Driving shotgun on the highway with my 15 year old at the wheel is one of my least favorite parenting jobs. In fact, hands down, if we were going to pick out my three least favorite parenting jobs, they would have to be:
- Parenting related to Drivers Ed
- Managing sleepovers after 8:30 pm for any of my kids
- Managing movies and media use for the family
My kids would concur that I am not the parent of choice for these tasks, and I would happily bow out of any (or all!) of them if I could. The truth is, as parents, we need to show up to the shitty and uncomfortable jobs just as much as we do for the ones that feel more effortless and enjoyable.
So, what is the antidote to quieting the inner mommy critic when we feel like we’re doing a shitty parenting job? Is doing a shitty parenting job okay?And how do we define shitty?
There are two parts to this discussion. One is to manage the feelings around our abilities and capabilities, and the second is to recognize that even when a task feels difficult and we may feel unskilled (read: doing a shitty job), we still show up – sometimes while gripping the door of the car as our growing child steers to merge onto the highway.
Motherhood demands a detailed job description
From our work with clients, and from our own experiences, we know that the jobs of motherhood require skills that we have yet to learn. In fact, motherhood demands a detailed job description — often changing right as we start to catch on — an endless work day, and wakeful nights. Yet we expect to master all of the components immediately, simply because we landed the job.
In our sessions with clients, we hear repeatedly, from pregnancy through motherhood, the desire to execute tasks perfectly (read: A+). We also hear that anything shy of perfect deserves an F and, needless to say, is very uncomfortable and even anxiety producing.
It is important to recognize that this expectation for perfection through pregnancy, labor, birth and motherhood is reinforced by our culture and social media, and sometimes even by our families.
Is doing a shitty parenting job okay?
This brings us back to the question of “Is doing a shitty parenting job okay”? For this discussion, “a shitty parenting job” can also be read as a “good enough parenting job,” which can also be read as a “B-/C+” parenting job. We further define “shitty parenting” as meeting our needs and the kids’ needs just fine, or “well enough”. There may not be fireworks and applause with the process or the outcome, but everyone is safe, fed, and content.
For all intents and purposes, an “F” would be defined as neglect. Merely reading B- feels cringeworthy for many. For those of you who resonate with that, I understand and, rest assured, I have felt that way too. However, when we are doing our best parenting possible in situations that do not fall into our wheelhouse, and our kids are fine and getting their needs met “well enough”, can we buck the established expectation of A+ and be content with a B-/C+?
Let’s map an example of redefining a common parenting job: Feeding the toddler. What do you imagine as an A+ in feeding the child? How about an F? Okay, now consider what would be a B-/C+? Maybe it would include good enough nutrition most of the time. So maybe ask yourself the question: Did the toddler get some fruits and vegetables during some meals within the week? Or, did the toddler get some fruits and veggies in one meal either today or yesterday? For some, an affirmative to these questions would naturally feel like an A -, for others, perhaps, more like a C. That’s okay. If you fall into this category, you get to relish in being on the good enough parenting team for now.
When we allow for “good enough parenting” at the B-/C+ level, it creates space for us to do our best, even when it is not our favorite task.
The key here is to recognize that you are showing up and doing your best, and while you may be tired, or the skills required for the task may feel beyond you, or even distasteful, you are still pulling it off. It is helpful to say this last bit out loud – the affirmation that you are doing your best and it is good enough.
So grab a Sticky Note and write down the Sound Bite of choice:
“I’m making peace with good enough parenting”
“Sometimes, a B-, C+ in parenting is just fine”
“I am doing my best, the kids are fine, and it is good enough!
Now place it in a location where you actively parent, for example in the kitchen next to the fridge, on the steering wheel of the car (or in front of the passenger seat), above the changing table…