This Is Hard. You’re Doing a Good Job.

I took my kids to the doctor last week. It was a new doctor’s office. I had to fill out hundreds of pages of questionnaires: Do you keep your children away from open windows and moving cars? Do you feed your children junk food and red dyes for breakfast? Do your children know how to draw a feral cat with no body and crazy circle-spike legs?

These questionnaires are designed with all the latest research in mind. According to the doctor they would be used to assess my children’s development and compare my parenting skills to the newest and best practices. In reality they’re like the SAT: more a litmus of how savvy and affluent you are than a dynamic measure of capabilities.

I’m savvy. So I aced the parenting SATs, and the somewhat awkward, childless doctor told me that I was doing great. It should have made me feel nice inside, but I had checked out long before.

My disengagement prompted the doctor to explain, “The reason we have you fill out all these forms is because there’s no way I could spend enough time with you to find out what I need to know.”

That’s what it feels like to me to be a parent—lots of advice based on a little bit of information. I am awash in empty praise and empty criticism.

A quick glance at my test scores, a few hours with my kids, a passing conversation: Everyone has ideas how to fix whatever they see. A book, better rules, stricter standards, more compassion.

All I want to hear is, “This is hard. You’re doing a good job.”

This is hard. You’re doing a good job.

Isn’t that what we all crave? I can’t think of an overwhelming situation it wouldn’t apply to.

I was at the acupuncturist the other day and she said, “Can I recommend a parenting book to you?” “NO!” I blurted out. It was as if my fist had reached up and struck her, such was the fight-or-flight force of my response.

I don’t need another book that would passive-aggressively show me my flaws and hold me to a higher, impossible standard. This one happened to be called Parental Effectiveness Training. I’m sure it is the parenting-strategy bible that she says it is, but I’m so awash in pressure to be the most compassionate, positive, flexible-but-stern parent that most parenting books share the same title when I see them: You’re Still Not Doing It Right.

You may not feel like I’m doing a good job. I get it. A lot of times I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job either. If we catch each other on an off day, just stick with, “This is hard.” Maybe say it twice.

The only way that I can take in advice—and I think this goes for me and the feral cats—is if you’re willing to start by sitting at my side and being present, without judgment. It’s a truly terrifying and difficult thing to do, because we’re taught that for every problem there is a solution, and in parenting in particular, there is a way. When you encounter a struggle, there is a way out. If you’re not coping well, you probably just haven’t found the right way. As an opinionated person, I am often among the first to offer advice. But it turns out all I want to hear is:

This is hard. You’re doing a good job.

This is hard. You’re doing a good job.

Did I mention you’re doing a really bang-up job? Well you are. And it’s tough.

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14 responses to “This Is Hard. You’re Doing a Good Job.

  1. Hugs, man. You’re exactly right- offering support is so much more helpful than offering advice. This last year was so rough and you were always there with compassion. I think you’re doing a wonderful job, it’s hard.

  2. It is hard. If there were an easy answer, there wouldn’t be 5,000,000 parenting books offering just-one-more-quick-fix. Loves.

  3. Thanks for this. I read this post late last night, and it came at just the right time. Parenting IS hard. Really hard. It’s honestly the most humbling thing that I’ve ever done. Starting from that place leaves lots of room for messing up and forgiveness and trial and error. I need the reminder that I’m doing a good job, because it doesn’t always feel that way – but big picture, yeah, we’re doing great:)

  4. Oh, Evelyn, my kids both have their own kids now and I STILL remember how hard it /was/is/always will be. Unless we can get back to the days when the kids went out the door with the breadwinner and mom was left behind to do all that it takes to keep a household going—alone! They all drug in later, ate, and went to sleep. I never knew these times but had some fantasies of being left alone–blessedly alone. For a while. The thing that helps the most is some effort at self care, good healthy supplements, and knowing that it will get different–not necessarily better or easier for awhile but at least different.Offering new nerve endings a chance to remind yourself that you are doing the best job you can do and that it can be very tough! Hang in. Love and lots of it!

  5. Reblogged this on The Dad Crossroad and commented:
    We were just talking about this! Glad to see it written down as I often forget it myself. Parenting is hard but you are doing a good job.

  6. As one mother to another all I can say is you ARE doing a good job and it will pass eventually. Nap when they are in school. Period.

  7. This is hard. Deep breath. Enjoyed this post a lot.

  8. I couldn’t agree more! I also think these books/conversations tend to emphasize the behavior of individual women as the source for and solution to problems that might more usefully be located elsewhere. (Ex: it’s much harder to breastfeed when you don’t have maternity leave.)

  9. Pingback: Bloggerhood Etc. 9/29/14 | Fatherhood Etc.

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