Back to school routine is already stressing me out and it’s not even here yet. I’m wondering if I am the only parent who hasn’t finishing sewing name labels into every damn item of my son’s new uniform? Queuing for ages for school shoes and cursing myself for not doing this weeks ago; I internally whisper to myself...is everyone just more organised than us?
Researchers refer to this guilt-inducing trope of perfectionism as the motherhood myth or the goddess myth, though I believe it applies to fathers as well. Both are essentially describing the same phenomenon: unrealistic expectations accepted by parents who don’t have the experience or support to differentiate fantasy from reality.
Practically from conception, parents are bombarded with news stories and friendly advice telling them what they should and should not be doing. And if you don’t fall in line, you’re not doing it right. The constant reinforcement that we are all relentlessly failing bolsters the unattainable standards of the perfect parent and forces us to continue to set goals we’ll never achieve.
Enter nagging, parenting guilt.
However, we should remember that guilt is guilt. It’s an important (and not necessarily always a bad) thing. Guilt is an emotion, just like anger or sadness or jealousy. Its purpose is to communicate to ourselves and others, and to nurture relationships with those we care about. Guilt often signals to us that we’ve harmed another person and drives us to repair that damage.
We are all learning how to be parents. No one handed us a manual when we left the hospital. Many new parents have limited or no prior experience with children. So how and where do we learn? Sometimes we seek out advice from those we know. Other times we seek answers from the power of Google, Alexa or social media.
In many ways, the Internet has been so useful- but at other times it can feel like a one-way mirror leaving us wondering if we are doing things wrong. Are we failing? As parents, we watch our children grow and it is only natural that we worry. We imagine them alone at school or moving out on their own and wonder how they’ll hold up when we’re not there to protect them. But one small thing we can start doing for ourselves is to eliminate the word “should” which has been found to increase anxiety, frustration and feelings of unworthiness.
And in regard to the back to school ‘new year’, we could look at this in a similar way. A fresh start. A new, less guilty you. We focus instead on the important things such as feeling happy, focus on the fact that we are giving our kids a loving home.
Whether you use the newest parenting techniques or are learning from those who want to pass on their wisdom from previous years, your children will grow up well so long as you love them. Parents who interact and engage with their kids, who are patient with them, and reassure them when they’re worried make great kids every time.
In the end, what matters the most is not guilt...it’s love.