Having taught parenting classes for over 20 years and coached scores of children, parents, and families for just as long, I’ve heard many stories from parents riddled with guilt and worry. Parenting is hard enough without feeling doubt and judging ourselves. The one question that is asked more times than you can imagine is “Am I a bad mom?” or “Am I a bad dad?”
There are many versions of this concern, and it isn’t reserved for any particular developmental stage or parental season. At one time or another, every parent questions whether they are up for the job! And when doubt creeps in, it becomes a precursor to parenting burnout.
Do You Feel Like a Bad Mom?
This type of self-doubt comes in many forms—and as you can see, the questioning starts early:
“Am I a bad mom for not breastfeeding?”
“Am I a bad mom for wanting the newborn stage to be over!?” Exhausting and demanding, isn’t it?
“Am I a bad parent for working so much?”
“Am I a bad mom for sending my child to their room?”
“Am I a bad dad for yelling at my son?”
“Am I a bad parent for wanting my kids to go to bed early so I can have time for myself?
“Am I a bad mom for making grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner?” Really!? Grilled cheese is every parent’s go-to!
My favorite example was when my dad kiddingly told me I was a “bad mom” for not giving my children sugar. Really?! When did a healthy diet get added to the list of bad mothering!?
Even though my dad was kidding, his remark caused me to question if I was too strict. Self-doubt for parents can often come at the hands of family members or friends who give their opinions, sometimes unsolicited. Even if someone means well, you—and only you—have the ultimate say on how to raise your children. Now that my children are grown, my parenting choices when they were young have influenced their eating habits and lifestyles for the better now.
Related reading: “What Makes a Bad Mom?”
Self-Care and Compassion Are Great Remedies for Parental Burnout
Ask any parent—mom or dad—and they will tell you that there are many times when they feel ill-equipped for the job of parenting. Who would have known before becoming a parent how demanding the job would be from the get-go! We’re always on duty, and our hearts travel to a million places. Vigils of watchfulness consume us when our kids are sick and require tremendous selflessness. When our children hurt, their pain is our pain. If that isn’t a recipe for empathy burnout for parents, I don’t know what is!
But just like everything in life, there are enormous gifts, too! Being a parent is also fulfilling, fun, rewarding, and joyous! Family is at the center of community, so raising self-reliant, loving, free-thinking, and responsible young adults is important. We can stay encouraged and prevent burnout by keeping our eye on our goals and reveling in the joys of parenting.
If only we had a more compassionate stance in our culture when it came to parenting. Parenting is a huge responsibility! And it doesn’t end when our kids leave the house or are grown children—even as adults, there are hiccups and challenges. Being a parent changes your life forever, and it also changes you as a person. The role brings out the worst and the best of us.
So why do so many ask, “Am I a bad parent?” Because we care. If we didn’t love and have deep longings to be there for our children, we wouldn’t ask that question.
However, when we’re discouraged or doubting ourselves, a better question to ask ourselves is, “How can I take better care of myself so I can be my best for my children?”
Self-care for parents changes the game and prevents burnout. It allows us time to rejuvenate, reflect, and return to love. It also allows us the space to anchor our values and vision for our children and family. The key to loving, fun, and positive parenting is nurturing ourselves.
Even with the best of self-care, though, you might still have underlying worries and likely make some parenting mistakes.
Therefore, listen to your feelings of worry or guilt and use them as a springboard to be a better parent. For instance, delve into what behaviors trigger you to think, “I’m a bad mom,” then look for ways to counteract them. If you think that you’re no fun, look for ways to lighten up and be fun. If you feel guilty that you work too much, figure out how to spend more quality time with your children. If you let your kids eat too much fast food, perhaps you’re feeling pressed for time. If so, find simple recipes that are quick, delicious, and nutritious. Feelings are there to guide us—listen to them and take action.
When I was a young mother, I was overwhelmed, working full-time, and had an empty parenting toolbox. The one thing I did have was plenty of ardent desire to be a "good mom." I was determined not to pass along the pain of my childhood through reactive, controlling, or permissive parenting. So, I assessed what I felt worst about in my parenting and set about learning the skills I needed through reading and attending parenting classes.
One thing I learned was how to mix things up in our family. When I felt burned out, crabby, or angry, I found solutions that I could use when I was about to lose it or too tired to engage. These key actions incited laughter and fun for my children while allowing me to release anger appropriately and replace feelings stuffers that were contributing to burnout. The fun invigorated me and quickly shifted my mood. Maybe these activities might be helpful to you, too.
