The end of the summer holidays may bring a mixture of feelings to parents:
- Exhaustion from juggling childcare with work or with being available 24/7
- Delight that the holidays are nearly over
- Guilt about wanting some time to themselves
- Sadness about the passing of time and that the new school term marks a new stage of life
- Excitement about the fresh start
- Disappointment that they have been unable to provide their child with the holiday they planned or hoped for
- Regret for the times they have been impatient or lost their temper
- Anxiety about what still needs to be done or afforded before school re-starts
How can parents manage these varying emotions and be kind to themselves?
It can be very helpful to gain a sense of perspective, particularly if you’re someone who tends to be self-critical. If you’re someone who is feeling regret that the holidays have not turned out as planned, are feeling stressed with a to do list, or that perhaps the children are growing up too quickly, it may be helpful to remember that:
- No-One is Perfect
It’s very easy to compare ourselves with idealized images of the perfect family holiday. In fact, parents aren’t perfect and neither are children. Family life is messy. There are going to be times when things are difficult. None of us get it right all of the time.
We can feel regretful when we have high expectations of ourselves that are difficult to fulfil. It is helpful to ask ourselves if our expectations are realistic. Are we thinking in absolutes, in black and white terms? Do we tell ourselves things like: “Good parents never shout at their children”. Is that really true? What would be a kinder way to consider things?
A really useful piece of parenting advice is to remember that if you had the ability to go back in time and do it all again, you’d probably just make a different set of mistakes.
- We’re Primed to Notice Danger
Primal survival instincts mean that people look for danger. In the modern world this means they tend to focus on their failures, not their successes. They look at the worst case scenarios. They minimise what they do well and exaggerate the impact of their mistakes. Negative comparison can be used as a safety mechanism: a misguided attempt to improve. In fact it usually just leads to a negative self-image which can cause stress and impatience, leading to the very behaviour people want to avoid.
One way to counteract this is to find people who are willing to admit their mistakes. It can be very healing to have a friend or friends who are able to share that they find life difficult too.
- Parenting Advice may be Unhelpful
Modern life is complex. Our parents’ generation were sent outside to play and told not to return until teatime. There was more freedom and fewer indoor activities. Parents did not expect themselves to be available to their children all day.
The onset of the computer age has brought new challenges and this generation of parents is having to navigate child rearing with no real evidence base about what is best for the child.
If we tend towards perfectionism and self-criticism it can be very difficult to read or listen to advice. When we read, watch or hear something about parenting it can activate our brain’s threat instinct. We compare ourselves with the ideal (for example, a diktat on children’s screen time), imagine everyone else is following the advice, and feel afraid that our children will suffer because we are not.
We decide, from a place of fear, that it is time to change the routine. We arbitrarily set a new standard and expect the children to comply with little or no discussion or warning. This causes conflict. Such conflict threatens our fragile sense of parenting esteem and we retreat into self-pity, blame, and inertia.
It may be more helpful to acknowledge that parenting is difficult. It is not easy to know what is best for our children. However, we may want to make a decision as to what values we want to teach them and work out ways to move towards that goal.
Such values are what we ourselves hold dear. They are not dictated to us by “experts”. They are what we ourselves find fulfilling and would like to share with our children. Examples may include:
- Looking after more vulnerable members of society than ourselves
- Caring for the environment
- The importance of family, community, or faith group
- The joy of learning
- The value of artistic expression
- The outdoors
- Problem solving
What the values are, is less important than the joy of sharing what we appreciate about life with our children. It mitigates against uncertainty and fear when we acknowledge what brings us meaning.
If we have an awareness of where we want to go - our destination - it is then possible to work out ways to get there. It gives a focus to our parenting that will not be affected by the latest fad or fashion, by the latest “expert”, because it comes from within ourselves.
- Back to School Adverts can be Ignored
This can be a very expensive time of year for parents. In the last week of the holidays there is a special type of hell called shoe shops. However, within a few weeks of the new school term starting, tumbleweed blows through the children’s department and it is possible to be served quickly.
How vital is it for the children to be in brand new clothes and shoes at the beginning of term? Can old shoes be polished and last term’s clothes freshened up with an iron, just to keep them going for a few extra weeks?
If your child is starting secondary school, the kit list can be long and expensive. See if you can find a parent who already has a child at that school and check with them what is really necessary.
Be kind to yourself and let go of the expectation that your children need to have new things at the start of term. Small children will not notice and will probably be as eager as you to avoid a stressful shopping trip in the last week of the holidays.
- Parenthood Means Letting Go
As new parents, each tiny aspect of growth is something we celebrate – the first smile, the first tooth, the first step. We rejoice at our children’s growing independence but each new stage can be a reminder of our eventual redundancy and also our own aging process.
It is not unusual to feel sad that children are growing up. Change brings old certainties to a close and we can be left wondering what our new role in our children’s lives will be. I wrote another blog recently on ways to cope with our children growing up and you can access it here: https://thegoodenoughmum.com/five-ways-to-cope-with-your-children-growing-up
It helps to celebrate and utilise our new found freedom in ways that help us to re-establish ourselves as independent of our children. Examples are:
- using money freed from childminding fees to pamper ourselves
- using a precious free morning to do something we love doing
- starting a new job or new business
- or perhaps returning to education
Sometimes the sadness may be related to a deeper grief: possibly the loss of someone we loved. It may be very difficult to let go of a child if they represent one of the only stable relationships in our lives. The sadness here is a message that there is a deep wound that needs loving care and attention.
Alternatively the sadness may be a type of grief for our own childhood. Perhaps we experienced critical or neglectful parenting that has left us longing for love and stability? Perhaps we have created for our own children what we lacked ourselves and are loath to let it go? Or perhaps that criticism has morphed into an inner critic that tells us we have recreated in our children the hurt that we experienced? This can be a very difficult place to be. The strands of our own childhood need to be untangled from our perceptions of our own parenting.
When sadness is deep and pervading, it can be really helpful to address it with a counsellor. Familiar thoughts are easy for our brains to think and it can be difficult to find a different perspective. Counselling helps by providing an alternative, and often kinder, perspective. Perhaps, with a little more free time available, now is the time to address the loss in therapy?
Endings also imply new beginnings. Early autumn can be a time to create a new start for our parenting and for our children. As a counsellor, I help people to examine their thought processes and to make changes to help them to feel happier and more fulfilled. If you’d like some help in finding a new perspective then please let me know.
If you'd like to see the video I produced on this please click on the link: https://youtu.be/lt5Ari0FGlA