New Year’s resolutions – guilt and two other risks of planning changes

  
Christmas is behind us, New Year is here: the protocol of our culture is expecting us to make some New Year’s resolutions. Time for making promises! 

“I am going to exercise more.’ 

‘I’m going to be more patient with my ageing mother.’

‘I’m going to cut down sugar/cigarettes/wine.’ 

‘I am going to take more time off.’

The beggining of new year encourages us to make summaries and gives hope for the fresh start. 

We live in the age of therapeutic discourse, where people are expected to work on themselves, redefine and reimagine their lives. Life coaches are speaking on the morning radio programs about making positive changes, introducing plans, and exercising daily. 

These days none of us is free from the expectation to grow and become better in whatever we do or whoever we are. It’s not only about us as individuals but also us fulfilling certain roles which matter to others. Speaking about parents: we as parents are always observed by the community and we are expected to do right and do better as mothers and fathers.

On one hand this feels right and encourages positive changes in the society. Many people change their habits: they eat and live healthier, they think more about the environment, their prejudices weaken.

On the other hand, this drive for becoming a New Version of Ourselves can cause some confusion, especially for parents.

Guilt

It’s okay to be good enough. To be a perfect parent is a phantasy and following it isn’t serving anyone. Our task is to be good enough parents and this means providing a loving and safe environment for children to grow and explore the world. We won’t get everything 100% right and what we really should learn is to accept this fact. Of course we want to grow as parents and do better on many fields, but this expectation often causes a strong sense of guilt, every time we do something ‘wrong’. This creates a viscous circle and a tension which definitely won’t help with getting things better next time. 

Goals

Setting the right goals can be tricky. There are many advisors who focus on altering behaviour. They encourage us to set the clear goal, make a strong commitment to some behavioural change, and they offer techniques to stay motivated and achieve this change. It can all work well, under the condition, that we are focusing on the right goal. Sometimes emotional issues are so difficult to deal with, that we replace them with some other tasks which stay at the level of behaviour and don’t reach the deeper, emotional issues. For example one of the partners in a relationship decides to run a marathon which is going to be very absorbing – cost a lot of time and commitment. This can be a genuine sportive activity but it might also be taken up to run away from the difficulties in relationship which won’t be addressed.

Personality

There are some things in ourselves which are unlikely to change, because they are part of who we are, of how we define ourselves. They might be causing problems in our relationships and they might be these very things which we want to get rid of when interacting with our children. Some of us would find themselves too controlling, too angry, too anxious, too authoritative – put here your own characteristic which makes you worried when relating to others. This might be an important part of your emotional life, which developed early in the childhood and it manifested itself throughout the life in many different ways. Don’t expect from yourself that you are going to make it disappear. Find a healthier way of expressing it. You might even make use of it! Being aware of this dynamic you can also help your children dealing with their emotional challenges. A great example of dealing with aggression is using it in sport activities. 

There is an event on Facebook, where people commit to read 52 books in 2016. Over 70,000 people signed up. My first thought when I saw it was, that they can’t be parents to small children, but then I realised I’m speaking for myself. There are parents out there having great reading plans and fair play to them.

I wish them enjoyable reading and a very good New Year to all of you.
Photo: http://www.theodesseyonline.com

Advertisements

Ordinary Parents

Royal Mother
Kate Middleton – The Duchess of Cambridge – gave birth to her second baby. It’s not this fact itself, what brought me to write this post, but another blog which in a humorous way commented on Kate’s perfect look during child’s presentation just few hours after giving birth.

The author very accurately picks up ridiculousness of a situation when woman being inevitably damaged and exhausted after enormous effort of labour, appears in front of the world ‘done up’ and ‘dressed up’, wearing high hills.
photo from Kate Middleton facebook page

Yes, the videos and photographs of Kate Middleton reminds me that I don’t belong to royal family and after I gave birth, no wider audience cared wether I had my hair brushed or nails done (and more: if I’d like to dress up straight after labour, someone would bring me on earth and told me to just lay down). It’s fortunately not part of my task as a mother to look perfect. But is it that obvious that the whole parenting venture isn’t about being perfect in any aspect? Isn’t the underlying message from Duchess to other parents: ‘perfect’ is what we all want?

‘Perfect’ is what the photograph captured but what was left behind?
Looking at the photo of Kate Middleton I’m reflecting on big picture of parenting. I am trying to capture what really matters in being a parent and what being a good parent means. I believe that in our era of parenting, where the pressure on parents coming from many angles is very high, we tend to forget what our priorities are and we might find ourselves in a place where we never feel good enough.
Experts and Ideal Parents
In fact, these dangers were present and spoken of in early 60′ of 20th century. Dr Donald H. Winnicot, English psychoanalyst, was particularly concerned about two issues (both of them become even stronger over the years and our culture is investing in turning them into the signatures of contemporary parenting).
One of the issue is a growing role of parenting experts. The market of education and advice for parents is really massive. Parents constantly hear what they should be doing and what is best for their children. I recently saw the post on facebook, written by child psychologist, inviting parents to write their concerns on the psychologist’s facebook wall and she promised to answer each of them in few sentences. This is very vivid example of the wider issue: the ‘expert’ badge, the voice of specialist, is in our culture very powerful. The experts sound so convincing that we are inclined to trust their voice more than our own judgements. This undermines parents’ confidence and makes them feel worried that they constantly miss some skill or important bit of information. Somewhere in experts’ minds exists a perfect and right way of doing things and we, ordinary parents will never be able to fully reach that. We then sip drops of wisdom from specialists’ mouth, hoping that this will be at least good enough.
The second issue is idealisation of parents. To illustrate what it means, I recall today’s radio program, where some caller criticised mothers for returning to work instead of staying at home with children. It was a judgemental speech, claiming that most mothers do have a choice and they still prefer career than the best start in life for their children. That lady simplified the dilemma and ignored complexity of the situation. She divided the world into two: good mothers staying with children and bad ones, returning to work. Her reasoning was fuelled by emotions: she split* them into two and assigned all the good ones to good – stay at home mums and all the bad ones to the other group. This is a process which we all sometimes go through, usually not being aware of this. Black and white world with simple divisions  is a product of our phantasy and it prevents us from seeing shades of the real world. How we as a society perceive parents seems to be influenced by this mechanism of splitting. They are good or bad objects – in minds of others and in their own minds. They experience emotional pressure, the necessity to be ideal and to fulfil unreal expectations.

To be ordinary

Parenting isn’t about trying to be perfect and fulfilling unrealistic expectations.  Parenting is about ‘ordinary’. Ordinary parents are good enough to provide right care for their children. And to be clear: vast majority of parents is doing great job of loving, caring and nurturing their children.
*original concepts of splitting and good enough parents come from works of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott.