Thursday, September 27, 2018
Banishing the Inner Critic
As human beings, we are blessed (and sometimes cursed) with self-consciousness. By that, I mean that, as parents, we are often aware of how our well-intended actions sometimes have negative repercussions, and we sometimes become over-critical of ourselves. The danger lies in blaming ourselves for not doing enough or for unintended consequences that were impossible to foresee, and in playing that old "If Only..." game. "If only I had done/said/tried this instead of that..." For some of us, a little voice I call the Inner Critic takes up residence in our heads, ensuring that we're always second-guessing ourselves.
I know the Inner Critic all too well. I suspect many parents do. When the media quotes studies, the educational system sends "helpful" websites, friends make recommendations, or grandparents offer input, these things can play into the Inner Critic's game of frequently reminding us that our parenting seems less than adequate in comparison to the parents who do everything right (and who are those people, anyway? They can't possibly exist!)
Just think for a minute about that dreaded phrase, "Studies have shown..." which ends any number of ways: Studies have shown that parents should feed their children more unprocessed foods, limit their screen time, send them to play outdoors two hours a day, teach them meditation, quiz them on their math facts at every opportunity, enroll them in at least three extra-curricular activities, read to them daily, set up play dates with school friends a few times a week, ensure that they have regular contact with grandparents, teach them to cook, and the list goes on ad infinitum...
It all means that we as parents often feel a level of societal pressure -- and guilt -- and second-guess ourselves more often than necessary. Which, ultimately, isn't helpful. To put it simply, there are not enough hours in a day to do all the things that our Inner Critic -- bolstered by those studies, suggestions, recommendations and websites -- says we should be doing for our kids. Never mind the fact that our kids learn a lot more without us constantly running their lives! (Boredom can lead to unexpected creativity, which is often a good thing, at least in my kids' case.)
I have to hand it to my mom, who told me something like this when my babies were small, "Maria, you're doing your best. You love your kids, but you have to enjoy life, too, or everyone will be miserable. So keep doing your best and don't worry about the rest. The kids will be the people they are meant to be. You're their mom for good reason. Trust that."
Thanks, Mom, you gave good advice. But I'm afraid I didn't really trust myself and take all of Mom's words to heart. Missed the last bit about trust, and "don't worry about the rest." So a year ago, just before my youngest turned 18, I found myself in a professional counselor's office, face to face with my parental guilt. It took me three sessions to become aware of and banish my Inner Critic, using some of the same words that my mom gave me: "I've done the very best I could for my kids with the time and energy I had. My kids are wonderful, and they are who they are meant to be, for reasons well beyond my control, thank goodness. I can't listen to unsolicited opinions from my Inner Critic any more. GO AWAY!"
Whew! Freedom! It was like a huge weight was lifted off me.
Of course, Inner Critic tries to come back regularly from her place on the sidelines (most recently, with this morning's radio report about screen time diminishing kids' intelligence and focus, which made me second-guess myself yet again, "Did I let them watch too much CBC for Kids when they were small?") Oh, puh-lease, that's in the past. Get lost, Inner Critic!
Unfortunately, I've noticed her Inner Critic pals lurking around the mom-friends I've seen in these last few weeks, the ones who are struggling with parental guilt, so I tried to pass along my mom's wise words, plus a few of my own:
"You are doing the best you can with what you've been given. You are the best mom for your kids, chosen for them for good reason, and they will be who they are meant to be. Trust that, and tell your Inner Critic to take a hike."
I just hope my friends were able to hear me, and can banish their own Inner Critics or, at least, keep them on the sidelines most of the time.
It's an important part of being a healthy parent.