The highs and lows of parenting can be quite drastic.
One moment you look at your sweet child and you can’t imagine a more rewarding job than parenthood.
The next minute, you’re witnessing your three-year-old’s tantrum, and wondering how you’ll survive another fifteen years of parenting a child.
Let’s face it: being responsible for another human being’s nutrition, health, education, and safety (for an entire lifetime), while running on little to no sleep, is a hard job.
But do we sometimes make it harder than it needs to be? Do we make it more emotionally exhausting? Do we run the risk of harming our relationships with our children by getting stuck in negative mindsets?
3 Toxic Parenting Mindsets – And How To Turn Them Around
Sometimes we get stuck in negative ruts, with negative impacts on our parenting.
This happens most often when we go into survival mode after a crisis, or even afterwards when we’re trying to find a new ‘normal’.
The way in which we view our situation can significantly influence how we parent. It can be difficult to switch mindsets but, at the same time, it can be a simple fix for many parenting problems.
We can’t always change a situation, and we can’t rush through a challenging stage in parenthood. However, we can change our view of it, and make it better for ourselves and for our children.
Here are 3 toxic mindsets, and suggestions for ways you can turn them around:
#1: Setting Unrealistic Expectations
We read parenting books, we watch ‘reality’ shows, and we catch glimpses of our friends’ children. Then we start to think about our own. Surely our two-year-old ought to have reached a certain stage. And our baby should definitely be sleeping through the night by now.
We expect our six-year-old to do as he’s told without ever making a mistake, which we perceive as disobedience and disrespect.
In reality, kids are often disobedient, but they can’t be perfect. We forget they’re simply human children. They will make mistakes, just like we do.
When we approach parenting with unrealistic expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We put unrealistic pressure on our children.
It leaves us frustrated and feeling as though we’re doing something wrong. It also makes our children feel like they can never live up to our expectations.
How Do You Replace Unrealistic Expectations?
For me, the most poignant reminders come from looking at my own day. Did I do everything perfectly? Was I perfectly kind to my spouse? Did I speak only with patience and perfect love to my children?
Have I spilled anything this week? Forgotten to switch on a load of laundry? Or maybe an important work email went without a reply simply because I was distracted.
So often, we expect our children to reach a level of perfection we can’t attain ourselves. Kids will forget things. They might lose patience, and struggle with emotional regulation. Forgotten homework, meltdowns after long days, and even some disobedience, are all normal.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have standards or expectations for behaviour. Neither does it mean there aren’t consequences for certain actions.
For parents, having realistic expectations relieves stress, and helps us make informed decisions about how to guide our children. And children benefit too; if we have realistic expectations, the goals we set for our children are reachable.
Learn more about each age group, and how to support your children at each stage in Don’t Worry, It’s Normal! – A Quick Guide To Normal Behaviour For Babies, Kids And Teens.
#2: Comparing Ourselves Or Our Children With Others
Carrie’s daughter is sleeping through the night already. What am I doing wrong?
Every time I visit Sam, her house is spotless. I really need to get myself together more.
Lisa’s son is always so well behaved! Why can’t my son just sit still for one meal?
We all know making comparisons is not a great idea. We try not to do it, but sometimes we simply fall into the trap. In an era of constant social media connection, it can be even harder not to compare.
However, when we’re stuck in a comparison mindset – even if we, and our children, are doing the best we can – we will always feel ‘less than.’
Maybe Sam’s house is spotless, but perhaps you had a teething baby to rock, or a kid who needed a ride to soccer practice. Maybe you made a delicious dinner.
We only have a glimpse into other people’s lives and homes. We can’t compare our actual reality with a glimpse of someone else’s. It makes it more difficult to feel good about ourselves, our children, and our parenting.
How Do You Avoid Comparisons?
Parenthood comparisons are nothing new. However, the constant glimpses into other people’s lives via social media are.
It’s important to accept your circumstances, and accept yourself and your children for who you are. You don’t need to be like Carrie or Sam to be good, or right, or anything else. Your child doesn’t need to be like Lisa’s son; he can be successful in his own way.
I recently shared BellyBelly’s The Mental Load – Why Mamas Are Burning Out and a friend’s reply really explained how we can develop a better mindset and avoid comparisons.
Heidi said, “For me it’s been a process of saying, ‘I will absolutely seem like a failure if I see myself through any other lens but the right one’. I am no longer trying to be successful by any definition but the one I am convicted of. So no Pinterest worthy pic? Oh well. No Olympic level sports? Shrug. No impressive resume? Somewhat strategic and somewhat out of my control. I accept my circumstances…So I celebrate my friends’ accomplishments and am truly happy for them”.
Choose goals that are right for you and your children, and celebrate them, regardless of how they match up to other people’s goals. In doing this, you can rejoice in your own accomplishments, and find joy in others’ achievements without feeling the pressure of comparison.
You can read more in Why You Shouldn’t Compare Yourself To Other Mothers.
#3: Demanding Control And Creating Power Struggles
Children need leaders, guidance, and even authority. However, in trying to find the right balance in guiding our children, we can become authoritarian, and demand absolute control.
This can cause frustration for both children and parents, and often leads to unhealthy relationships.
When we fall into a control mindset, chances are our intentions are good. We want to make sure our infant gets enough sleep. It’s important to make sure our children look presentable and are using proper manners. We want our toddlers to eat enough of the right foods, and we really want them to learn to use the potty!
And while it can feel good to have control, no one actually likes to feel controlled. The control mindset eventually leads to power struggles, unhappy children, and very frustrated parents.
How Do You Avoid A Control Mindset While Guiding Your Children?
Infants need adequate sleep, toddlers need healthy diets, and your children should learn how to be respectful of those around them. However, controlling every situation isn’t the way to achieve those things.
There are certain non-negotiables, such as safety concerns – for example, children must wear seatbelts, and can’t be allowed to live on soft drink and gummy worms. However, with overall collaboration, by choosing your battles, and setting consistent expectations and consequences, you can guide your children to become productive adults.
Children need guidance, but they also need to learn how to solve problems and make safe decisions. A fully controlled environment doesn’t allow them space for learning.
Research shows authoritative parenting can help prepare children for life. This is totally different from authoritarian parenting.
Authoritative parents guide children. They are firm but flexible, and don’t use control as a means of teaching.
Authoritative parents use fear and control. They often allow emotions (theirs and their children’s) to affect their parenting choices, and often in negative ways.
The quick guide to normal behaviour, linked above, helps to show how to support and teach your children at different stages.
You might also find these articles helpful, as you work out a healthy balance in your parenting: