It probably isn't an exaggeration to say I'm a bit of an honesty fanatic. Having said that I cannot remember a single time when a deception - mine or anyone else's - didn't feel wrong and cause a problem, or a time when the truth didn't move things on.
Lots of you will know that Not a Perfect Parent was started in memory of my own Mum, who for all sorts of reasons struggled around her parenting journey and mental health and who didn't have a lot of people validating that struggle. In fact for much of my childhood it was an elephant in the room which I think she must have very much felt the weight of.
I believe that using our voices to connect instead of judge each other can disappear that elephant or at least make it a lot lighter and so NAPP was born.
The truth, unwanted as it may be, is always there whether we say it or not. My experience is that if there is anything to heal, it always starts with acceptance.
The thing is, it's not always easy. There seem to be lots of reasons as a parent NOT to say you are struggling with sleep or food or toilet training, NOT to say you're not enjoying the terrible twos or the teenage years. The exception is if you say it in a very light-hearted eye-rolling way like you're sailing along merrily when actually it feels like you're drowning.
All relationships we will ever have - especially life-long ones - are going to come with some ups and downs. When it comes to our children we can find it very hard to verbalise our challenges because it feels like we're failing or like we shouldn't find it difficult so we must be doing something wrong. Often we only feel comfortable to talk about tough times once they're behind us, which means we still never really give ourselves permission to seek support when we need it.
The truth can be uncomfortable in the moment but that is usually a growing pain.
It takes courage to be honest. We all know the feeling when someone cautiously opens up and everyone breathes a sigh of relief and says 'me too!' or 'I've been there', which is also a great reminder that feelings change and the storm will pass.
I am lucky enough to host the Not a Perfect Parent podcast and I have learned so much from every single conversation. It's worth saying that the greatest lessons have always come from my guest's willingness to share their challenges and pain. From that place of honesty we can celebrate ourselves and each other in a real way for the amazing journey we are all on instead of buying in to expectations that we should just be able to do it all at 100 miles an hour for 18 years and anything else is a failure.
Whether you say it or not the truth is there and nine times out of ten it's shared.
It's fear that holds us back from telling it - but fear of what?
Judgement is a biggie. A lot of us don't feel comfortable saying our kids are driving us mad through the holidays or we're overwhelmed with the juggle in fear that someone will think less of us, or maybe we shy away from drawing a boundary in case someone thinks we are a helicopter parent.
With that premise it becomes truly impossible to say things that feel deeper and sharper - I'm not connected with my baby, I'm not enjoying being a parent - but we know that parents do feel these things and that silence doesn't help. No part of me is offended that my mum felt those things but I do feel sad that she wasn't always able to be honest and so didn't find a safe place to explore them.
The truth is usually kind of messy and not everyone is ready for that. When you do come across judgement it's usually down to the other persons insecurity or fear - we all have it. It can be useful to remember what you are responsible for (owning your emotions and expressing yourself calmly and kindly) and what you are not responsible for (other people's emotions afterwards or how they receive you).
Judgement goes hand in hand with competition which I won't harp on about but which can be rife in parenthood.
I suggest - opt out. You will always find someone who appears to be doing 'better' or 'worse' than you but those comparisons are meaningless. Us and our children are all going to get further along the road if we look out for one another instead of getting our self-worth from watching someone else trip up.
Can you take the pressure off?
Holding ourselves up to impossible standards can end up meaning that we just lie to meet them, whether it's to ourselves or to other people, because we are afraid of what it will mean when we admit what we are thinking and feeling. This goes nowhere and you don't need that pressure on top of what you are already feeling.
If you aren't sure how you are feeling or how to get it out, a really nice exercise is to do some free-writing. Let the flood gates open through your pen and go to town. Don't filter it or worry about what someone else would think of it. Allow yourself your feelings whatever they are and get them on the page.
Suppressing things we don't think we 'should' feel for whatever reason takes massive amounts of energy. Once we lift the lid the magic is that sometimes some of those emotions dissipate on their own and if not, the next steps usually seem a lot clearer. *If you are not a writer try a voice note rant (technical term obviously...)
Remember that feelings are just feelings - you are not them.
Feelings change. They are in motion and if allowed to move through us, they eventually will. By accepting them and verbalising them we create the space to release them or allow them to change into the lesson they are going to leave us with.
