I recently came across a t-shirt being sold on the Internet with the phrase “World’s Okayest Mom” and it gave me a chuckle. After the initial giggles wore off, I gave the phrase more thought. I suppose the intention of such a gift would be to poke a little fun at the recipient. But in considering what it takes for young children to form secure attachments and develop appropriate personal-social skills, and for parents and caregivers to not feel completely and totally stressed out (which all kind of goes together), perhaps “okayest” is a superior adjective over best. There is so much pressure on moms, dads, and caregivers to be perfect. Parenting decisions are infinite and we so hope we make the “right” decision at every juncture. Pressure to do the right thing comes from all sides–from family, friends and experts–and though often well intentioned, the advice is not always helpful as it can be conflicting, confusing, or inappropriate for your circumstances. What works for some, does not work for all.
Parenting can sometimes feel like a competition and it can be hard to not let the pressure get to you. As a parent, have you heard or perhaps perceived any of the following commentary? “How long did you breast-feed your baby? What? Only a few months? I am still breast feeding at 18 months!” “My baby slept through the night at 6 weeks, how about yours?” “Oh, your 13 month old isn’t taking steps on their own? My child started walking at 9 months.” “My child knows their letters and numbers and turns 2 next week!”
Sometimes parents do not want to disclose the negatives, the difficulties, the struggles involved with parenting. “Everything is pure bliss–I love being a parent, it is the most amazing experience of my life.” Might they fear looking like a bad parent if they say differently? Parenting comes with both rewards and challenges. We do not need to be perfect as parents to raise well-adjusted children. We just need to be okay–or “good enough” (Winnicott). We do not have to have all the right answers. We just need to make the best educated guesses based on the information we have and make sure we ourselves get the support we need.
It would be so nice if these little creatures were born with individualized instruction manuals or if we had a crystal ball to see how our decisions might pan out years down the road. Last time I checked, neither of those things were in existence. For those brave enough to ask for advice, sometimes it is useful, but what to do if it is not? Try to focus on your family and make decisions that are best for your family. I encourage folks to steer clear from always or never which run rampant on internet parenting sites. Sometimes it is okay to engage in a little trial and error. Give something a whirl and see what comes of it. Don’t beat yourself up if you tried something and it didn’t work. That is useful information that you didn’t have before about what your family needs. You can all move forward together using a different strategy and come to find how strong and resilient you are. Again, make sure you are taking care of yourself along the way.
Having said all that, decision-making and engaging in self-care can still be challenging. If you find yourself struggling and are feeling overwhelmed and unhappy, perhaps brainstorming with an impartial professional to weigh pros and cons can help you figure out plans A, B and C. If you would like parenting support of any sort, consider emailing Katie at [email protected].