How to not screw up my kid?
January 24, 2007 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How can I get past the fear that I'm totally going to botch the very important job of parenthood, and just be a good mom?

(I realize this is one of the kinds of questions a lot of people hate -- my apologies in advance.)

My son is now 3 months old, and I'm relieved to see him starting to develop a very happy disposition for the most part. I'm also delighted to be able to interact with him more, as he is now responding to me and others.

What's bothering me, though, is this steadily worsening fear that I'm going to mess him up. Not in any major way -- please don't think I'm referring to harming or neglecting him! I just look at parenthood as such an amazing gift, and what an incredible opportunity it is to be able to influence and help to shape a human being. Yet, I feel unworthy in so many ways, and extremely fearful that I'm going to be a very "average" parent. I find myself thinking constantly about what kind of person my son is going to be, and how I feel personally responsible for making sure the child, teenager and adult he becomes is "good" (for lack of a better word). I'm forever reading and perusing parenting sites and thinking about stuff to do with/for him, but the idea of overcoming my personal issues is overwhelming and I'm feeling really anxious. I've posted anonymously before about feeling stuck in a rut, paralyzed from actually doing anything to improve myself, break bad habits, and reach my goals. I don't want this kind of inertia to affect my child; I don't want to wake up and realize he's 3 (or 9 or 18) and I've let him down. I myself have a mom who spent much of my childhood either actively depressed or just "getting by," i.e. doing the bare minimum day to day while I sort of languished in school, activities, social interaction, etc. I'm terrified of being like her, and yet my own experience as an adult seems to have mirrored my mom's in a lot of ways already.

I guess my question is this: is it possible to overcome personal habits/traits like inertia, procrastination, fear of failure, etc. in order to be a better parent? And if so, are there practical tips for doing so? Anecdotes or just straight up advice are deeply appreciated.
posted by justonegirl to Human Relations (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I was a neglected kid. I would say the main thing is to be sure that you genuinely connect with and love the kid. If you can't emotionally connect, get help. This is key. Secondly, have some standards, teach the kid right and wrong. In the 60's some people believed permissive/laissez faire was good. It ain't. Thirdly, encourage the kid's enthusiams. Fourthly, spending time playing with them is more important than expensive ways of playing. Skip the flash cards. Engage, have fun. More fun, less research. I'm sure my comment will be irrelevant as usual, but I can't resist.
posted by Listener at 4:51 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't have any practical advice, except perhaps this: if you're in the midst of an anxiety attack due to parenting concerns, consider stepping back for a moment, taking a deep breath, and entertaining the possibility that your very concern for what kind of a parent you'd make already makes you a better parent than the vast majority of parents out there.
posted by drpynchon at 4:53 PM on January 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Please try to relax about this. Your anxiety about parenting has a much greater destructive potential than the inertia, procrastination and fear of failure(!) that you're obsessing over.
posted by timeistight at 4:58 PM on January 24, 2007

Try to remember that this concern is hormonal. You're hardwired to be insecure about your parenting. That can be quite an attribute, just use it to your advantage. To do this, moderate it with hearty doses of reassurance, from yourself or a trusted other person. There's no such thing as talking too much about your fears, in my opinion. You can even write them down. It helps to be able to have that slightly different perspective, you'll see how silly you're being if you think you're being negligent for letting him cry longer than is comfortable for you etc.

Hopefully by grabbing this feeling and using it as a tool and getting more in control of it, you can turn it back into the "more normal" feeling of unconditional, sacrificing love that makes you a good mommy.

Also, don't forget (this is so simple) that no parent is perfect, and the thing that matters most is that you express your love. My mom is like yours, maybe not as bad. My last advice on that count would be that you may need help. Support. You may need a lot of it and you may come from a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps family like I do. Get the help you need. Do not overburden yourself, it is the same overburdening your child. Whatever you do for you you do also for them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:00 PM on January 24, 2007

Worrying about being a good parent is something that bad parents don't do this much. If you care and you are trying to do a good job, you are going to be a great parent. My opinion is that you will make mistakes. BUT! It will still be okay. We all do.

And to answer your question, yes -- you will get better at some of those personality "flaws" you're worried about. And you won't get better at others. For instance, I now actually clean the house on occasion. Parenthood is starting to motivate me, finally, to exercise a little.

And all of this is totally normal, from my anecdotal observations of me, my husband, and our friends.

I worry about all of this stuff too. So does my best friend. We're not perfect -- I would do things differently already. But I really think the fact that we care and love our kids and are doing the best we can is a good thing. The hardest part for me is realizing that I can't make my kids perfect -- they will have some little habits I don't love -- and I can still love them and give up on the perfect. Still working on that one myself (except the loving them part, of course!!!).
posted by theredpen at 5:31 PM on January 24, 2007

I'm not a parent, so ymmv on this advice, (but I did just start babysitting alot for my 1yr old niece. Such fun! :)

Anywho... I agree with the others. Dont sweat it to much. Parenting is probably the most difficult job on the planet, and no one is perfect at it. As others have said, merely having the mental awareness of concern about your own influences is much more than most parents seem to have.

If it makes any difference.. my parents were pretty much non-existent. I didnt meet my biological father till I was about 18. My step father abused me, and my mother wasnt around much (worked alot to support 3 kids) Why am I telling you this?... because through all that, and growing up relatively poor,..I turned out pretty ok. I'm not rich.. I'm not super successful, but I am healthy and smart and creative and resourceful and people say I'm above average in friendlyness and "thinking of others"...

Give your child the best you can. Try to set good examples, and show them love and an appreciation for the beauty and variety of life around them, and they will be fine.
posted by jmnugent at 5:32 PM on January 24, 2007

This is a perfect example of "insane people don't worry about being insane".

As drpynchon says, The fact that you're concerned about being a good parent means you are, by definition, a good parent.

The fact that you are so concerned about it is a problem, but almost certainly not for your baby, just for you.

You need to make sure you're eating properly, sleeping properly, and getting the right amount of fresh air, exercise and time off from childcare -- and if all of those things are checked off and you're still worried, you might need to talk to someone about the irrational level of your concern.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:39 PM on January 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the wonderful, thoughtful advice so far (and I'm hoping others might chime in too). It occurred to me just now that in addition to loving my little boy more than I ever thought possible, I may also be guilty of thinking of parenting him as some kind of "project" that, if done correctly, will help to "save" me from my bad habits, crummy childhood, failures as a person, etc. I've done this throughout life with relationships, false starts at self improvement, etc. (Maybe XYZ will finally help me to be the person I want to be!) That's a lot of pressure and I don't want that to affect my baby. I just wish I knew how to rewire myself in this regard!
posted by justonegirl at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2007

I was obsessed with being the perfect parent when my daughter was that age. I think it's natural because that's a pretty major turning point of seeing your child as a human being with habits, potential, reactions. You can start to see the influence you have.

Things that helped me relax:
- I noticed my daughter was tense when i was tense. Having fun with parenting made her happier, and made parenting easier.
- She had her own ways about her. The older she got, the more I realized that, although I was in the total "nurture" camp before she was born, there is a lot of personality she had from day one that I could either fight against or go with.
- First children are sometimes really uptight. Every parent attributes it to the inability to relax and enjoy the moments along the way. If being too serious a parent can lead to being too serious a kid, I had to lighten up.
- Hanging out with other parents. Sure, some of them are more lax than I was comfortable with. But I got to test drive parenting methods by watching them.

If you're anything like me, you'll overstress, get overwhelmed and then just when you're about to pop, your kid will do something that makes all of it make sense and fall in love with him all over again and you'll be able to focus on the now rather than worrying about the person he'll be at 20.
posted by Gucky at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2007

I won't repeat the good advice above me. I will pass on a quote that helped me when I started fretting about this same thing when my first daughter was about the same age -- I can't remember who said it or where I read it or if someone told it to me... Essentially it was 'Your kid is going into therapy over something you *never* anticpated would lead to therapy.'

Have fun. Love your kid. All that stuff up above. You'll be fine.
posted by susanbeeswax at 5:52 PM on January 24, 2007

your very concern for what kind of a parent you'd make already makes you a better parent than the vast majority of parents out there

So true. This is a normal, hormonal thing, and it's happening at a normal time for you. I would also venture to say that people who had mediocre parents worry about this a lot more than people who had pretty good parents. I think about it all the time, which is why I have not had kids yet. (My parents were pretty much non-existent in a parental capacity at all.) Anyway, you don't mention a significant other or anyone else who may be helping you, so perhaps you need to extend your support network. It takes a village, etc.
posted by Brittanie at 5:52 PM on January 24, 2007

Stop reading parenting sites. This simple change will reduce your feelings of inadequacy and guilt (ie - you will reduce feelings of inadequacy by not constantly comparing yourself to fictional hyperparents on the internet). Get comfortable with following your own instincts. Your kid will be fine.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:04 PM on January 24, 2007

In my opinion, many parents vastly overestimate their effect on a child's developing personality. Keep them loved, fed and secure, stir and let rise 18 years.
posted by Neiltupper at 6:05 PM on January 24, 2007

Funny you mention this, I just bought this book. It's very interesting so far, a lot about nature/nurture, temperment.
posted by true at 6:29 PM on January 24, 2007

Hon, I raised three kids and in the process learned that although proper loving parenting is important, they still come with their own wills and personalities. You cannot guarantee a perfect final product, and you will drive yourself and your offspring crazy if you try.

