I was a perfect parent...before I had kids

“Well, I was a perfect parent, too, before I had kids!”

That phrase is one of my very favorite things to ever come out of the mouth of my sweet, sassy, and extremely southern sister-mom and BFF, Kristina.  She uses those words both as a benediction about the really real realities of parenting AND as a fiery defense of any of her fellow moms who find themselves or their children on the receiving of criticism and judgment from people who don’t actually have kids themselves.    She stands strong and firm in defense of her sister, covers her sister in her grace and protection, and lifts her up with that simple statement, “I was a perfect parent, too, BEFORE I had kids.” Woe be to anyone who criticizes one of Kirstina’s girls in her presence.

We all have schema for what we think parenting and family life should be like.  We were all raised by someone (parent or otherwise), we have BEEN children ourselves, we have been around friends and family members with kids, we have seen the movies, read the books, and some of us have even taken the classes.  But like many things in life, when the reality of day to day life with little ones sets in, the “coulds” and the “shoulds” all too often disappear under the crashing waves of the storms of life.

For some of us, it happens in the very early days of parenting. Maybe we always envisioned ourselves breastfeeding and then find that our baby won’t latch or our bodies don’t respond the way we were promised they would.  Maybe we swore we would NEVER co-sleep or NEVER sleep train and then the realities of sleepless nights leave us just doing what we had to do to get ourselves and or our baby some sleep.

There have been dozens of times when I’ve taken a step back, looked at my parenting, and been shocked at how little it resembled what I was expecting.  One of my most extreme examples (so far) was when my son quite literally hit toddlerhood- and also his father and me. Every. Single. Day. It really was his only vice, he did not bite, pinch or tantrum. But he channelled exactly ALL of his Righteous Toddler Indignation into hitting clung fast to it for the better part of two years (TWO! YEARS!).  We did EVERYTHING we knew how to do or were told we were supposed to do and STILL WITH THE HITTING!!  Not only did I never envision shielding myself from the flying fists of my very own child but I always assumed that my parenting strategies would, you know, WORK! I expected that if I worked really hard at finding effective strategies and implemented them consistently over time that my kid would actually respond to them- and boy did I feel low when he didn’t.

It’s easy for shame and guilt to creep in when we fall short of expectations, and even more so when those expectations involve our kids. Those precious little people have our whole hearts, we are so tender toward them, we want nothing more than to do exactly right by them and give them the very best and so it’s doubly devastating when see ourselves falling short of ideals.

But I’m here today to assert that it’s time for us to knock that nonsense off already. I think it’s time for US to stand up like Kristina does against the voices of conviction in our own danged heads and remind them that EVERYONE was a perfect parent BEFORE they had kids.

I mean, we should ALWAYS try to be better parents and do the very best we can by our kids. But giving in to shame and guilt does nothing to help us become better parents. Shame and guilt weaken us, make us feel beaten down, exhausted, and defeated and we will NEVER do our best work from that place.

So, I think we should all read those words from my sweet friend, translate them into her sassy, southern drawl and tuck them away in the corners of our minds to pull out when we feel ourselves falling short of our own expectations.

“Well, I was a perfect parent, too, before I had kids!”

Let’s start throwing those words at our very own selves when we catch ourselves passing critique or judgment in our own direction, when we decide that we aren’t measuring up to whatever we once felt like we should be as parents.  

We should always, ALWAYS  be diligent in doing our very best by our kids.  We should never stop trying to be the best parents we can be and we should encourage our kids to be constantly in a similar pursuit of their very best selves.  But we can do that without guilting and shaming ourselves- just like we want them to do.  When we fall short, we can model both resilience and grace for them and in doing so, we can be actually be BETTER parents than perhaps we ever envisioned.