I try really hard to be a good parent. Really, really hard.
I decided the best way to do that was to be a present parent. Sadly I grossly misinterpreted a present parent to mean a parent whose child is physically or psychologically present 100% of the time.
On a daily basis I read parenting books in bed, I listen to podcast on psychology, education and relationships while I drive, I stalk Pinterest and Instagram for the best ‘At Home Education’ set ups, I ask questions in niche online parenting groups, I observe and reflect on my child’s development and try to think of ways to encourage him, I try new recipes to make sure he has a broad palette and a balanced diet. The list quite literally goes on and on…
And I’m still not good enough.
I suspect I’m not alone! As a parent there is never a point where enough is enough but as a person there is definitely a point where you’ve had all you can take.
The Knock On Effect
It’s not my child who demands this ridiculous level of overachieving, it’s me but he will be the one who suffers. For a while there was a very real danger that Alfie was growing up with the impression that his needs should always take priority in a relationship and that even minor decisions require researching a list of possible outcomes.
He was also growing up with a mother who experienced anxiety, self-doubt, low self-esteem and loneliness every day. And he would grow up knowing that it was his fault. None of that is ok.
Something had to change so here’s what I’ve been doing to be a present parent and a sane parent and just a person who lives in the world without feeling like they’re doing everything wrong!
There are now certain times of the day when I give Alfie my full, undivided attention. I do this in two ways, I focus on exactly what we’re doing right now and I remove my phone from the room so I can’t message, google or photograph his every minor achievement. This has given me so much freedom and enjoyment. I had no idea what a needy, bothersome cretin my phone was.
Without my phone I feel far more present, whenever I have a parenting query it comes and goes as opposed to being googled into oblivion and that has MASSIVELY reduced my parental anxiety. As an added bonus I do not miss the demands of the world’s most prolific WhatsApp chat either!
2. Show them your hobbies
For the last two afternoons I’ve brought my book into Alfie’s play room and settled into a corner and had a little read (extra points added as it’s a fiction book and NOT a parenting book!) When he crawls over to demand attention I offer him the briefest reply and tell him I’ll be right there once I’ve finished.
Typing this I feel like the worst parent in the world, yes I just admitted to virtually ignoring my child BUT what I’m teaching him is that I have interests outside of him and that sometimes they will take priority. It also teaches him patience and trust – he can trust that I will always do what I say I’m going to. (Nerd bonus; he’s also learning that reading is something everyone does in this house)
3. Stop Being A Parent
Ok so this isn’t strictly possible but what I mean is, stop parenting your child when they’re asleep/with their Dad/happy on their own. I’m so bad at falling down rabbit holes on the internet and since having Alfie these are often parenting link-trains.
Alfie goes to bed then hundreds of links, dozens of tangents and several hours later I go to bed, having failed to improve my parenting skills a single bit but succeeded in mentally exhausting myself and undermining all the joy there is to be found in parenting.
I think these small changes have actually increased my ability to be a present parent while allowing me some headspace to be a human being. I think they also provide Alfie with some valuable lessons. I feel about 500 times calmer and (in line with my new ethos) I’m not overthinking why!
I’ve written about Mom Burnout before, in that post I focused on the admin/practical side of Motherhood. I’m still doing everything I suggested there and am finding it so helpful, hopefully these small changes will help to tackle the negative stream of consciousness.