Love your child. Spend time with him. Keep him fed and clothed. He'll be fine.

And so will you.
posted by konolia at 8:26 PM on January 24, 2007

You can be a much better parent that you were parented. You will, actually--your care and research already indicate that. Parenthood is such an intense ride that you gain experience and wisdom in dog years--7 times that of normal time. You will grow more than you can imagine, and yes, you can be a better parent than you were parented. Your self-improvement goals may very well fall by the side of the road for several years but maybe instead of less procrastination you will be a wizard of quickly prepared child friendly food and child art. I'd back off on the parenting sites--I consider myself to be a very good and involved mother and they give me insecurity issues. It's kind of like those women magazines that give advice on losing cellulite and improving yourself in the bedroom. They always make you feel anxious and in need of better skills and control. The perfection message is so damaging anyway. You don't have to be excellent or perfect. You have to be loving, somewhat organized, protective, and somewhat consistent. Moderation. This is an 18-20 year marathon. Sometimes you have to pace yoursef.
posted by aliksd at 8:43 PM on January 24, 2007

I've found in parenting that it's very much like playing music. When I play music I make mistakes all the time. If I sweat them I tend to make more. If I don't sweat them, I make fewer and I enjoy the process all the more.

I've made mistakes with my daughter and done things that I would do differently, but for the most part I try to do the best that I can and above all to enjoy the very brief time that she will be uniquely in any particular developmental stage, becuase they only happen once and each one is so special for what she can do, is learning to do, and how she sees the world. So far, every stage has been the best (if that's possible) and I've accumulating a long series of cherished moments to reflect upon when I'm feeling down.

On a pragmatic level, keep in mind that kids still manage to grow up largely unscathed with far worse people than you. You'll do just fine.
posted by plinth at 8:55 PM on January 24, 2007

I hate to be the one to say this, but as a nursing student, they beat this into our brains: If you are feeling overly anxious, suffering from paralyzing attacks of depression/inadequacy, and/or unable to continue with your activities of daily life (beyond the new parenting responsibilities), you might be experiencing something clinically significant. As in, you should consider therapy to deal with your anxiety issues, especially with a history of depression. Make sure you get out of your house and see people other than your child 24/7. You can mentally and physically exhaust yourself worrying, thus increasing your risk for depression. You need to remember that your health, mental and physical, is *essential* to maintain your child's health and happiness.
posted by nursegracer at 8:59 PM on January 24, 2007

The impression I get is that there isn't much you can do to really screw things up. Kids are going to turn into the kinds of people they turn into.

The question is, will they resent you once they're adults?

Get involved, let them be who they are, show enthusiasm for their interests and hobbies, be nice to their friends. And by the end, you should have a deep, meaningful relationship with your daughter. What else could you hope for?

For a three month old? Don't worry, she'll micromanage your time for you. For the next few years you'll be so busy serving her every whim, you won't have time to procrastinate.
posted by fcain at 10:22 PM on January 24, 2007

Seconding susanbeeswax - something that you're completely sure you're doing "right" will be the thing that they (lovingly) pick on you for when they're older. That's what I do with my mother, and the things she was concerned with never even made me raise an eyebrow.

Just do your best, and when they grow up, they will see that you did your best, regardless of mistakes that we all will inevitably make. If anything, your flaws that you can't overcome may just motivate them to be the opposite of that. For example, I have friends who's mothers never kept a clean house, and they are that much more determined to be neat.

We are merely guides on our children's journey through life - we cannot completely control who they turn out to be. They will see that you love them with all you are, and that's what matters most.

There is a theory that souls choose the parents to be born to, based on something they need to learn in this life, or repent for, etc. While I'm not sure I believe it completely, thinking about that does kind of relieve some of my anxiety - my son and I are exactly where we need to be.

Feel free to email me if you'd like to chat about any random anxieties that come up during the day. I have a 4-year-old, and the incredible gift being a parent is can get quite overwhelming if you focus on it rather than just relaxing and enjoying it.
posted by Iamtherealme at 1:10 AM on January 25, 2007

Hi justonegirl - I've read other askmes you've posted, and you remind me a lot of the highly motivated, highly conscientious, and highly stressed female friends I have. I'd say you should work with a therapist on addressing your stress and anxieties (and the really high expectations you place on yourself and the resultant feelings of worthlessness). This sounds all new-agey, but given your background, you need to parent yourself as well as your child. Good luck!

