Being a parent is hard work. Just like any relationship, there are days you wish could last forever, and moments that make you question everything. You may even wonder if you’re cut out for this parenting gig in the first place.
My toddler is almost three years old, and I often hear opinions from other parents about which age is the hardest. Some say two, others swear that three is the new “threenager.” And some are still navigating epic amounts of attitude at four.
While every parent’s experience is valid, I cringe when I hear people say that parenting will get easier. Parenting doesn’t get easier, the challenges we face at different ages just change. And there are so many variables that come into play here.
While I won’t pretend I have an “easy fix” to make parenting smooth sailing for you, I can give you some ideas on how to embrace even the most difficult parts of parenting.
Here’s five ways:
Stop trying to be perfect. As parents, it’s possible to shame ourselves into a black hole of guilt. This isn’t productive for anyone! Remind yourself that you are human, and you will make mistakes. If you raise your voice or forget to attend your child’s soccer game, take a deep breath, apologize, and move forward. Repeat the phrase, “I am human” or “May I be held in compassion.” This simple step will support you in recognizing that we all have bad days and the stress of parenting can be overwhelming.
Laugh. My three year old has come to dislike my computer. As a work-at-home momma, I’m often found with colorful post-it notes all over my office (and/or my forehead) as I type away on my keyboard. Recently my daughter came into my office, pulled up her tiny chair, and began to lick my large monitor. “Yummmm. It tastes like ice cream” she said. I was in the middle of designing curriculum, and in that moment I had a choice. I could either connect and validate her or push her away and cause her sadness. So I closed the tab on my computer and playfully engaged with her. I recognized that she needed my attention and I found humor in her creativity and silliness. We can find humor in everything. We just need to step back and find joy in even the smallest things. They won’t stay little forever!
Find a community of support. As an introvert, I often find myself feeling down about not having other parents to hang out with. But when I have invites to family events in my neighborhood, I often turn them down. I’ve found a few really close friends whose values align with my own, and that works for me. Finding a community of parents with whom you can connect, vent, be fully yourself, and honor your child and their uniqueness is so critical. Online communities, such as Motherload Liberation with the “mom for moms” aka Graeme Seabrook, are available for moms who wish to be part of a supportive community via social media and private coaching sessions. You can also find your community by networking with parents from your child’s school, after school activities, or when volunteering for causes you care about. As a teacher, I find that connecting with other educators leaves me feeling empowered and inspired. The point is to find what works for you!
Accept unpredictability. It’s so easy to get swept up in our plans for the day or what we wish we had accomplished. But…those “if only” statements can be super destructive. Living in the moment is all about mindful attention and letting things be as they are. What if your child has big feelings and you have to put that trip to the grocery store on hold? It’s okay! Remind yourself that children are unpredictable (really, let’s be honest, life is unpredictable) and support your child in what they need to calm down. Maybe cutting out that trip to the store means you’ll eat leftovers. Or maybe you order some pizza. It’s all okay! Living in the moment and accepting things as they happen is really quite liberating. It can remind you to enjoy the littlest things, like rocking your child until they feel better, or finding joy in not having to go to the grocery store today.
Take me time at least 1x per week. During a session with my therapist as I battled PPD and OCD after the birth of my daughter, she reminded me of the importance of taking time for me. I was so overwhelmed and afraid to leave my child under the supervision of anyone, that I was totally neglecting my own health. I had journeyed to a very dark place, and I needed her to remind me that I deserved to take care of me. So I started small: a trip to the store by myself, heading to the thrift shop with a friend to try on clothes, and eventually out for a night on the town with my mom. Each small step I took to prioritize my needs helped me feel more alive, trusting (when I came home and everything was okay) and ready to plan the next outing. Find “me” time at least once per week. Even if it means taking a short walk, or heading to the local cafe for a cup of coffee.