The following is a regular installment of "Ask Coach Kati" by Kati Rehm, a certified Life Coach, and mental health practitioner.
If you would like Coach Kati to guide you through a personal dilemma, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All identities will be kept confidential.
Dear Coach Kati:
Even knowing that no matter how much knowledge I have, I will still mess up with my kids doesn't make messing up any easier.
Nor does it ease my worries that I will mess them up really bad.
Dear Strong Mom,
You have just articulated a fear that resides in most parents' hearts and minds: I'm afraid I will mess up my kids, really bad.
As parents, we all come to accept the reality that we will make some mistakes.
After all, we are not perfect, and there is no manual describing how to raise our exact child at this exact time.
We practice the art of parenting through trial and error, leaps of faith, and holding our best intentions in mind. Each day presents a new opportunity to learn something new about our child, our personal triggers, and yes, even our neurosis.
And despite our best attempts, we cannot 100% guarantee that our children will grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.
We spend all day striving for a goal that we will never be able to assure formally.
At the heart of the dilemma you've presented above is your premise:
To believe that you will mess your children up, you must first believe that it's your job NOT to mess them up.
Or to put this into an idiom that most parents can relate to:
You believe it is your job is to create happy children that grow into happy adults.
Just roll with me for a minute.
If we believe that as parents, our job is to make our children happy, we will do all the things that we think might eventuate their happiness:
We will sleep less to do their laundry, pack their lunch, go to soccer games.
We will cancel our workout at the gym to bake cookies for their school.
We will stay in unhealthy relationships to preserve the idea of a nuclear family.
We will wear the same shoes and jeans we've been wearing for the past seven years because the clothing budget goes directly to the kid's school-clothes fund.
If our job is to make our kids happy, we will stop at nothing to achieve that goal.
We martyr ourselves in an effort to guarantee we don’t “mess our kids up.”
Here is how this fear of "messing our children up" typically plays out:
You fear messing your children up because you subconsciously believe that it is your job to make them happy.
And because there is no clear path to "making one's child happy," you feel out of control.
In an attempt to regain the feeling of control, you intensify any acts of martyrdom.
Only to see that your actions have failed to achieve your main objective.
You didn't make your children happy; therefore, you are messing them up.
This game is rigged.
We can't control the way our children feel, no matter how hard we try.
It was never your job to make them happy.
Therefore you cannot, objectively, make them unhappy.
As long as you continue to believe that you have the power to make or break your children, you are playing a rigged game: One where the winner takes nothing, and the loser takes endless self-blame and shame. Either way, you lose.
So consider this an invitation to release yourself from the job of controlling your child's emotional life.
Here is your formal invitation to release yourself from the job of controlling your child's future adult-self.
It will take time to "undo" the belief that "you will mess your children up."
For now, recognize it when it comes up for you (and it will come up in many different forms).
When you see it, remind yourself that you do not have to feel responsible for your child's emotional life.
o by now, you are probably wondering,
“if I'm not supposed to make my child happy, then what the hell am I supposed to do as a parent?”
The answer may surprise you. Or it may not.
Your job is to make YOU happy.
The greatest gift we will ever give to our children is to stop living in blind pursuit of their happiness, and instead, begin to live a life in pursuit of our happiness.
We teach by example.
Commit to living a life dedicated to nurturing and inspiring your happiness.
Embrace becoming unabashedly selfish in your pursuit of happiness.
Learn how to be 100% responsible for your own emotional life.
Strive to be 100% responsible for your self-actualization.
Make mistakes—many of them. Learn how to get up, readjust, and move forward.
To summarize the answer to your question:
As parents, we all mess up. You don't have to like this, but it's true.
You have placed this burden of responsibility for their happiness upon yourself, and you will not win the game. It's rigged.
So take your focus off of your assumed responsibilities of making or breaking your child.
By inviting them to watch you succeed and fail, in your personal journey to becoming the very adult you hope they might choose to one day emulate.
You are exactly where you are meant to be, momma.
This dilemma you are experiencing is a gift.
I hope you will receive it with love and a renewed commitment to the pursuit of your OWN happiness.