In 12 years of working with families in crisis, the most common things I hear are reflections of self-reproach and regret.
“I can’t believe I did that…”
“I failed my child…”
“If we had known then what we know now…”
“I know, I shouldn’t have…”
After days, weeks, months, or even years of struggle, learning a new skill can offer so much clarity and hope, but it can also lead parents to question every decision they have ever made. Hearing something helpful from a mentor or specialist can feel like a light has been turned on- but that glimmer of hope that you are experiencing can be suddenly overwhelmed by fear of failure and despair when you think of the time lost. This cycle of parent shame has no place in your healing family, and it is time to reframe the way you make space for yourself when that familiar feeling of regret begins to manifest. Here are some steps to help you filter out the unnecessary shame, hold on to hope, and empower you to move forward in learning new skills with confidence.
Whatever skill was presented resonates with you for a reason. Trust it. The truth is, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we say or do something that our wise self is telling us was wrong or hurtful. There are also times as parents that we hold ourselves accountable for things that were resolved or worked through at the time, but we have not yet forgiven ourselves. In this time of reflection over past parenting choices, ask yourself these questions:
Was I sensitive to my child feeling hurt or in perceived danger?
Was there acknowledgement and repair?
Have I learned and changed my patterns?
If your answer is ”No” to any of these questions or you can identify moments or common occurrences where you know you may have communicated or instilled a harmful message or action against your child, then it is important to acknowledge it and start the process of repairing the relationship.
Talk about it openly and honestly with your child and work together to move forward. It is never too early to teach your child about repair. Acknowledge what you remember doing, why you feel your reaction or words were wrong or hurtful, and share what kind of behavior or truth you want to live out and instill in your relationship with your child instead. This is a beautiful opportunity to be an example of self-reflection, empathy, and compassion. Depending on your child’s age or personality, problem solve as a team and talk about how to work through similar situations in the future in a way that preserves the dignity of the relationship and the individuals involved.
Your parenting skills were learned. A majority of your tool box for coping and communicating was put together in childhood, from the examples set for you. These may be skills that were considered “acceptable” for that time, but painful to recall. They may be skills that you prefer to forget or even avoid at all costs. Your parent’s skills may have been nonexistent because of emotionally or physically distant parental figures. You may have had incredible parents who were active and invested in your life, but these skills don’t seem to work with your child’s unique temperament or needs. You may be a part of a parent unit that has fallen apart or maybe you come from different backgrounds and are struggling to be on the same page… Whatever your story is, when you feel shame over those past parenting choices, it is important to recognize that you had a limited set of skills and that you were doing the best you could with the skills you had at that time. No one can fix or even maintain something effectively without the right tools! This is a time to acknowledge the parent you were with compassion and grace, and refresh the way you see yourself and approach parenting- with a whole new set of skills and tools that you can now practice and pass on to your child and the world they will help build.
Every time that feeling of shame stirs up and you walk through these reminders, now is the time to redirect! This is not a matter of losing time or taking steps backward- this is about forward motion and simply adjusting your course! The beautiful thing about filling your toolbox with all these new skills is that you have enough with you to help you pivot and move your family forward through the trials and the victories. Take some time with your family and talk about what kind of family you want to be. Come up with relational goals, find ways to celebrate and communicate freely, and remember that the ups and downs are part of the journey together. Always reminding each other that shame only serves to impede everyone.
To some of you, this all may sound easy, but the truth of the matter is that we never know just how our experiences can impact how we receive new tools or how we will use them. To some, it may feel overwhelming or you are unsure of how to put it into action- you are not alone! It is important to remember that every new social or relational skill is going to come with trial and error, and it can help if you go into it with the mindset of it being an experiment! Relational skills will work for some and are not right for others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, counselor, consultant, or coach to help you come up with a plan and walk beside you through the process. Your parenting journey starts fresh with each new day, but you don’t have to do it alone or in the same way as before!
“Correction does much, but encouragement does more.”
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe