Is there really such a thing as the perfect parent?
It seems like the answer to that question is a resounding NO.
We all have things that come more naturally to us than others, and things we struggle with for whatever reason. There’s no parenting guidebook -- at least, not an official one! -- there are no magic spells; a lot of it comes down to trial and error and figuring out what works best for your family and your kids.
But we can always strive to be better.
At least, that’s what I try to do. As the author of this story, I have no official background working with children -- I just have two of my own, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. I’m in no way a perfect parent, but I do get told fairly regularly that I’m confident and I strike the proper balance of authoritative yet loving and understanding. So I thought I’d share some tips I’ve gathered over the past few years. Take these with a grain of salt and know that I’m heavily influenced by authors Dr. Jenn Mann and Harvey Karp. You might know Mann from her VH1 shows (unrelated to parenting), her old Sirius XM radio show or her parenting books. “SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years” is a personal favorite. Karp is best known for “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and those five Ss we use to soothe our infants: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking.
But let’s get back to that confidence thing.
Here’s how to do it:
Build yourself up.
Tell yourself, time and time again if you need to, that you’re the one in charge -- not your child.
This goes for babies, too. Too often, I’ll hear people say things like, “Oh, he won’t nap in his car seat. We can’t run errands in the mornings."
Don’t get me wrong, if you have time to wait around on your kid to take a true crib nap, then sure, by all means, do it. But if you have older children, a job or other commitments, throw that baby in the car and he’ll learn to take car seat naps eventually. Who calls the shots here, you or him?
Believe in yourself. Stay consistent. You got this.
Make a decision and commit to your newfound confidence.
At some point, it’s just going to come down to, will you do it or won’t you? I say commit and never look back.
But remember, being confident doesn’t mean you have to pretend to have all the answers.
Random people at the grocery store or well-intentioned relatives are often asking, “Why’s the baby cranky? Is your toddler overtired? Is so-and-so teething? Ohhh, did your daughter just get thrown off schedule?"
I don’t know why other adults need a reason or justification, as if that matters anyway, but just know that it’s perfectly fine to throw your hands up, smile and say, “Kind of an off day for us, huh? Have to hope tomorrow’s better!”
Being confident isn’t about knowing all the answers. It's about remaining calm.
Don’t get rattled by your off-days, or your kids’ off-days. Don't respond to every fit matching your kid's intensity. Sometimes you just have to be all, "Should we dance instead?"
We all get irritated, and sometimes, parenting is just plain rough. But I also believe we are what we project. If your normal state is all about shrugging little things off and choosing your battles wisely, that's probably a good baseline.
And it shows your kids that you’re unfazed by a cranky day or when dinner time gets thrown on its head.
Just remember: You are capable.
This isn’t middle school anymore. You’re a parent now. You can’t just flounder and not make decisions. So when your friends ask, “Are you going to vaccinate?,” don’t just throw your hands up or shrug. These are your kids’ lives we’re talking about! Start Googling things. Ask around. Talk to your people. Find experts you can trust and listen to them. Again: No matter what your decisions are, just know that they’re your decisions -- and once they’re made, you need to stick with those and feel good about them.
Don’t let your kids see you crack.
Again, this isn’t to say you can’t have a bad day or snap every now and again. We all do it.
But again, as a baseline, practice staying calm for your kids. Believe in the power of your breath. (Meaning, when stuff hits the fan, take five deep breaths before reacting).
This can be easier said than done, but I think children feel secure in their role as the kids and with us as the parents when we typically stay even-keeled and balanced.
I will say, I let my (monster) toddler see me crack semi-recently, almost as a tactic, and it was pretty effective. It’s important for them to see us as humans, too. It helped in that moment; I just wouldn’t recommend making it a regular thing. Even in the face of chaos, it’s important to stay collected.
Let’s say your kids are melting down and you’re trying to load the car and leave the grandparents’ house. Think one step at a time. Take a deep breath. Enlist help, if you have it on hand. Pack up your things, put whoever needs to get in the car, in the car, first, hand over some sippie cups and know that this too will pass. Now put on your favorite podcast and zone out.
Learn to laugh things off.
Cannot overstate this one enough!
My daughter was crying the other day because she was hungry but she didn't feel like swallowing her food. Let that sink in for a minute.
I'm not going to laugh in her face about this, that's condescending; but you can't get worked up every time she does. At some point, you just have to be like, "You'll figure it out," and giggle to yourself when you leave the room.
Also, not to give you a lame sports analogy -- after all, I’m not a high school football coach -- but you’re the quarterback here. When it comes to parenting, think about five steps ahead. And if you get sacked, shake it off and keep going. Your resilience matters.
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Listen to other people (if you want to), but just remember that all advice was not created equal. Not all toys “work” for all kids. What was effective in your friend’s household might not jibe with what you and your partner have in place. All kids develop differently, even ones who are perfectly on track, healthy and thriving. Which leads me to my next point …
Comparing your kids to each other, if you have more than one, is not a good practice. Comparing your kids to your friend’s children isn’t much better. That doesn’t make for a confident parent if you’re questioning everything all the time.
And don’t fall into those gender traps: “People always say boys are more physical while girls learn to talk faster!” I mean, sure, there might be some truth to those old adages, but don’t get hung up on this stuff. If you really think your child might be behind on her milestones, talk to your doctor. Don’t fixate on what boys “should” be doing, or what girls “should” be doing. Babies can be so different.
Accept that you can certainly be a more confident parent, but you’ll slip up, too.
I’m constantly revisiting situations and meltdowns in my head, wondering what I could have done differently or better for next time. It’s normal to question ourselves as parents and make mistakes from time to time. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not a sign of a bad parent to slip up -- the fact that you’re thinking about it after the fact means that you care.
We’re new at this too! And it is NOT an easy job.
I’ll leave you with this: There are no silly questions: Google whatever you’re wondering, but remember, it’s just a jumping-off point, not the be-all, end-all. Ask around -- specifically, your doctor or an expert, if it’s a serious question. But have faith in yourself, too, within reason.
And remember that your kids are people, too -- imperfect little people, just like us. My daughter, for example, loses her comfort item all over the house, all day long. It can get pretty maddening. But you know what? I lose my glasses 12 times a day too, so if anything, it’s a relatable problem.
If your kids don’t want to eat the dinner you prepared, ask yourself: Are you eating it, too? Is it even good? Why do we make babies eat rice cereal -- that stuff looks like paste.
If it’s hot out and you’re annoyed, your children might be, too. The point here is, give them a break.
Being confident is all about believing in yourself. It’s not about having the right response, reaction or solution every time. You want to aim to be authoritative in a way that’s true to your personality. You can be calm and quiet, yet very much in control. Authoritative doesn’t have to mean loud or overbearing.
My kids know I’m in charge, without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t ask my daughter whether she wants to brush her teeth, I tell her when it’s time to brush her teeth. I don’t say, “Would it be OK if I left now?” at preschool drop-off. I set the example -- so we blow three kisses no matter what and say, “see you at 3!”
Our house is nothing like the von Trapp house before Fräulein Maria showed up (unless those kids danced to Kendrick Lamar in the mornings), but when it comes to who’s in charge, my kids definitely know where to turn.
So, what did I leave off? Any advice you could share with others in the comments below?