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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
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.