Before we have children, our ideas about what it will be like and the reality don’t always match up. Many of us are starry-eyed and, let’s face it, a little naive, about kids and marriage when we’re starting out, and we invent “ideals” about what it means to be a good parent.
Sometimes we make decisions before we even give birth, claiming that our children won’t watch TV, or have sugar, or ever step foot in a McDonalds.
Before I had kids I said I would never let my kids play video games. Yeah, right!
Some of these are good ideas, and you might stick to them. But others can cause more harm than good. I got a letter the other day that really showed me how, sometimes, we hang on to these ideals even when they are hurting our family. This mother started her letter by telling me she was against any sort of cry-it-out method for sleep training. She had deemed that this was just wrong. But she went on to write three very desperate paragraphs about how her two-year-old daughter would not go to sleep at bedtime and woke up about five times a night, needing to be rocked back to sleep.
She told me that she was so tired and frustrated that she was going through the day feeling angry with everyone around her, even her daughter.
She said that she often yelled and cursed, and on occasion, she even felt herself getting a bit rough with her child.
She hadn’t slept in her own bed for twenty-two months, and (no surprise) her marriage was suffering.
My heart broke for this woman. Not because I felt sorry for her, but rather because she was so committed to this notion that her child “crying it out” was bad, even though that was the only way to fix the situation.
By hanging on so tightly to this ideal, she was actually hurting herself and her family.
Sadly, she couldn’t see that by NOT sleep training her child, her exhaustion and frustration were hurting the ones she loved the most. Which means she wasn’t parenting very well, in my opinion.
Sometimes, being a good parent means doing the hard thing; the thing that hurts you because you don’t want your child to suffer, even for a few minutes. But would you let your child eat only chips and candy because you don’t want her to be sad that she has to eat her broccoli? Would you let her run out on the road because you don’t want to limit her freedom? No. Your job is to teach her to eat well, to teach her to stay away from traffic, and to sleep well, too.
I urge you to look at your own ideals and genuinely think about whether they need to be changed or loosened up. Parenting is a thousand times harder than we could have imagined before we had kids, so sometimes we need to shed some of those philosophies and standards we had for ourselves and our children, and look at the health of the entire family.