- Joellen Monson
The first thing most people do when they see their family at the end of the day is to greet them with "How was your day?" and typically we hear a simple, non-committal "Fine". Maybe with prodding your spouse will tell you of the hectic meeting at work or your child will tell of the bully who stole your their lunch at school. What is it about human nature that makes it easier to focus on the negative, stressful events of our lives and less on the positive? Even when we speak with others it seems that people are usually much quicker to share negative perspectives, in the guise of "constructive feedback" (which generally focuses less on construction than on destruction) than they are to sincerely tell someone specific ways in which that person did a good job.
Parenting is especially subject to this phenomenon. At a recent parenting seminar the guest lecturer noted that for most people, parenting feedback is like cobwebs in the corner; no one notices if you've done a good job but if you haven't kept after your work and those cobwebs show, then people notice and may point out your lapse. Rarely are good parents told what a wonderful job they've done. But there's usually no shortage of "the looks" parents get from others who don't think they're doing very well or the uninvited advice.
Everyone will say that the job of a parent is the most difficult. Unlike jobs outside of the home where there are clearly defined job details and expectations with ongoing evaluations which focus on positive accomplishments and areas for growth (which are then rewarded by pay increases) or schools where our children are encouraged to do well and are given guidelines, test and grades - parents are often on their own. And their own worst critics.
New parents worry and ruminate over the many caretaking chores, concerned that they're doing things wrong (especially since that baby cries so much!). As the child grows parents fear they're going to wreck their child's life if they aren't in the right school, sports or arts program. The weight of feeling like a "good enough parent" is a heavy load to carry.
One thing every parent can do for themselves and for their children is to remember to relax and balance the worries or stresses with the positive and successful things they do a thousand times a day for their family. Focus on what has been accomplished, remembering all the things that went well in the day. Instead of laying awake at night, only reviewing all the things that you wished to didn't do, or promising yourself you'll do differently again tomorrow - remember to think of the same number of things that were your successes - great and small. You may need to get creative. It could be as simple as giving yourself a pat on the back for actually being able to get to the store on that day when the baby had been up all night crying and the toddler refused to wear anything but a swimsuit. It could be that everyone made it to work and school - relatively on time, safe and sound. You be the judge.
Our successes are certainly just as, if not more, important than our challenges as a parent. Without that built in framework of support of work and school that our other family members have, parents need to remind themselves what a good job they're doing - every day! If you're reading this and strive to incorporate it in your own daily thinking then consider expanding your horizons and actually tell another parent something you think that they are doing well. You may be surprised how grateful that parent will feel for being acknowledged for the hard work they put in, every day too. Everyone needs an "atta-boy or gal", especially parents. Balance your stressors of the day (which are indeed opportunities to learn new coping skills) but make sure to include each of those successes no matter how large or small because those are what keeps parents going and feeling strong enough to take on the next day. You can do it!