In my last post, I discussed the feeling of shame around productivity and how it generally comes up from this idea that we need to earn our sense of worthiness, of feeling we’re good enough. To continue this series, today I want to talk to you about what to do when you feel shame about your parenting.
You’re going to hear me say it every time, folks. The first step to getting out of a shame spiral is recognizing that you’re in one. So how might you know that you’re experiencing shame about parenting? Let’s say in this case that you accidentally snapped at your kid, and you’re wishing you hadn’t. Maybe the self-critic is showing through, and it’s beating you up for letting your irritation show. Or you could find that the irritation grows, and the blame turns toward your child (e.g., “They’re being such little monsters! Why can’t they ever listen to me?”) or your co-parent (“They only act this way because you’re so lenient with them!”). Some people might instead withdraw, concerned that if they let someone else know what’s going on, they’ll be judged even further. And other people might deny or brush off their behavior because it’s embarrassing to admit to (e.g., “It wasn’t so bad”). These are common reactions to shame and they’re often our best cue that we’re caught up in it.
When you recognize a shame spiral in the midst of it happening, it’s a good time to pause, take a step out of whatever room you’re in, and go find a quiet space to attend to your feelings. Yes, that’s right. I’m giving you permission to close your bedroom door, or lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes, or go on a walk, or whatever you need to do in order to have a few moments of compassionate space to yourself. Even if you have a crying baby or child in the other room and all you can manage is to take a few breaths. It’s going to help you, your child, and your relationship with them if you can take just 10 seconds to start making your way out of the shame spiral.
I’m always a fan of using self-soothing and self-compassion strategies first, and looking at things from a cognitive perspective later. So please, I encourage you to do what you need in the moment to bring kindness to yourself in the difficult situation you’re experiencing.
After that, it might help to remind yourself that we don’t need to be perfect parents in order to have good, healthy relationships with our children. I love how Diane Poole Heller puts it:
“The perfect parent does not exist, nor does it need to. According to developmental psychologist Edward Tronick, even exceptional parents are only 20-30 percent attuned to their children, but even this amount of attunement can lead to Secure Attachment if parents are willing to repair the ruptures that occur between them and their children.”
I love sharing this information with clients. 30%? I think most of the parents I know are aiming for 90% and then feeling terrible when something inevitably gets messed up. I love understanding that we can repair when things go wrong. This is also where shame resilience comes in. The more we see ourselves as bad parents and stay caught in shame, the harder it becomes to do anything about our mistakes. If you can see yourself as someone who’s doing the best they can, and who might make mistakes sometimes along the way, then you’ll also be better able to take actions to fix those mistakes. In this way, we can start to separate our actions (which may not always be perfect, even when we’re trying our best) from our identity as a person.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.