What parent doesn’t have some form of regret? It goes along with the territory. Parenting is just plain tough.
How often have you looked back at times you fell short? Times that you did, said, ignored, thought, blurted out, even screamed things you wish you could take back? Perhaps you looked the other way when your child was doing something dangerous because you were overwhelmed at the end of a long day, or maybe you came down way too hard on one of your kids because you were actually upset with your partner. Mistakes are part of being a parent… and they feel terrible to make.
But here’s another angle. The fact that you will admit your flaws reflects integrity. I personally could fly to Paris and back if I had a dollar for every mistake I’ve made.
In her best selling advice book, Girl Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis, lifestyle guru and author, reminds us to get a grip when it comes to shame about parenting. “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.”
But what about denial?
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.
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.
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 thirteen year-old daughter sleeps with her boyfriend; she’s angry and confused after the divorce, and he’s “there” for her. You get arrested for drunk driving, 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.
Three steps to confront your own denial…
- Listen to what others are telling you about yourself.
This is especially true if you’re hearing from more than one source that some aspect of your behavior is troubling. If nobody has reached out to you but you suspect you’ve got an issue you need to confront, ask a trusted friend to help you sort out what you’re going through. You could also go to a therapist, who’s an objective resource with whom you could discuss the rationality of your concerns.
- Try to realize if you’re having an over- or an under-reaction.
This generally happens as a result of your own history. For example, if you were harshly abused as a child, then you hesitate to ever discipline your children. You’re under-reacting. But if you’ve never worked through your own abuse and struggle with anger, then you might overreact harshly when your own children disappoint you or go 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 it’s powerful to 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.
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; updated and republished on December 11, 2021.