How to Deal with the Constant Self-Doubt of Parenthood
By Sonali Gupta
When you’re feeling like a bad mother or father, and your confidence in parenting is low, remember these tips.
With the birth of a child, self-doubt is also born in a parent. How often this self-doubt raises its ugly head is a very personal variable, but all parents are struck by it at various stages. For some it begins before the baby is born, when an adult who had a traumatic childhood wonders if he can be a good parent. For others, confidence in parenting wavers as a child grows – is she putting on enough weight? Am I instilling healthy eating habits? — and milestones loom in the distance.
I hear most parents tell me they think they are bad parents when their child moves into toddlerhood and discipline is a struggle. But many also feel deep parental guilt far into adult, rooted in the feeling they’ve let their child down; parents have told me they feel responsible for their child’s failed marriage.
Let’s begin by defining self-doubt: When it comes to parenting, self-doubt is a nagging feeling that you have not done enough, have been too harsh or lenient, or not responsible enough in caring for your child. It is often accompanied by fear that your actions (or inaction) will impact your child negatively. It’s perfectly natural, but for some, feeling like a bad mother or father can become crippling and actually thwart your parenting capability – ushering in a never-ending cycle of doubt.
If you’re dealing with self-doubt that overwhelms you and undermines your confidence in parenting, here are a few tips.
Rebuilding confidence in parenting
Identify your self-doubt triggers
It may be a good idea to assess where your self-doubt is emanating from. If you have unresolved issues from your childhood or past trauma with your own parents, it would be a good idea to re-examine those concerns with the help of a therapist, who can help you learn effective ways of dealing with self-doubt. It’s only than that you’ll be able to trust your own instincts and gain confidence in parenting.
For many parents, in today’s world, confident parenting is undermined through social media. A Facebook newsfeed filled with pictures of other children winning medals, bringing home gold cards, playing instruments, eating healthy meals, kissing parents and siblings and more to perfection is the ideal recipe for self-doubt for a parent. Learn how to mitigate the negative effects of social media here.
Examine your standards
In the movie Bad Moms, the protagonists talk about bringing down the “perfect mothers.” Although humorous and exaggerated, maybe the goal of parenting is not to let this pathological perfectionism consume us; confident parenting is not perfect parenting. We know more and more about what actions, diets and responses are good for children’s growth and development; few, if any of us will achieve them fully, but we do our best.
I remember a mother mentioning she feels awful about not making an elaborate breakfast for her 6-year-old daughter and instead just giving her a banana smoothie. She felt that, under the guise of her tiredness, she was being lazy. Yet, a banana smoothie can be a perfectly healthy meal for a child. So, when you’re feeling like a bad mother or father, ask yourself: How realistic are my standards when it comes to parenting?
Broaden your identity
In my experience, parents are more likely to be dealing with self-doubt if they define their identity and self-worth entirely by their role as a parent. (Research has shown they’re more likely to struggle with Empty Nest Syndrome, too, later on.)
When you can be cognizant of the moments when you allow your children’s achievements or failures to affect your self-esteem, you can mitigate it by reminding yourself that parenthood is only one of your roles. Choosing to nurture other aspects of yourself – hobbies, a career, friendships, etc. – allows you to have other avenues of validation and confidence. (Even so, there may be times when you’re still feeling like a bad mother or father, at which point engaging in self-care is important.)
There is truth to the adage that there is strength in numbers. While social media groups can be exhausting (and may be a trigger, see above), they may also provide the kind of social support needed when dealing with low confidence in parenting. Whether on or off-line, choose to talk about your fears, rather than silently blame yourself.
Use the self-doubt constructively
Is self-doubt all that bad? Not really. Self-doubt is a very valid way of assessing our decisions and actions and recognizing where we need to improve or make amendments. In its best form, it can be perceived as constructive criticism that helps us reflect and become better parents and people. After you’ve examined your standards, if you’re still troubled by doubt, perhaps the solution is to try to change the behaviour, decision or attitude that concerns you the next time you have the opportunity.
Dealing with self-doubt as a parent is really about being mindful of how your parenting strategy and style impact your child. Use your moments of low confidence in parenting to guide you down the path of continual learning. I’ll see you along the way.