We are currently in the throes of the High Holidays, the time of year set aside for self-introspection and a return to self and G-d. In doing my own preparations for the holidays, I was struck by the challenge of forgiving myself for the things I wished I had not done, and the things I wish I had, so that I could move forward in meaningfully changing my actions. I am not alone.
As a coach, I encounter people plagued by feelings of guilt and ineptitude in many aspects of their lives. They are stuck in the feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and even despair when it comes to making changes in their lives. How can I do it? they wonder. It isn’t going to work out. I’m not going to be able to make it stick. I’m just going to do the same thing again. I won’t have the courage to make the next move.
There is no bigger space that induces that kind of guilt and hopelessness than parenting. The stakes are so high. We love our kids so deeply. And so, we are quick to point out our failures as parents. We don’t give them enough opportunities. We yell at them when we shouldn’t have. We are too strict. We aren’t strict enough. It’s our fault they are struggling. We don’t play with them enough. We don’t prioritize them enough.
The problem with viewing ourselves this way is that when we try to get out of our stuck place, we are unmotivated because our self-image is so dreary. Coming from a space of failure and disappointment in ourselves, we don’t have the energy or positive perspective that allows us to address each challenge with optimism. Instead, we keep trying the same strategy that led us to frustration and failure in the first place, and we lack a creative way of allowing us to climb out of our negativity.
The key to creating new perspectives starts with making an honest assessment of ourselves. Honesty here does not mean focusing exclusively on the negative things. Rather, honesty means acknowledging those things we want to change while also having an awareness of what makes us great.
As parents, we understand that seeing each of our children as unique, fundamentally capable, and talented gives them a window into seeing themselves that way. At the same time, we have a difficult time acknowledging and appreciating that we also are uniquely capable and talented (even in the spaces that are hard for us).
The ironic result of this resistance is that we actually compromise our ability to see the greatness in our kids. Sure, we will be able to mentally tally their talents; but we will also find ourselves pointing out their failures and focusing on their challenges. We will tend to notice more frequently what is wrong, instead of what is right. Before you know it, and despite our resolution to not do it again, we will find ourselves right back in the pattern that yields the behavior that we wanted to avoid — both on our part and on theirs.
To start getting back in touch with what makes us great and the assets that G-d gave us, we can write them down. Make a list — or, if you are artistic, draw a picture — of the gifts, talents, and character traits with which G-d endowed you. Don’t try to do it in one sitting, but rather take some time to create it. Then, envision for yourself what using those positive traits would bring to your parenting.
We can also start being nicer and stop judging ourselves. Instead of looking at our parenting foibles as things we shouldn’t be doing (I shouldn’t be yelling, therefore I’m such a hurtful/terrible/failure of a parent), we should view them dispassionately and as only a symptom of our current state of being (I notice that I’m yelling a lot.).
The next step is to ask whether we want to be in that place anymore. If we recognize that the answer is no, then we can consciously make a different choice (I’m going to take note of when I feel like yelling and go write what’s bothering me in my journal instead of yelling it at my kids.) We can continuously go through this process as we re-evaluate, make adjustments, grow, and re-assess. While the distinction is subtle, the process allows an avenue out of being stuck in the mindset that prevents change.
Further, we can accept ourselves as the imperfect, human parents that we are. We are not here to be perfect. We are here to work toward perfection. When we accept ourselves as imperfect, we are able to see our children with similar compassion, understanding, and love.
It all begins with loving ourselves.
By Laura Goldman