What parent doesn’t have some form of regret? It goes along with the territory. Parenting is just plain tough.
Looking back and remembering what you did, said, ignored, thought, blurted out, screamed — and wishing that you’d handled it better — is part of parenting that territory.
But don’t forget the many times you did well, when you ought to be pleased with how patient or firm or loving you were. It’s important to keep those moments in mind, particularly when you’re feeling down about your less-than stellar parenting moments. Perhaps you looked the other way at your daughter misbehaving because you were overwhelmed at the end of a long day, or maybe you came down way too hard on your son because you were actually upset with your partner.
So you can see your flaws and weaknesses. That’s what people with integrity do. I personally could fly to Paris and back if I had a dollar for every mistake I’ve made.
These painful memories of when you’re disappointed in your parenting can haunt you. But they shouldn’t. Apologize and get on with things. In her book Girl Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis, lifestyle guru and author, reminds us to get a grip when it comes to shame about parenting. And to give yourself a break if you’re chastising yourself constantly. “So I’m not going to talk about finding your peace; I’m going to talk about embracing your chaos. Let’s be honest: this is way more likely a scenario because I don’t know a woman alive today who can slow down long enough to find her keys, let alone a continuous state of inner peace. If you ever happened to find your peaceful inner bliss while raising children, please don’t tell the rest of us. It’ll only make us sad, and I eat raw cake batter when I’m sad.”
And yet, denial can exist…
But if you’ve got blinders on about serious problems, if you see only what you want to see, it’s called denial. Denial is a strong, very rigid defense, and fairly easy to develop. But it can be very damaging to yourself and your relationships. When you’re in denial, you won’t allow yourself to see pain or problems. You justify your actions or the actions of others.
Your job as a parent is to guide and protect. Denial of your own problems or your child’s problems gets in the way of that. Big time.
What does denial sound like?
“I know I get too mad, but I’m not like my mom.“
“Jason can read just fine. He doesn’t need testing. I don’t want him labeled at school.“
“The kids will be fine with us splitting up. They’re good kids.“
“I just like to get relaxed at night. Having a couple of beers doesn’t hurt anybody.”
Experts define denial as “…the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist.” You don’t want to accept something that’s right in front of your nose. Couples can be in denial together. They can both turn away from what is obvious truth — or they can fight about it. And fight about it. And fight about it.
Here’s what that never-ending conflict sounds like.
“You’ve got to get control of your temper. They think you’re mad at them all the time.“
“Will needs to be tested. He’s falling behind, and he thinks he’s stupid.“
“You may think the kids will be fine. And maybe they will. But leave your new friend out of it.“
“Your drinking is way out of hand.”
What does it take to admit denial?
What does it take to stop living in denial? Too often, it’s when something really painful or dramatic happens.
And the problem is no longer avoidable.
You fly into a rage and hit that child that you adore. Your son starts smoking weed because he doesn’t know how to fit in with kids that are achieving in school. Your 13 year-old daughter sleeps with her boyfriend; she’s angry and confused after the divorce, and he’s “there” for her. You get a DWI, after one of those times that you were getting relaxed.
Confronting denial takes being brutally honest with yourself. It means admitting your mistakes and being willing to be scared and vulnerable.
To recognize and cope with the way things really are, what your choices have created, and what your children need from you may be hard. But it’s immensely freeing once you’ve accepted it.
Please don’t wait until something tragic happens. Here are three steps to consider.
Three steps to confront your own denial…
Listen to what others are telling you about yourself.
This is especially true if you’re hearing it from more than one source. Ask a trusted friend to help you sort out what you’ve been afraid to admit or what you’ve been told is a problem. Or go to a therapist, who is an objective resource. You can check out the rationality of your concerns and point the way to a solution.
Try to realize if you’re having an over- or an under-reaction.
This generally happens as a result of your own history.An example of this would be if you were harshly abused as a child and as a result, you hesitate to ever discipline your children. You allow your children to get away with bad behavior because you just don’t want to “go there.” You’re under-reacting. Or perhaps you’ve never worked through your own abuse and have developed a quick temper yourself. So you overreact when your own children do something that disappoints you or is against the rules. You have to learn whether or not your over or under-reactions are signs that your past is triggering something in your present. I call that becoming an emotional grownup.
Realize you can admit vulnerabilities.
All too often people think that admitting your vulnerabilities means you’re announcing that you are weak. It’s quite the opposite; it takes strength to see yourself for who you are and make a commitment to self-improvement. Think about revealing this new commitment to your friends or family. That can give you an even greater sense of accountability as you work toward overcoming whatever problem is there.
Give yourself a break if you carry around a ton of shame about parenting mistakes. We all make them.
But if you’re in denial. please don’t wait until something tragic happens to wake up to the truth.
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This was originally published on August 13, 2016 and was updated on April 14,2019.