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Parent Guilt Part 3: "I don't know what I am doing!"

Children have the incredible power of making you aware of just how much you are winging the parenting thing. On a day-to-day basis there are ‘grown up’ decisions to be made, consequences to foresee, positive life affirming actions to role model….and all the time we’re doing this, a lot of us are whispering to ourselves “I have no idea what I am doing!”.

But we are not alone. I am yet to speak to another parent who hasn’t told me something similar, so it is comforting knowing that we are all in the same boat with different sized buckets. You might be surprised how many mums and dads suffer from ‘parent imposter syndrome’, feeling like they shouldn’t be making these big decisions, can’t be trusted with doing the right thing for their kids, or might not be perfect enough for our children to look up to.

My ‘parent imposter syndrome’ pops up with battles like my headstrong toddler being adamant (with very real conviction may I say) that she doesn’t want to eat her peas. I am pretty sure she hasn’t eaten a fresh vegetable for 24 hours so I am asserting my parental discipline that she must eat them if she wants her yoghurt for pudding. My version of assertiveness then turns into all out pleading, at which point I am second guessing which of my approaches is best: what if it is sending the wrong message? What if me shouting about peas has a long-lasting psychological effect on her?

It escalates to tears and snot level (hers not mine…yet) and she gets the yoghurt in the safe knowledge that no vitamin A from the peas has passed her own lips. Then my little brain gremlin starts again: has that taught her she can get away with this every time? Am I a pushover parent? Is my child spoilt? I just don’t know what the right thing to do is!!! Then enter the guilt: “she won’t grow properly if she doesn’t eat vegetables. I was too hard on her. I made her cry. I should have been a better parent in this situation. I’m a rubbish mum.”

The spiral is steep and twisty for tired and stressed parents, as we try to battle and always do what is right for our little ones. From just trying to get them to eat a pea or put their shoes on, make their bed, or even engage in conversation, it can make you question your competence as a parent and worth as a responsible adult.

The guilt associated with the second guessing or how you perceive your actions or behaviour can be quite overwhelming… but also exaggerated. Just because my child wouldn’t eat a pea it doesn’t mean I have given her a lifelong phobia of peas, or that the way I tried to coax her to having a vegetable was wrong.

There are numerous books, parenting gurus, advice, methods and studies out there telling us the best way to parent our children at every stage from newborn to grown up kids. The truth is, we are all individual human beings with unique personalities, behaviour, neurological make up and brain chemical concoctions, and children are no different. No one else is an expert at parenting your children. You know them best, you know what works and what doesn’t. You have got this.

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