Do you find your children’s behaviour triggers you to react in ways that are out of character with the parent you thought you would be?
You work hard to parent with respect and empathy yet there are times this can elude you?
Is it like you just can’t do it?
Let me reassure you… you are NOT ALONE! And you are not failing as a parent.
How I Set Myself Up To Feel Like A Failure
I believe there are times we struggle to provide the respect and empathy we desire for our children because at that moment we are not offering ourselves that same courtesy. Our children provide us with a mirror and the opportunity to face the best and the worst of ourselves, meaning we have a chance to heal and to grow ourselves up alongside our children.
Over the years, I have learnt I that set myself up to fail at being the parent I wanted to be because of the expectations I placed on myself before our little one even arrived.
During our adoption process, my husband and I sold ourselves as being able to parent lovingly with warmth, acceptance, and connection, to be therapeutic parents.
Work through your triggers and move towards calmer more responsive parenting using this free guide. Click here.
How Expectations Create Stress and Tension
But, expectations create stress and tension because they require a tangible outcome. I envisioned a well behaved, easy-going, charming, polite daughter as the benchmark of success for my parenting?
As if that was going to happen!!
Our daughter came to us after a traumatic start and displayed challenging behaviour. I had no idea about what was normal for her age at the time but the shame I felt around my perceived incompetence, helplessness, and reactivity in the face of her behaviour was debilitating.
Shame can be binding and isolating[i].
It can make us feel our experiences are personal flaws. I recall telling a friend about how I was losing it with my daughter. It must have been too much for her to acknowledge because she brushed away my concern, reassuring me that it couldn’t be that bad.
But it was that bad!
I felt deeply flawed, incapable of being a mother, and scared of the impact I was having on my daughter. I was suffering and, in turn, my daughter was too.
I needed to know I was not alone.
And so I began a path of discovery and recovery to finally meet the parenting potential I knew was within me.
The One Parenting Tool That Helped Me Stop Feeling Like I Was Failing
Soon after I discovered Hand in Hand Parenting, I tried their Listening Partnership tool. A Listening Partnership is a tool for parents and an arrangement with another parent where you take it in turns to listen to one another.
It works because the brain begins to pick up on the support you receive while your partner listens. A partner doesn't advise or offer solutions. Instead, they listen as you examine your current stresses, offering the occasional prompt in the right direction!
In this supportive space, you can let go of the emotional burden and get to fresh ideas and thinking.
It's different from therapy – and I say that as someone who is a therapist and who’s been in therapy for some time!
In my Listening Partnerships, I got to do my own thinking and reflecting, hear my own voice, discover insights, develop my self-awareness, both mindfully and somatically, noticing impulses in my body and being allowed to act on them, emoting (crying, roaring, trembling) as I needed.
I also got to practice how I wanted to be as a parent. I got to pretend to be my child at their worst, I got to vent and through all this, I got to meet and acknowledge the “good enough” mum within me:
I discovered and began to accept: I AM A GOOD ENOUGH MUM!
Recognising My Daughter's Struggle Made Me Feel Worse
Over time, I came to recognise my daughter as a good person who was having a hard time, and that her behaviour showed she was asking for help and connection. It was a very helpful reframe, but this led me to critically judge my own atrocious behaviour in reaction to hers.
If you could’ve stepped inside my brain you would’ve been shocked at the voracity of spite and nastiness I directed at myself for the smallest of mistakes. It made it almost impossible to be the parent I wanted to be.
Meanness to Yourself can be Projected as Meanness Towards your Child
If you are judging yourself because your child is having a tantrum and refusing to go to school, how can you find love and playfulness you know will help, how can you be the respectful and empathetic parent you want to be?
You simply can't give to another what you are unable to give to yourself.
This was why I felt I was failing so badly.
Uncovering the Cause of My Negative Thoughts – AND Overcoming Them
I still wanted to find out why the expectations I set for myself led to such a paralyzing sense of failure. When I thought about earlier times in my life that I'd felt like this, I discovered that my self-flagellation was actually something that was rooted in my experience as a child. It was me being tripped back in time to an early fear I'd developed of not measuring up to my parents’ expectations, of making a mistake or embarrassing them.
I had used this strategy as a kid to keep myself out of trouble, dressing myself down before anyone else had the chance.
Now here I was, doing it all over again.
As I uncovered the causes behind my negative thoughts with a listener, I got to talk about what I remembered, and release the feelings I'd held for so many years. And the feelings began to fade in intensity. With new clarity, I could see I was absolutely doing the best I could at that moment, and I could understand that my parents had done the best they could with what equipment and support they had at that time, just as their parents had done before them and their parents before them.
I realised that even though I wasn’t acting towards my daughter as I’d intended, I’d reverted to survival mode. I learnt to let those feelings of failing unwind, and instead focus on what I was giving and to try an embrace a spirit of gratitude.
I'm Imperfect – And That's OK: Replacing Expectation with Intention
I am imperfect, and that is OK. I’ve lightened up around my expectations and instead I create light intentions for how I wish to parent. This serves as a guide rather than a rule that I need to reinforce.
At the beginning of every Hand in Hand class, support group, and Listening Partnership we talk about what's going well, and this is now something I now build into my day. The practice of gratitude and loving kindness[ii] towards my “good enough self” and others means I strive towards progress not perfection.
Healing Myself Has Healed My Relationship
Freed from these past limitations, I can see that my healing and growth has a flow-on effect on my daughter. I am more able to feel respect, acceptance, and empathy for myself, and so I am more able to parent from that place.
This may be a never-ending journey, but it is one I feel that is worthwhile and life-changing.
Why I Felt I Was Failing As a Parent – And How I Turned Things Around
Here are the steps I took to tracing my negative beliefs. I hope that they are helpful to you too.
- Understand the trajectory of child development and let go of expectations that rely on specific outcomes. Lightly-held intentions are way better.
- Shame is dissolved when it sees the light of day. Listening Partnerships are a great tool for helping that happen.
- Understand that we parents can be triggered by feelings left over from earlier experiences, and can offload those feelings to become more resilient. With support, we can see parenting as an opportunity for healing and growth, your chance to become your best version of yourself and a way to change parenting.
- Develop a practice of gratitude and loving-kindness to yourself and others.
More Resources to Reduce Parenting Stress
- Do you have trouble fighting feelings of stress and negativity in your parenting? Get these five revolutionary ideas and help reduce parenting stress.
- Stop being so reactive. The ideas in this free guide will help you identify and work through your triggers. Get it here.
- If you would like to get started using the Listening Partnerships tool you can read What is a Listening Partnership and Why Do I Need One? and get our Building a Listening Partnerships Online Course. If you are ready to look for a partner join our Parent Support Group on Facebook where many parents look for partners.
- You can also hear a demonstration of Listening Partnerships in this podcast.
Join Hand in Hand's Parent Club and get daily mentoring and support.
[i] Bradshaw, J “Healing The Shame That Binds You”,
[ii] Salzberg, S. “Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness” Shambala Publications,