How My "Bad Parenting" Can Help Us Recognize The Power of Our Thoughts

Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LPA, LSSP, LPC-S

Your situation doesn’t cause you to feel a certain way. I’ll repeat this in a different way, what happens to you doesn’t cause you to feel a certain way. I talk about this a lot with my clients, but I really FELT it recently.

I was enjoying my Thanksgiving break in New York City with my family. While at a restaurant, I overhear, “Wow, we are doing a better job parenting than them!” I immediately knew they were talking about ME, MY family, and MY parenting skills. Yikes!

In the past, I’m sure I would have felt the redness hit my cheeks, the self-doubt, negative thoughts, and anger and embarrassment flood me. In all honesty, this would have literally crushed me a few years ago. Instead of feeling this way, I smiled when I heard it. When we left the restaurant, I said hi to the family and noted to them how great they were doing at parenting and how well-behaved their child was. I meant those words, too. I knew they were probably feeling insecure about their parenting (as most of us parents do from time to time), and that we were able to provide some confidence for them!  

I thought to myself that we were probably a sight and probably didn’t look like the best parents- IN THAT MOMENT. We were in our favorite New York City pizza restaurant with our children. The whole place was crowded. It was so crowded we couldn’t even stand in the waiting area without touching someone else. I was hungry and exhausted. We were given a 30 minute estimate to wait for our table, and my quick mental math told me it was better to wait than fight the City crowds looking for another restaurant that probably also had a wait. We gave our children our phones to watch cartoons on, I allowed my husband to watch them, and I made myself to the bar to grab a glass of wine for myself and husband. Yup, from the outside it looked like we weren’t doing a good job. What that couple didn’t see was our previous experiences that day. It was quite the day. We had just spent 5 hours in Central Park playing, exploring the city, and having amazing family time. They didn’t see that our children were exhausted from this and needed some time to themselves and a cartoon would allow this. What they didn’t know was that our son loves people, exploring new things, is social, but requires “downtime” every day to keep him from feeling overwhelmed. What they didn’t see was that our son just spent the entire morning playing while having a stomach bug and wasn’t going to eat anything- we were asking him to spend an hour in a restaurant and not eat. What they didn’t know was that while this trip was amazing, keeping up with 2 children in a crowded city was downright stressful, and we needed a moment of reprieve! I wouldn’t expect them to see all of these things. What they saw was a couple enjoying a glass of wine and two children on electronics, while one wasn’t even eating. They have a right to their opinion of our situation, and we have a right not to let their opinion define us.

So, let’s get back to the idea that our experiences don’t create our emotions. Hearing judgment on our parenting skills would have “caused” embarrassment and anger a few years ago. The same experience in current time led for me to actually feel proud of my parenting and to feel empathy and connection with the other parents. It wasn’t the situation that caused  any of this. Instead, it was my own thoughts regarding the situation. Our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are all connected. By examining my own day and reflecting that I felt proud of my parenting, allowed me to not let an experience create negative feelings. In previous years, I would have examined their comment and started thinking of things that would have confirmed  their statement. For instance, I would have probably thought, “gosh, I really shouldn’t be having a glass of wine with my kids here.” Or “I could have brought coloring books to color during our time.” Or even, “Good parents wouldn’t need any toys, they could just talk to their kids the whole time.” I now know “good” parents come in all shapes, sizes, and qualities. There is no one right way to be a parent. Understanding your children’s needs, adapting to their needs, and placing your oxygen mask on first at times can be what it take to be a great parent.

The next time you find your emotions escalating from a situation, remember that your situation does not cause your emotions. No one can make you feel a certain way. Try using your thoughts to help manage your emotions, and when all else fails, remember to practice self-compassion.