Welcome to the Collaborative Youth Team’s column, “Parenting Matters!” The Collaborative Youth Team is a partnership of 24 youth and family service organizations and agencies that are here to serve you. Each month, a different partner will offer practical tips for restoring balance within our families and for building resiliency in our youth. This month’s column is shared by Margot Smith, clinical director for 360 Youth Services.
Parenting: guilt, fear and inadequacy are par for the course, especially when comparing ourselves to friends, bloggers or dreamy pictures on Pinterest. Or even through direct comparison, such as when we are judged or shamed by other parents. Maybe you have even done the judging or shaming.
Why do we directly or passive aggressively war with each other, when we are all just fumbling our way through this complicated journey called parenting? Often, it’s because deep down, we are afraid. Criticizing another makes me feel better because at least I’m better than them. Which isn’t too different from the social aggression between kids on the playground or on social media, is it?
So, what do we do about this? How do we feel better about how we raise our children, and teach our children that feeling good about who they are doesn’t come from being better than others? Here are a few tips:
Practice and model empathy. Empathy doesn’t judge or pity. Empathy doesn’t offer advice, challenge someone to look at the bright side, or claim to know exactly how another person feels. It just feels with people, sharing in their experience. Remember, too, that understanding is not the same as agreeing. You can share experience with another while also choosing your own path.
Give the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that most of us are doing the best we can with what we know how to do at the time. And while a whole fortune is built on parenting books and blogs, we all have our own challenges, strengths and values that make one-size-fits-all advice, well, not always the best fit. So take it easy on other parents and yourself.
Ask for what you need. Saying something like, “I don’t think I need advice, could I just get this off my chest with you?” or “have you ever felt like this before?” can respectfully challenge others to nonjudgmentally connect with you. Similarly, ask if they are looking for help or advice, or if they just want your empathetic ear.
Embrace vulnerability. If you haven’t seen Brene Brown’s TED talk on courage, shame and vulnerability, go Google it and watch. Now. Being vulnerable, owning our fears and insecurities, allows others to do the same and drops the need for the feeling-better-about-me-by-putting-you-down charade.
Pause before commenting online. It’s easy to offer quick thoughts on a Facebook post, and before you know it, it’s all out comment warfare. Ask yourself about why you want to comment. Is it helpful, supportive and empowering, or judgmental, shaming and critical? Underneath your reaction, are you feeling insecure about your own experience? Rarely are minds changed in the comments section.
Will this eliminate parental shame and guilt? Nope. But we have to start somewhere, and practicing these tips will influence those around us to do the same. Especially our kids.
This column is courtesy of KidsMatter, Collaborative Youth Team facilitator. To access the Community Resource Guide and Partner contact information, visit www.KidsMatter2us.org and www.ParentsMatterToo.org.