There is no judgement on a thought or an emotion, we didn't choose them. We can find it's better to hold them lightly, especially when they are painful. By pushing them down and resisting the fact that they are here we end up keeping them, as well as creating another force of frustration and resistance.
They also don't define you. You might think something ugly one day, maybe you even act on it and say or do something you didn't mean - it doesn't then become who you are. It also becomes a lot more likely that we will eventually release pressure in a negative way when we have a lot of strong emotions and nowhere for them to go.
Find your safe space, find your people
What would happen if we expected imperfection? If we really understood and accepted that we sometimes behave in ways that we wouldn't choose and we knew the people around us would love us anyway? What if we knew we would love ourselves through it too so we were all honest about it?
In that space judgement becomes null and void and we can open to being much more solution focused. Why did I fly off the handle? Why am I feeling disconnected? What needs to change in my environment or my beliefs so I'm not so overwhelmed?
We can start to involve other people in that conversation too and look at what everyone needs instead of using that moment as another stick to beat ourselves with.
There is freedom in saying we failed as a parent if that's how you feel today because of the warmth that comes when you realise you're not alone.
It's easy to feel like we're failing, there are so many unrealistic messages out there about how it all 'should' be and I challenge you to find one parent who has never experienced that emotion.
The truth is that our children and our experiences with them are as unique as we are, one size fits all just doesn't work and that means comparison doesn't ever lead to anything useful. Honestly? When you are sat in tears on that really tricky day there is probably someone out there comparing themselves to you and feeling inadequate, we only have a tiny window on each other's worlds.
Also, what is failing? Making mistakes? We all do and we all will, forever. We 'fail', and we learn, and we start again. It is much less painful if we do it kindly.
If we can be brave enough to be honest we can forgo comparison for connection, for support and for learning from each other.
The bad days don't seem so bad with company and the good days are even better when there are people on your team. If your team don't make you feel good they are not your team.
Start by listening to yourself.
Your feelings are never wrong to have and you won't be the first person to have them, but they might be a message that you need some support or you need something to change.
You never have to be silent. Find your safe space whether that is with yourself in journaling, friends, family, a wellbeing professional or here with us at Not a Perfect Parent.
EFT is an incredible practical tool to manage difficult times and meet those difficult emotions gently and with kindness. Get in touch if you would like to book a free call to talk through how it can help you.
You are doing an amazing job.
If it doesn't feel that way, better times are coming.
With a title like that I feel the need to first say how much I love my children, which goes to show why I'm writing this in the first place.
It seems somehow radical to say that you don't live and breathe your little ones and I might think carefully about who I was talking to before I brought it up in conversation. But why?
I want to say that this often applies mainly to mothers (Dads please weigh in if I'm wrong...!) I'm not sure that as many people would bat an eyelid about Dad being away from baby for a night or two as they would Mum. I've never heard a Mum looking after children referred to as babysitting but I've heard it several times when it comes to Dads. I absolutely accept that Dads have their own challenges - dad and toddler groups anyone? - but it feels like there's a bit more freedom there when it comes to permission for time and space away from being a parent.
Before I had kids I spent a lot of time travelling, I sometimes got kicked out of pubs at closing. I liked learning, experimenting with cooking, reading for pleasure, being with my husband and my friends...
Guess what? I still do (ok, less of the pubs but that was probably on the way out anyway...)
For me, it's a pie chart. I don't know why, the only thing that stuck from some long forgotten maths lesson probably. For you it might be a box full of things or an actual pie, it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that it's a representation of how much energy we have to allocate to each of our roles, activities and relationships. It's how much time, how much of ourselves, how much space in our life we can give each thing - because we all have limits on all of those.
We're bound to have some conflicts and how big the pieces are for each section aren't fixed. Work might need more of us one week and family the next, it's fluid. But say we're at capacity with everything and then we get ill. That might mean there's not enough pie to go around and... bump. You're in overwhelm.
So, to avoid it we try to have some balance in how we allocate the sections of our pie. The big question is - how much do you get?
This isn't easy for everyone. Because of our responsibilities, circumstances or our living situation there will be times when we struggle to peel off a sliver for ourselves.
But do we notice that or did we never really feel deserving of a piece anyway? One way to find out is to imagine that you have a surplus of everything. In these good times how much do you allocate to yourself?
