A casual conversation (more like a commiseration about life with teens) with a friend got me thinking about the topic of self-doubt.
With two adult kids and two teens, I value his insights. He said, “I think self-doubt is born when you become a parent. You just have to trust your gut.”
He clearly has given this issue a lot of thought. With his oldest two kids, he said his self-doubt was out of control and often a source of friction between he and his wife.
For example, he said one night recently he lost his temper on his teens after catching them in lies on separate occasions. Due to his agitation being so high, he sat them down and had a rant. His wife later told him, “I used the word ‘disappointed’ over 10 times.” He said with his first two kids he would have felt guilty and probably apologized for his tirade. With his younger kids, he said, “I just moved on because I know they did, too.” Even as an experienced parent, he said he did still feel pings of doubt, questioning why he could not keep his composure and how he could have handled the situation better.
I know how this feels. Parenting brings out the best and worst of me. I will support and love my boys with all my heart forever. I am passionate about being involved in their lives and modeling as best I can an honorable, respectful life. Both my boys have great hearts, but they do stray from time to time in their judgment. My oldest son, 14, is a stubborn live wire who keeps us on our toes. He seems to enjoy challenging us and requires constant monitoring.
Like my friend, I share a major distaste for lying, and the fact is teens do it. I just refuse to accept it. In some cases, there are minor twists of the truth or, more often, not disclosing everything intentionally. In extreme cases, there are outright inexcusable lies. I often commiserate with other parents and learn this seems to be a fact of life with most kids. Some parents are attuned to it, while others are unaware, perhaps deliberately or due to naiveness.
When my son makes a bad decision, like getting caught in a lie, I often say and do things I later regret. It’s my guilty conscious at work. I remind myself kids need to learn from their mistakes and overly critical parents can bring about unintended consequences. Hammering them with negatives constantly is not the right direction. I also realize, however, that having high expectations is a good thing. Making positives out of negatives may always be the goal, but the reality is tolerance and acceptance with parenting is often on a case-by-case basis. I am learning riddling myself with self-doubt when it comes to parenting can be debilitating.
An article called “Parenting and Self-Doubt” on mom.com by Jeff Palitz hit the right marks with me while I was seeking some free therapy online during one particularly difficult night. Here are some excerpts:
As a family therapist, I’m surprised by how often I encounter good parents who don’t trust their instincts. They come to me because no matter how hard they try to be positive, structured, consistent and nurturing, they still see imperfections in themselves and their children. They frequently question themselves (and sometimes even berate themselves) for their mistakes. They feel guilt because they’ve yelled, punished arbitrarily, called names … They’re torn between believing that they’re doing their best and feeling like bad parents, and sometimes even bad people. When I come across these tortured souls I tell them one thing: Self-doubt is a sign of a good parent.
… One of the toughest challenges good parents face is the constant temptation to compare themselves to a standard that doesn’t exist. … They doubt themselves—and although it doesn’t feel good, self-doubting parents often make better parents.
Why? Because with self-doubt, these parents will never believe they’re perfect (and their kids will learn that imperfect is OK). Because they’ll apologize for their mistakes (and their kids will, too). And because they’ll examine their behavior, vow to do better and start working on it right away (because they know that their kids are counting on it)
Now, let’s be clear — self-doubt is most constructive when it is not excessive. In addition, some common parenting behaviors that lead to self-doubt — yelling, punishing inconsistently and arbitrarily, name calling and spanking — are proven to be ineffective and even harmful. Although parents will never be perfect, when these behaviors are at the root of self-doubt, I encourage parents to work on remaining calm, using a structured and consistent system of rewards and consequences and to never, ever hit or put down their kids.
In order to make sure self-doubt remains at a constructive level, it is important to work on changing the behaviors that cause it in the first place. There are four keys to changing unwanted parenting behaviors: self-soothing, seeking support, self-forgiveness and focusing on strengths. It is important to note that each of these skills requires practice, and just like anything else worth learning, people rarely become experts on their first try. … if an incident occurs, your job is to self-soothe, seek support, forgive yourself for your mistake, plan what you want to do differently next time and then review how your strengths can help you accomplish it.