My mother once told me that we know who our real friends are because they are the ones who stick around when things get hard.
A lover once told me that we know a relationship is solid—not when things are going great, but when the sh*t hits the fan—and they are still standing beside us.
Similarly in families, we know our bonds are strong when our life falls apart and they are the first ones at our door, asking for ways to make things hurt less even if the reason we’re hurting is mostly our own fault.
This theme comes up for me daily in parenting.
Sometimes there are days where everything runs smoothly like a well-oiled machine and I feel I’ve got this parenting thing mastered. It’s easy to parent my children when they are being absolutely adorable, playing harmoniously together, going to bed on time and listening to everything I ask them to do.
Yes—this is not the norm, but when it happens, it’s glorious and never to be taken for granted!
Then there are the days when things are so broken that I wonder how I was actually awarded the honor of being the mom of these two small beautiful creatures.
The days when both my kids are cranky from a long day, when one of them is screaming bloody murder for apparently no reason while the other is not listening to a word I say. When they are grabbing toys away from each other, refusing to share and just plain old melting down.
It’s the days when nothing seems to flow no matter how hard I’m trying, no matter how diligently I’m following the normal “routine” and when all the tools in my parenting tool box are failing.
I start thinking:
“Is it me? Am I a horrible parent?”
I can easily go to the thought that I’m a horrible parent. That everyone else seems to have this parenting thing mastered and I’m struggling. But then I talk to other parents who are also struggling and I realize that I’m not alone.
What we all talk most about in sharing our stories is what we remember about our own parents and how they handled us during difficult times.
How they made it look so easy.
Mine were always strict but loving. Even though they yelled, gave us a few good whacks with a wooden spoon or grounded us, my parents always said,
“No matter what we always love you.”
It can be hard to love our kids when they are being difficult. Just as it’s difficult to love our spouse or significant other when they’re cranky and picking fights with us or we’re going through a difficult time together.
But isn’t that when it counts the most?
Being able to love and have compassion when it’s hard—when you’re not getting anything back from them? Loving them unconditionally without expectation?
In those moments when I want to react, give up or shut down, I have to remind myself to not only be compassionate towards them, but to show compassion for myself.
Because compassionate isn’t a virtue we are born with, it’s a choice.
I have days when I’m not present with my children—when financial worries, work stress, relationship conflicts weigh heavily on me. I have days when I’m over-tired and my patience is paper-thin.
Then I realize that kids are the same.
They can’t be happy and content 365 days a year. They have days they wake up tired. Days we ask them to do things they just don’t want to do. Days they don’t get their way and have a full-blown meltdown. Hell, I can throw a good temper tantrum when I don’t get my way, so isn’t my two-year-old or five-year-old entitled to the same?
I think all parents are doing the best they can in the moment. We can’t compare ourselves to what everyone else is doing. We can’t measure our parenting worth by our child’s behavior and how it stacks up against someone else’s.
As an adult, every child will have their own perception of what their childhood was like growing up.
I think what we remember most is whether or not our parents were present with us. Did they listen to us in the moments we needed to be heard? Did they show us compassion and empathy when we were being “difficult?”
I know my parents did and that’s what I remember the most.
It’s not easy. But if we aren’t compassionate with ourselves, how will our children learn to be compassionate towards others and themselves? How will they learn to treat themselves with kindness as they get older and occasionally screw up?
I’ve never seen a human being happy or move forward in life by constantly beating themselves up or not forgiving themselves for their mistakes.
So for today, I’m practicing compassion.
For my imperfections and sometimes messy attempts at parenting. I most love what Brene Brown said in one of her lectures,
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”
~ Brene Brown
Author: Dina Strada
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Hartwig HKD/Flickr