Even if you can only manage a couple of minutes every once in a while to do something that is just about you, it's more about your attitude and belief that you matter too. That having children (or partners, pets, friends etc...) doesn't mean that there is no part of your life that belongs to you anymore.
Check in with what might be underneath the need to always be giving.
If taking a piece of your own pie is shocking or even just uncomfortable there's probably a belief there that could be gently challenged.
As a parent, a good place to start is what we believe parenthood 'should' look like, because the pressure we feel from that can be worse than anything external. (Happy side note, if you're feeling the outside pressure and you work through your beliefs, external judgements might just seem to subside...).
Looking at our beliefs and behaviours can sometimes be tricky and confronting but it's worth being honest with yourself because that's where change happens. There is sometimes (gasp!) a bit of a martyr in us that needs to feel needed or maybe we learned somewhere that it makes us 'good people' to keep giving until we explode from being empty.
I have some experience of what this looks like. Not only did my Mum not feel completely fulfilled by making our family her whole life, she expected herself to and felt she was somehow a failure because she didn't. What a burden. Cue feelings of being trapped and resentment towards the children because all of us project emotion.
And guess who ended up with lots of unrealistic expectations of herself when she became a mum too? Yep, that's me.
The great news is, anything can change. It's all cause and effect, and often the key is finding the cause.
It's also worth asking ourselves if we expect other people to be responsible for filling our cup and keeping us balanced, or whether we really accept that it's up to us. If we want other people to do it and they don't meet our expectations or respond to our coded messages, we can end up angry and disappointed when we could have reached for what we needed ourselves.
There is no judgement (ever, these are always strategies that we have learned to meet our needs) just a message that there might be something there to work on if we want to feel differently.
Being a mother is a huge piece of my pie, and so it should be.
My children deserve to feel loved and supported and they really are astonishing little humans I am grateful for every day. I don't see looking after myself as a conflict with their needs but actually a priority because it serves all of us.
Ultimately, I want them to become adults who feel empowered to put boundaries in for themselves, who value their emotions, respect themselves and feel able to be clear about what they need. I would like them to connect with their bodies and their minds and to trust them. I want them to prioritise time and space to keep themselves in balance and not have to rely on other people to make them feel good.
But how can I teach them their needs matter if they don't see me honour my own?
In making them my everything, I might end up doing us all a disservice.
- If I rely on them for meaning and fulfilment in life, I'm inadvertently putting a pressure on them that they can never meet and teaching them that they should be carrying emotions that don't belong to them.
- If looking after them is my whole world, how will I let them go and encourage them to end up where their road takes them? They don't belong to me and if I think I already know where they're going, I won't allow them to surprise me or themselves.
More than anything if I don't connect with myself and take care of my own physical and emotional health I can't hold space for them the way I want to. I won't be able to be calm and giving because I'll be empty and - contrary to popular myth - mums are not superhuman. It's a recipe for burnout.
My kids have made my world bigger, brighter and more beautiful.
But if they are the only things in it, it won't feel enough for me or for them.
So maybe have a think about your pie and how big your slice is. How would it feel to take more? Do you think you would encourage a friend to if their pie looked like yours?
And actually, what would taking more look like?
It's a nice exercise to make a list of things you love doing / places you love to go / things that give you joy to create. They don't have to be big and time-consuming (although they can be!) It can really make a difference to bring in very small but consistent moments that are about looking after you or indulging yourself somehow.
I know it can feel hard, especially when it seems like there's not much pie to start with. Something I've learned though, is that often those are the times when consciously giving myself a better portion would help everyone.
I work with parents to improve balance, alleviate pressure and work through the beliefs that are getting in the way of where they would like to be. Book a discovery call below or get in touch.
"There is no way to be a perfect mother
You might not agree with me here, that's okay. With something as personal and as vulnerable as having our children and working out the best way to guide them through the world, we will come across different opinions and I respect yours, whatever it is.
I'm cheating here a bit too. There are actually a whole host of reasons why I've thrown out the motherhood job description - not least my own mum's battles with it - but those are other stories.
What is the fairytale?
