Making Tiny Shifts in My Thought Process Completely Changed My Parenting Techniques
As someone who leans towards perfectionism, there's nothing like having your first child to really stir things up for you emotionally. My amazing little one is a firecracker. She's feisty, extremely active, and has a self-assured, dig-your-heels-in disposition just like me. So with her dad's perky energy and my persistent will, you better believe that this tiny being has offered me plenty of opportunities for learning and growth as a parent.
My professional background is in marriage and family therapy with specialties in trauma, mindfulness, and sexuality. I worked a fair amount with parents who experienced their own childhood traumas and were now trying to navigate a very triggering world with their own little ones. With an understanding of the extreme complexities that come with raising a child, how our own background informs our view of parenthood, and the training I have in attachment, I was certainly nervous to do something wrong, to somehow break the attachment bond that I know to be so critical to healthy childhood development.
My daughter was a challenging newborn. She was very small and was itching to gain weight quickly. My days were filled with cluster feedings, cleaning up puke, and lots of crying. I felt pressure to make her feel as comfortable as possible and blamed myself for crying spells that I couldn't alleviate. I used to get wrapped up in what I perceived to be mistakes or failures. It would haunt my mind during the day, distracting me from truly enjoying every little moment with my child. It increased my stress levels and put a damper on my belief in myself as a mama.
I decided to change that. I spent some time self-reflecting, speaking with other new parents, and trying to take some of my own therapeutic advice that I had been suggesting to my clients all along — reframing. Reframing is all about shifting your perspective, making unhealthy thoughts or beliefs healthier and more useful, being kinder to yourself, and allowing yourself the space to learn, be more flexible in your thinking, and grow.
My favorite reframe that I often keep in mind is that it's okay to make mistakes and that it's important for me to teach my daughter that blunders can be happy accidents that open up doors that wouldn't have been there if we didn't pause and look for new ways to work through something. So instead of "you're messing up," I now say to myself, "I'm trying my hardest in this moment to give my daughter what she needs" or "how can I make this a teachable and meaningful moment for her?" That's the beauty of raising a child. Every day is a new adventure, a new challenge, and a new slew of external factors weaving their way in and out of my time with my daughter.
Because perfectionism is a trigger point for me, the most important thing I aim to keep in mind is that perfection is overrated. I'd rather be a real parent than aim for this unattainable perfection that only causes me feelings of guilt and disappointment. Knowing your own trigger points, delving into their significance, and coming up with your own reframes is a great practice to use when parenting. Doing so allows you the space to safely reflect on your own thoughts and behaviors and find healthy ways to bring new meaning to them. This can not only make you a more adaptable and tuned-in parent, but can also relieve a lot of pressure that many parents place on themselves.
Throughout this process, I've learned that my daughter is incredibly resilient, and a self-perceived mistake here or there can't touch the unbreakable bond that I've worked so hard to form with her. So every time a negative thought about my parenting creeps in, instead of hounding myself, I view it as an opportunity to learn. I look back at the situation, notice if I felt triggered by any outside forces, check in with my body to see if I'm hungry, touched out, or tired, and jump back into the moment with a renewed sense of understanding and the grace to move on from a blunder — without letting it take down a perfectly lovely day.