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I'm a lousy parent (and other silly ideas parents often believe)
The last few times that I have talked about Playful Parenting, I have tried something new, and it's been very fun. After many examples of lighthearted approaches to serious child and family problems, I say something like this: "Let's turn now to something dreadfully serious, that there seems to be no way to make lighthearted: the ways that we feel bad about ourselves as parents. Let's see if we can inject some playfulness and make even this topic a little lighter." I go on to say that I have a new hobby, collecting parents' self-criticisms. As I read them out loud, I ask them to raise their hand proudly if they can identify with each one. As the list goes on--and on, and on--everyone is soon laughing, looking around to see who else has their hands up, and applauding in support of one another. Here are some of the items on my list so far. Please note that as you read this list, you have to imagine seeing a roomful of other people who are reluctantly admitting to each of these, and who are laughing to see that they are not the only ones who feel this way. You also have to imagine me reading the list with a huge smile on my face! And frequently raising my own hand.

I don't play enough.
I don't know how to play.
I get SO bored playing.
I sometimes feel like I am going to lose it.
I have ruined my children, permanently.
I breastfed my baby too long.
I didn't breasfeed my baby long enough. (I give a special round of applause for anyone who admits to both of these opposite self-criticisms.)
I don't know how to discipline my children.
I'm too hard on them.
I'm too soft on them.
I yell too much.
I'm not consistent.
I don't spend enough time with them.
I am too lazy.
I'm not patient enough.
I secretly have a favorite child.

When I'm finished, I ask the group to add any of their own self-invalidations that weren't on my list. One of my recent favorites was, "I try to reason with my son too much. (pause) And he's two years old." As everyone laughs and applauds about these awful and painful admissions, I am amazed, because these feelings and beliefs had always led these parents to feel terrible about themselves. But once they are spoken and shared and we see that other people feel the same way, the heavy burden lifts and we can see once again that we are truly doing our best as parents. Ironically, focusing in this silly way on all these negative thoughts seems to help parents remember all the things that they do well.

Bringing all these parental self-criticisms out into the open makes it obvious that it is no accident that we feel this way. We have been pushed to feel that these are our individual failings that we should be ashamed about, but that can't be true if so many of us--even parents we respect and admire--feel the same way. Our society likes to announce that "raising children is the most important job there is," but it's hard to take that seriously when we are unpaid, unsupported, untrained, isolated from each other--and then blamed for anything that goes wrong.

So please share your own parental self-criticisms with other parents (don't forget to laugh!) and send any new ones to me.
 

Larry Cohen
phone: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

 
Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com