PS - Being an "average" parent sounds pretty good to me.
posted by footnote at 7:21 AM on January 25, 2007

This may be hard to believe, but your ability to be a parent has nothing to do with your worth as a human being. You have basic human worth, just like everyone else, no less, no more.

Therefore, you don't have to worry about being a good mother, you can just focus on it when its time to do something related to being a mother.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:50 AM on January 25, 2007

I share some of your same concerns. I did not enjoy my own childhood very much, and to this day don't like my parents much. My dad was the authoritarian "spare the rod, spoil the child" type who was terrified of not doing things the way his Baptist church told him to do it. FEAR was the one constant I remember from my childhood, mainly fear of breaking a Rule. There were lots of Rules, and I had to remember and abide by all of them, or the paddle would come out.

When I left home, I discovered that the Rules I had followed all those years really hadn't prepared me for life on my own. And I realized over the course of a few years that I had never really had the opportunity to make a significant decision during my years in my parents' house. Nobody had ever told me that I actually had a choice in what I thought or did. So I spent the next decade essentially "re-parenting" myself, erasing the old tapes of Rules, and deciding what kind of person I wanted to be. Principles replaced Rules.

I don't want to repeat this pattern w/ my child, and I like him a lot and want to have a lifelong relationship with him, so I've read a ton of books in order to learn new ways of thinking and acting (things that I didn't learn from my own parents). Two years into parenthood, I'm enjoying it immensely.

One thing that helps me stay focused on Principles (instead of Rules) is a daily email from Scott Noelle, called the Daily Groove. It's just a short "tip" for the day, an action plan of sorts to keep focus on the relationship between me and my kid, instead of fretting about his or my behavior, or how I might be failing him.
posted by Bradley at 12:29 PM on January 25, 2007

(I am frantically trying to find an online source for this, so take it with a grain of salt. Anyway...)

When I was completing my grad course in human development, my professor brought up an interesting longitudinal study about the effects of childhood events on adult development. From what I can remember, there was only one childhood event that had any statistically significant predictive outcomes...the early death of a parent.

(Otherwise, there were kids who were neglected as kids--some overcame it, some did not. Abused. Spoiled. Given a pony. Not given shoes. Etc. Etc. None of these events was predicitive. Responses of kids who had become adults to these early events were all over the map.

There was a lively discussion about "Well I have a cousin who was [insert traumatic event here] and now...". The professor explained that, yes, of course, any adult can sit down and connect some of their present behavior to past circumstances. But are those circumstances predictive for every child who goes through the experience? Will every child who was [insert traumatic event here] respond to it in the exact same way? Will it affect their development into adulthood in the same way? The study suggested that no, it won't.

(It was about 15 years ago that I took this class, so I'm sorry if I'm mucking the explanation up somehow due to my poor memory.)

When I became a parent for the first time last year, I found the memory of that class discussion oddly comforting. I worry, yes, of course. And I pledge to do my best. But I don't have complete control over how my daughter's life will unfold and doing my best at any given moment is really all that is required of me. That, and trying to be more relaxed about everything.
posted by jeanmari at 5:22 PM on January 25, 2007

I completely agree with all of the good advice here.
Also agree with the "if you're worried about it, you're likely doing better than you think" comments.

I also had a mom who was depressed a lot of the time. The somewhat infuriating thing that she has done since I had kids is to try to tell me how to raise them. It used to really, really piss me off. Then, I managed to learn to pay attention to her good advice and ignore the bad.

All parents make mistakes. All of us. Learn from the mistakes you make and they will, too. If children know that they are loved, they tend to be just fine. Teach them right from wrong and you'll be beating the curve. When your child gets older, teach him/her to be self-sufficient with basic life skills and you'll be doing your child a huge service for their future.
posted by lilywing13 at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I wanted to mark a best answer, but the more I reread the thread, the more difficult I found it to choose just one or a few. I am going to look for someone to talk to (a therapist? not sure) about some of my anxieties, and try to remind myself daily of the advice given here. Once again, I am grateful for how generous Mefites can be. Thanks again.
posted by justonegirl at 6:14 AM on January 26, 2007

Chiming in late here, but my suggestion is... have a second child. By the time your second one gets to the stage your first is in now, you will have done it all once already, and discovered that nearly everything you fretted so much about with your first child was really no big deal. When baby Betty picks up a cheerio (or something worse) off the floor and stuffs it in her mouth, you'll remember that baby Adam did the same thing at that and and it didn't hurt him one bit. You'll learn to relax, and this will carry over into how you parent the first child too.
posted by JohnYaYa at 11:13 AM on January 26, 2007

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