Simple Activities that Turn Angst to Laughter
Here are a few of the coping parenting ploys I applied:
Once while browsing at the Farmer’s Market in Bozeman, I came across a marshmallow shooter made with PVC pipe that a couple of young boys were selling. This little contraption was so inexpensive that I bought one for all of us. One day before I gave the children their shooters, I bombarded them with marshmallows and told them they had to find theirs hidden in the living room. They quickly found them and we had a blast!
The marshmallow shooter also turned out to be an excellent solution for me to blow off steam when upset while also invoking a fun interchange with my children. Forcefully blowing my breath out was a fantastic way to blow out my anger. The increased oxygen through exhaling and capturing another deep breath was a fantastic release—and relief—from the building pressure of anger.
Simple practices can convert difficult parenting challenges to mindful practice, and once used consistently, into mastery. Believe it or not, this simple gadget sent me on the road to developing self-control and regulating my emotions appropriately. And sometimes, even when I wasn’t upset, I started a full-blown marshmallow frenzy just for fun!
When things get tense, lighten up. Put on some music and dance or do something unexpected to shift the energy.
- The Wicked Witch Analogy
Other times, when I was about to explode and desperately needed self-calming, I’d tell my children that I was about to turn into the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz since it was a visual they could relate to. Creatively, I turned potential conflicts into teaching moments. When I used this analogy, I told them that self-quieting time mixed with self-compassion could transform the “witch” and “melt” my anger into love. I’d ask them to go outside and play to give me the space to calm. So instead of yelling or lashing out with anger, I turned those tense moments into meaningful learning for my children.
And after being successful a few times at calming myself, something magical happened. I realized that I wasn’t a victim of my feelings or a bad mom. I had the power to change. I could use my emotional pain as fuel for outcomes that I desired. It was liberating!
- Keep the Snowballs Out of My Yard Game
Another favorite of our family was “Keep the snowballs out of my yard.” We turned a party game into a great way to release anger safely. You simply crumble pages of newspaper and hurl them as fast as you can. Sometimes, we used a wastebasket for target practice; anyone in the family could ignite this practice if they were getting angry. For added meaning, you can write down one reason you’re upset on each piece of paper before crumpling and throwing it.
- Storytime and Story Creation
The simple ritual of cuddling with my children inside a fort in the living room (with a flashlight and books) was always popular. Similarly, we’d also pile on the bed together and listen while the kids made up stories; storytelling not only inspired their creativity, but they came up with some doozies that made us all laugh. Sometimes each child picked a part of the story: beginning, middle, or the ending. The best part: it didn’t require much energy from us, and yet it created togetherness. This activity was especially helpful when my husband and I had a long day.
Find easy and enjoyable ways to meet your children’s needs while also meeting your own. And when you find an activity that everyone loves, make it a regular and create a family tradition.
Reduce Parenting Stress with Compassion and a Healthy Balance
As a society, we have built up impossible expectations for parents and parents-to-be. There are no perfect parents; there are only human beings trying their best as parents. It’s time we realize that we are all human and we’re going to make plenty of mistakes. We’re going to lose our temper occasionally; we’re going to hurt each other even when we don’t intend to; we’re going to have bad days. No one has all of the answers or skills for everything that life throws at us.
Related reading: “Do We Need to Experience Love to Be Loving?”
One of the most important lessons a child can learn from a parent is self-compassion, which is a value imparted by parents who allow themselves to be human. Cutting ourselves some slack doesn’t give us carte blanche to hurt our children. It does mean that we strive every day to be more patient and more loving via encouragement instead of judgment. It means that when we stumble, we get back up and learn how to avoid the parenting pitfalls in the future. With this new awareness, you can move from imperfect parenting to conscious parenting.
Therefore, be gentle with yourself. You’re NOT a bad mom.
Simply ask yourself, “What do I need?”
Unmet needs drive most “misbehavior” in children (and adults). When you’re the “wicked witch” like I was or you serve grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner three nights in a row, what do you need? Do you need help with menu planning or rest? Do you need adult conversation instead of the babblings of a toddler? Do you need a friend to listen to you with empathy? Or do you need skills?
Whatever you need, fulfill it. And remember that sometimes your needs might be competing with your kids. No matter what’s happening, be kind-hearted with yourself. Then, you’ll transform struggles into positive parenting solutions and have fun along the way!
Related reading: “The Most Overlooked Secret to Peaceful Parenting: Empathy.”
If you need skills, Heartmanity is the place to come. Our mission is based on empowering parents, individuals, couples, and leaders with the skills they need to be their best. We understand just how hard parenting—and life—can be without skills and a lack of self-compassion. Let us help you. Transforming lives IS our business!
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