I didn’t want to start 2015 feeling like a failure, but I couldn’t help it—there nested into the Target cart was my five year old, sitting up, asleep.
A napping child might not mean failure to most parents, but sleep is my trigger—the way my son sleeps always makes me feel like failure.
At some point in our lives as parents, most of us feel like failures. Our children’s highs are our highs; their lows are our lows. If they fail at something it’s as if we’ve failed at it too. But often, what we perceive as our failure has nothing to do with us; it’s all projection.
While they might be in our image, our children are not miniature versions of ourselves.
They are independent people with their own thoughts, likes and dislikes. We are responsible for guiding and shaping them, not for making them adhere to our idea of perfection. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we can’t force our children to be the kind of people we think they should be.
My son Noah is early riser; that’s just who he is. But that means he also takes naps throughout the day. I try to remember that it doesn’t mean anything about me or my parenting style, but it’s a challenge. It’s hard not to feel his napping is a personal rebuke to my parenting.
Noah often passes out on non-school days. Every time I see him sleeping in the car seat at 2:00 p.m., splayed across the couch at 3:00 p.m., or his eyes glazing over at 4:00 p.m., I see failure. I’ve failed him. I am a failure. Noah never learned to sleep. Rather, I never taught him to sleep.
For the first 15 months of his life, Noah woke up between 4:00 and 4:30 am—every day. It sparked depression and anxiety during that time, but things finally started to get better when he began to sleep into the 5:00 hour. (Well, also when my anti-depressants started working—let’s be honest.) He still wakes up most days around 5 or 5:30. 6:00 is sleeping in.
Because he wakes up so early, Noah is understandably exhausted in the afternoon. I am not sharing this because I want advice. Don’t tell me to put him to bed earlier. Don’t tell me to put him to bed later. Don’t tell me to make sure his room is pitch-black or to play soothing music or to hire a sleep consultant because I’ve done all that. It didn’t work.
At this point, I objectively know that his body clock is set to ‘early’ and there is nothing I can do about it. I know that. But it doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty for not doing more. What could I have done when he was a baby to ‘fix’ him? This is a dangerous path to go down.
I need to reframe my thinking. I need to stop thinking of him as ‘broken’ for waking up early—for napping. I need to stop blaming myself for something that is not my fault. For something that isn’t even a fault.
Moms, Dads, what makes you feel like a failure when it comes to parenting? Some friends told me they felt like failures when their children didn’t nap. The irony is not lost on me. They also felt like failures when their children chose Pop-Tarts over broccoli, wouldn’t read books, threw tantrums, wouldn’t co-sleep or only co-slept, weaned too early or refused to wean altogether. Every parent has something that makes them feel like a failure; it is almost never truly about us, though.
Children, just like adults, have preferences. Children, just like adults, have bad days. When our kid throws a tantrum, it’s not about us. When our kid wants junk food, it’s not about us. And when my kid wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and then naps at 2:00 p.m., it’s not about me.
We need to remember that we cannot make who our children are all about who we are. We need to stop taking things personally.
I am not a resolution kind of person but as I stared down at my son in Target, I resolved to forgive myself instead of blame myself. His napping doesn’t make me a failed parent any more than his love of math makes me a successful parent. It just is. He is who he is.
Can we all shift our perspective this year to forgive instead of blame ourselves? It seems like a much more enjoyable, less stressful way to parent.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it consistently. But after five years, I’m ready to let go of my guilt. I’m ready to move on to something better. So, this is the year I resolve to stop feeling like a failure and to recognize that the things out of my control are just that; things out of my control.
And if I can’t control them, I certainly can’t fail at them.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jen SImon
Volunteer Editor: Melissa Horton / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Provided by author, used with permission