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  • Bent Not Broken Trauma Counselling Project

Am I A Bad Parent? - Probably Not

An adult Capuchin monkey looking intently into the face of its baby.

Here’s the thing – if you were a bad parent, it’s highly unlikely you’d be here reading this.

Because truly bad parents, the abusive ones, the narcissistic ones, simply don’t care enough to question what they do. In fact, some will conjure narratives to explain and justify why they treat their children so badly. Some even outright deny the things they did when confronted about it in later years.

You, on the other hand, are here because you don’t like the parent you’re being at the moment. You want to change because you see the effect it’s having on your kids.

You might even hate yourself right now. Sometimes the guilt and shame are just as overwhelming as everything else in life.

Maybe right now, you are too shout-y, too impatient, too angry, too whatever it is you’re noticing about yourself. Maybe you’re finding it hard even to show your children love or want to cuddle them or be with them.

Maybe you wake up every single morning determined not to be that parent today and an hour later find yourself screaming because no one is listening. You feel so tired and overwhelmed with all the demands of life, and with small people who don’t listen and argue over every little thing, that you lose your shit and start yelling.

A close-up picture of a very angry grizzly bear. All teeth and snout.

Then they cry, and maybe you cry too, and you feel like the most horrible person who ever lived.

And today was meant to be a good day, and now it’s in tatters before breakfast is even finished.

What I’m going to say next is not that it’s OK to be this shout-y, irritable, angry parent you don’t want to be, but to take a step back and look at the mental and physical burden you’re carrying.

How much are you carrying in addition to just being a parent? Maybe you are working outside the home? Maybe the full responsibility for everything that goes on in your home falls on you? Maybe you’re the go-to parent and you never get a break from that?

A picture that looks down into a nest of 3 baby birds. The babies are still naked, no feathers yet, and are all sitting there with their beaks wide open waiting for food. I can imagine them piping and squeaking for their parents to hurry up and feed them now!

And you might be trying to do it all in the face of endless criticism and judgement from an unappreciative partner, family and friends. Even society has a lot to say about being a ‘good’ parent, most of it highly unrealistic. Often, the harshest critic of your parenting is yourself, and the lot melts down into a vicious circle of self-hate and self-criticism.

A yellow background with 2 heads that follow each other in a never-ending circle. One head is red and the other is blue. Both are made of words. The red head represents those who are negative towards us and is made up of words like 'belittle', 'doubt', 'loathe'  and 'oppress'. The blue head is how it can make us feel and is made up words like 'worthless', useless', 'broken' and 'unwanted'.

With all that going on, just how full is your cup?

You know the saying, right? – “You can’t pour from an empty cup”

A picture of two empty tea mugs on a plain beige background. To illustrate the point that you can't pour from an empty cup. Trite but true.

You know, that cup you keep pouring from to give the best you can to your kids, your partner if you have one, other family, friends, and even random strangers. In fact, anyone who is not you.

Is the real problem that your cup is so empty that you just haven’t the emotional energy to deal with life or your children anymore?

Especially if you’re trying to do it all on broken sleep.

A picture of a white background with a yellow, plush duck toy. The duck toy is flattened and somehow manages to look completely deflated and exhausted. Just how all parents feel at times. Parenting can be exhausting.

Michael McIntyre sums it up beautifully:

Only some days that’s exactly how it is, but it’s not funny at all.

The answer lies in filling that cup. Except it’s not that simple, is it?

I bet your head is saying - “Yeah, so where I am supposed to find time for myself when my kids need feeding, I need to earn money to feed them, the house is like a bomb site and I have a million other things to do. A spa day is not an option for me.”

You’re absolutely right.

Just dropping the rest of life and all those responsibilities to care for ourselves is not an option for many parents.

Plus, while society pays a lot of lip service to ‘self-care’, many parents who try are made to feel guilty and selfish for not giving their children every nanosecond of their time.

I’ve seen memes suggesting that getting a shower on your own is ‘self-care’. No, that’s basic hygiene and every adult is entitled to that.

So what’s the solution?

Looking for ways to get some downtime in your head in little breaks may work for you. Just 10 minutes here and 5 minutes there can be enough if you do it 4 - 6 times a day. If a longer time is available, grab it with both hands and don't let go.

  • Listen to music you love, the tracks that soothe your soul, and breathe deep and slow for the whole time you’re listening.

  • If it’s a nice day, go and sit outside in the sun for ten minutes. Let the sunshine warm your face and breathe deep and slow.

  • If you have a newborn or a very young baby, sit and give them a cuddle and smell the top of their head. Honestly, it works. It sets off Oxytocin, the love hormone, and enables us to calm and re-engage with people we love. You can do it with older kids but it’s usually the child who may not allow it because they also have things to do.

A baby Capuchin monkey busily playing and putting its head in a bowl of water. He's busy and has things to do!

  • Have a long cuddle, at least a minute, with someone you love and who truly does love you. Now, you may not feel much like cuddling them when you start but persevere and notice how both of you start to relax after a few minutes. Dogs are often great for this, but this works with any pet who will cuddle.

  • Take 5 minutes to connect to a past lived experience from any time in your life that connects you to feelings of safe, warm and loved.

If you don’t have one, imagine one, it works the same.

Imagine watching this memory like you are watching a film, then in your mind step into it and watch it again as if it was real and you’re seeing it through your eyes.

  • Re-set your Vagus nerve. Here’s how:

Sit and relax and look straight ahead.

Now, without moving your body, turn your head slowly as far as you can to the right, and then slowly back and as far as you can to the left. Notice any aches or pains as you do this.

Go back to looking straight in front of you.

Now, without moving your head, move only your eyes as far to the right as you can.

Hold that position and breathe until you yawn or sigh.

Then move your eyes to look as far left as you can. Keep your head positioned straight, just move your eyes.

Hold that position until you yawn or sigh.

Now repeat the slow head turning from centre to far right then all the way to far left.

Notice how the aches and pains are gone or feel less than before?

Now stand up and shake yourself off like a dog shakes off water. Shake your whole body.

Be a bit silly with it, make yourself giggle.

OK, the rest of the day and the trillion things that need to be done are still there, but now you have more in your bucket to get through until bedtime.

Bottom line

Finding ways to fill your cup is what enables you to be the parent you do want to be.

Filling your cup illustrated by a picture of a frothy coffee in a black mug with a matching saucer.  There is a white milk heart on the top of the froth. Go, Barista, you rock.

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