Written by therapist Elise Champanhet
At the time I’m writing this, my daughter is 9 months old, which means I’m in the phase of parenting where I’m learning how little I know while also learning so much about my daughter as a unique individual. I also know that I have so much to learn and experience before I will feel any level of confidence in giving parenting advice. In fact, I may never reach that parenting self-actualisation they promise if you just read the “right” books. I’m learning so much about what it means to be a parent and how to be gracious to all the parents who are trying their best. I am also taking the time to reflect on how parenting has changed my understanding of how our caregivers help us become the adults we are today.
The Importance of Attachment
You’ve probably heard about attachment parenting or forming “secure” bonds with a child. As a therapist, I help many people who did not get the chance to form a secure attachment with their caregiver. I was terrified I would not get this right with my own child, but I also hear this fear from so many other parents who are also trying their best. Of course, the sad truth is that there are abusive parents who are not able to care for their children well. However, the reality is that many parents are trying to raise their children well. This doesn’t mean that their actions don’t hurt or aren’t misguided, but they do want to form loving and trusting bonds with their children. This realization has helped me become more compassionate toward myself, the other parents I know, and even my own parents. It has also helped me recognize the importance of learning how to own and repair mistakes that you make.
Practicing Self-Compassion When You Make Mistakes
There is so much pressure to be the perfect parent and very little information about how to accomplish that. Even a quick YouTube search for “baby essentials” will show you that no one can really agree on what is necessary to parent well. As I mentioned above, most parents are trying their best to get it right and they won’t always succeed. Parenting is building a relationship with a total stranger that relies on you for their every need. You will mess that up at times. When you do, it’s important to avoid using shaming language with yourself. You cannot love your child well if you are not loving yourself well.
It’s also important to learn from your mistakes. As your child grows up, it becomes easier to anticipate their needs and communicate with them. With the greater ability to understand, take the time to learn from your children, apologize for your mistakes, and show compassion when they make mistakes.
Caring for Your Needs to Prevent Burnout
Before having children, I did not express my needs often because I could “take care of myself” often enough. Now I have to ask for help with my daughter if I want to take care of even simple needs like getting some sleep. It can feel selfish to say “I really need this right now”, especially when we’re taught that self-sacrifice is heroic. However, the old cliche about putting your mask on first before helping others really is true. Many parents have postpartum complications that make it a challenge to take care of themselves, let alone another human being. My new challenge is to do one thing each day that feels restorative, even if it is as simple as sitting in quiet for a few minutes.
Parenting is hard and most parents know they could use more support. If you are not a parent, it’s possible that reading this post triggered some painful emotions for you. A therapist can help you process any trauma you may have around parenting and provide support. Schedule some time with a therapist today to start receiving the help you need.