It’s currently 4:47 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon.
So far today, my four-year-old daughter has yelled at me about going potty, eating her breakfast, getting dressed, going potty, picking up her toys, putting her dirty clothes in the hamper, going potty, her lunch options, going potty, getting in the car, driving to the grocery store, listening to her favorite songs while we drive, and going potty. Oh, and she’s gotten poop on her bathrobe and pooped in her underwear – both while adamantly yelling that she does not have to go potty. I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
For the past few months (or perhaps year), I’ve endured a continuous sense of defeat in my parenting skills that only a child’s primary caregiver can experience. I feel like a parenting failure.
If you’re reading this, I assume that you’ve also felt like this on your journey as a parent; that you’ve endured the screams of a
tyrant in training small child for the most asinine of reasons and/or wiped hot tears from your face while you desperately wonder what other parents know about parenting that you clearly do not. Or perhaps you’re reading this because the title reminded you of one’s introduction at a group therapy session, but with a hint of snark attached to it, and therefore this article will hopefully be funny (self-doubt is hilarious).
From Parenting Success to Parenting Failure
I didn’t always feel like a parenting failure. Up until my daughter turned three, I had a good handle on being a stay-at-home dad. We had our daily routine, and despite meltdowns here and there (mostly on my daughter’s end), I thought of myself as a successful parent. I was able to navigate her tantrums with a consistently calm demeanor, potty training was progressing nicely, and (if asked) she would pick up after herself.
Then three happened, and I felt completely blindsided and unprepared for the changes it presented. She became far more opinionated, articulate, and stubborn regarding what our routine should be. Any sentence that I began with, “Can you please…” was immediately met with a stomping of her feet and yelling, “I just don’t wanna do that right now!” And she was quickly excelling at the Art of the Technicality (“Actually, I’m not playing on the banister. I’m climbing the banister.”), taking every available opportunity to correct my glaring mistakes.
And it wasn’t just the things my daughter said and did that made me feel like a parenting failure. It was also things that others were saying to me about my parenting that slowly caused me to lose confidence in myself as a parent.
Things like, “She’s still potty training?” and “She’s been taking swim lessons for three months now – she should be swimming at this point.” and “You really shouldn’t pick up after her.” It all just combined in a way that made my internal dialogue evolve into a single, repetitive thought – You are a parenting failure.
So how do you overcome this feeling?
Gee, I wish I had the answer to that question. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this. But the thing I need to work on first is ignoring the pressures that society places upon my daughter and me. The beliefs around timeframes for potty training, how quickly she should pick up a skill like swimming, the chores my daughter should be doing at home, and the fact that I need to cherish every single moment with her because “she’ll grow up so fast.”
Trying to adhere to all of these expectations can be not only exhausting, but can also become a point of contention between you and your child when they’re not performing tasks or reaching milestones when society says they should. Then you feel like a parenting failure twice over – once for not parenting your child to success and perfection, and again for being frustrated with your child for not meeting the expectation before they’re ready.
I’m also trying to take solace in knowing that there’s a difference between thinking something and embodying something. I know that just because I have the thought You are a parenting failure doesn’t necessarily mean that I embody it. It just means that I have high expectations of myself as a parent, and when I believe that I’m not meeting those expectations, I interpret that as failure. Of course, having that thought also means that I need to take a break and enjoy a piece of chocolate. Preferably a Scotchmallow from See’s Candies.