reading this couldn’t have come at a better time. It connected with how I had been feeling and thinking about myself as a parent.
My friend Patti once said to me, “You are only as happy as your most unhappy child.” What an important reminder that parenting is difficult, exhausting, and stressful and it also brings me the greatest joy.
Not long ago, I had been going through a difficult time worrying about my son and blaming myself for his struggles and difficulties. Since I began practicing Mindfulness, I have focused a lot of time on the practice of allowing myself to be imperfect toward myself, but until I had a conversation with another friend, Kenny, I did not realize the unrealistic expectations that I was putting on myself as a parent. I was not aware that I was placing unrealistic expectation of perfection on myself.
I guess I should have known better since this is something I have been doing my entire life. It makes sense that these feelings would enter this part of my life. Of course what followed was judgment, self-criticism, and meanness toward myself. I had been expecting myself to be that perfect parent based upon the expectations that I had put upon myself and blaming myself for my childrens’ struggles and hardships.
The blaming I had been doing was based upon my negative perceptions of how my actions have hurt my son, as well as the fears and worries I have for him. I want him to be happy and have good friends. I don’t want anything that I could have done to damage this. Kenny also shared, “No matter what we do for our kids and teach them, there are going to be things out of our control and they are going to be who they are.” I struggle with this, too, putting my expectations on my kids and when they don’t act the way I think they should, it is a real struggle and causes me a lot of stress.
When I really look inward I am able to see a lot of this comes from my feelings of fear and worry. It is really hard to see my kids struggle and be in pain.
I have misperceptions about what is happening right in front of me when it comes to them or worries about what might happen in the future. I begin to create stories about what is happening based upon my expectations of outcome. My highlight reel of worry and fear sets in with me doing the play by play, which piles on more worry and fear.
So, what do I do with these feelings? I become aware of what is really here in each moment, whether it is my story, fear, worry, etc. By taking time to pause and see what is here I am reminded of what is most important and remind myself of my intentions of patience, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. This practice is about and/both. So often we see things as all or nothing and either/or. Instead we can experience the pain or worry and give ourselves the care, patience, and compassion that we need. We don’t have to push it away. We allow our feelings to be here and we give ourselves the support right along side of it. When I am feeling the struggle, pain, fear, I can give myself the patience, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. They are right alongside of it. It is in these times I need it most. I can make a choice to offer this to myself in those times of struggle. The practice below from my colleague Marc Balcer is one way to work with this.
I mess up often as a parent and I am learning to accept that there is no right or wrong way to do it. I am trying to give myself more of a break and cut myself some slack. I am constantly modeling imperfection and letting my kids know it is okay to be imperfect. Patti also shared, “A good friend told me years ago that our children will take our lead. No truer words, or so I’ve found. I’ve tried to live by this as a parent.” I know that I give my kids all the love I have, tell them as often as I can how much I care and love them, set limits, and remind myself and them that no one is perfect. I will always be there for them no matter what.
Looking for an opportunity to learn and practice together? Join us for Mindful Men Meeting on Wednesday, November 8 or for an extended gathering, check out Big Questions for Mindful Living: A Half-Day Retreat for Men on the morning of Saturday, December 2.