That you sail through a beautiful pregnancy glowing like you're spotlit and find yourself with a bouncing baby at the end of it who latches effortlessly, sleeps like an angel and grows into a toddler and a teenager who does everything you ask and who you always have an easy relationship with (unlike every other important relationship in life).
Well, my children are adopted so my version of motherhood was already a plot twist. But also - really? it's the equivalent of a Disney princess and her guy walking off into the sunset as if that's the end of the story and not the beginning.
Learning is messy and hard sometimes and all parenthood is learning. If we don't acknowledge it we're going to have trouble coping with the tricky lessons we didn't expect.
I grew up in a household where there were a lot of elephants in rooms, a lot of burying unwelcome truths and a lot of expectations for everyone to live up to about what a 'good' family was. Now I'm allergic to any of those things because I know it takes more time and more work to try to hide a mess than to see it and clean it up.
What harm can a fairytale do?
The harm comes when the fairytale is never acknowledged as a lie or at least a very filtered version of the truth.
If I'm aiming for seamlessly making all the right choices or expecting my child to behave exactly as I want them to I'm going to mark every other moment as a failure; but if I already understand there are a lot of potential bumps in this road and that I will never finish learning and become a perfect super-parent, I can appreciate myself for everything I have achieved instead. It's a relief.
Where I differ from people who subscribe to the fairytale is that they think that the tricky moments aren't pretty and they ruin the story. I think that they are all parts of the complicated, individual magic that makes up a life and without owning yours, you're just reaching for an impossible goal. There's also no real progress without honesty so breezing over everything might feel more comfortable in the moment but doesn't always help make change.
In practice, what trying to live up to the fairytale means is that you're under pressure. You might not tell anyone about the time you lost your temper and it will eat away at you or you won't seek help for struggling to connect with your child and it will become a vicious cycle. If you create a 'perfect' narrative for everyone to be a character in, you are less likely to acknowledge the naturally occurring cracks that are there for us all and this is a great way of making sure they turn in into canyons over time. You also run the risk of feeling angry with your child when they don't fit into the mould you created for them before they arrived.
For me the power in our fears and anxieties comes from feeling alone in them. They're like the monsters under the bed when you were a kid - huge and looming but when you turn on the light you find there's nothing to see. None of us are perfect, none of us live the fairytale all the time. If we know that, we can enjoy it when we do without feeling not good enough when it's something else for a while.
All that worry, all that shame never spoken and the simple truth is that sometimes a good mate saying 'I completely get it' over a cuppa can be all you need to hear to start again. You've also just given that friend permission not to be flawless too.
If not the fairytale, then what?
Let's face it, it's fantasy. One story for everyone always is. It's also very one dimensional.
Where are the stories of mothers who didn't enjoy pregnancy or had difficult births? Who struggle to bond with their children or are raising children they didn't give birth to? Where are the stories of mothers dealing with their children's disabilities or challenging behaviours, raising their families alone or finding motherhood different to what they imagined for millions of reasons? It feels like we can learn more from allowing the stories we hear to be as real and as different as our experiences.
If that feels like bursting a bubble it's not meant to. There's more, rather than less, freedom and real happiness in that outlook for me because there is acceptance in it too.
- I can call a bad morning a bad morning and I don't have to feel resistant or disappointed about it because they come and go. No pressure.
- I can seek help when I need to because I know I'll never be perfect and there will always be more to learn.
- I can make being a mother fit me rather than trying to shoehorn myself into a cookie cutter mould. I believe that was something my own mum never really felt and I know which I would rather.
If you fit neatly into the fairytale I'm genuinely happy for you. Personally, I can't say that I would describe either my childhood or my motherhood that way and at the beginning it made me feel like an anomaly. Now I know I'm not.
Not only were we all different before we had children so we're not the same now, we all have a different version of where we want to be as mothers.
To get there we need to stop plastering one version of a story onto everyone and let mothers write their own. The stories we all write would be better, brighter and much more useful to each other without all the noise of what someone else says happy ever after should look like.
There is no need for something to be perfect for it to be beautiful.
I work with parents to let go of the fairytale and create stories they are proud of. If you are struggling with expectations, relationships with your children or your identity as a parent, book a free consultation to find out how.
I'm Jess, EFT Practitioner & mindfulness teacher, adoptive mum to two adorable little fireworks and a passionate advocate of the idea that change really is possible, no matter how far away it feels.