There are days, and sometimes even weeks, where it feels like you are constantly failing as a parent. Whether it’s the fact that your kid isn’t sleeping, or they’ve hit someone in daycare, or they just keep talking back to you in this sassy way that makes you think they’ve been possessed by a drag queen. Parenting is hard. Although I don’t’ think Mitch Hedberg had parenting in mind when he said it, parenting is like playing the wall in tennis. Kids are mf-ing relentless.
So yeah, it’s easy to get discouraged, and to get down on yourself. Especially when it seems like at every turn you’re bound to fail. Sometimes I feel like I read articles online that directly contradict each other. Things like “Be sure to provide early enrichment programs for your child or they won’t learn anything in kindergarten and it will set them on a pattern of mindlessness that will result in their failure to get accepted to any college, anywhere.” And then later see “Are you over-programming your kids? Children need boredom to thrive and if you don't let them get bored they will develop ADHD.” Or I’ll instinctively try to limit screen time, but then someone will make the point that you can’t have completely tech-free kids or they literally won’t know how to operate the computers for standardized testing once they hit elementary school. I mean, this stuff starts super early. Just ask anyone what their opinion is on the “cry it out method”. You’re either ruining your child because you’re letting them cry, or you’re ruining them because you’re not teaching them to sleep.
And that’s the crux of the problem: every message is set up as one of how you’re going to fail. How you’re a bad parent. How you’re not enough.
But, there is a flip side to all of this. It’s ridiculous to say, but I read about win-win parenting from Self magazine. Okay, it wasn’t win-win parenting it was win-win dieting. But the message is exactly the same. There’s this false perspective in both dieting and parenting that whatever choice you make, you’re making the wrong choice. For example, if you’re craving a chocolate chip cookie you have two options: 1) eat the cookie and derail your diet and feel guilty for not sticking to your diet or 2) don’t eat the cookie and feel like you’re depriving yourself.
But that’s not true. In the win-win perspective, you actually have two other options: 1) eat the cookie and enjoy it and feel like you indulged in something delicious or 2) don’t eat the cookie and feel like a badass for sticking with your diet. It’s about framing your decision as a win instead of a loss.
I suspect that for some people, this way of thinking comes naturally. They always feel like they’re making good parenting (and dieting) choices. They don’t focus on the drawbacks of their decisions but instead on the positives.
I am not one of those people for which this comes naturally. Over the years, I’ve had to retrain my brain to think positively. And in parenting, it’s particularly hard. Because if you’re wrong, advertisers and columnists and bloggers would have you believe that you are not just making a poor choice but you are ruining your child for all time.
But you know what? Parenting is hard enough on its own. So I’m not gonna make it harder by dwelling on every little mistake. If I give Chewie a lot of screen time, well then he’s just improving his technology abilities (fyi- he’s gonna CRUSH the section of the exam on YouTube). If he stays up super late one night to watch fireworks, I’m teaching him resiliency and flexibility in his schedule. If he bites a kid in daycare, well…he’s probably gonna get slapped back and I guess that’s just teaching consequences. It's all wins.
And while it may not come naturally, with a little bit of practice, you can start to automatically default to a win-win outlook. And trust me when I tell you, once you master that win-win attitude, all the cookies you’ll start eating are even more delicious.