If I Had My Time Again, I Wouldn't Be A Parent
I’ve heard this said more than once before. In fact, I have even had this thought run through my head a couple of times in my 7 parenting years.
Parenting is tough. And for those who are not parents, but are keen to start the parenting journey, a thought like that might seem unfathomable. Brains are masterful negative story tellers and problem solvers. Not everything our brain tells us is true and sometimes it goes down a rabbit hole of terrible problem solving. We feel pain. We feel overwhelmed. Sometimes every day. And when the brain exceeds it’s capacity to cope, it can generate very unhelpful thoughts like the one above or sometimes even suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t mean that a parent would necessarily act on such a thought or even spend a great deal of time thinking about it (although this could be true - no judgement, but help is possible). Thoughts are automatic and just pop in. We don’t need to think about thinking. So you’re not a bad person, if you have all sorts of random, painful thoughts coming in when you’re overwhelmed. You can learn to not react to every thought that comes up though. You can learn to understand why such a thought might be there and what you could do to help your clearly overwhelmed brain. First Step - take a break, take some time out to rest, regularly. And do more, if it’s still not working. Set aside a full day each month or even half a day, that is just you time. And set aside daily time, that might even just be five or ten minutes to do a meditation, read a couple of pages of a book, lay down on your bed and close your eyes. Step outside with your feet on the ground Second Step - Learn some defusion exercises to help unhook yourself from your thinking for a moment. You don’t have to believe everything you think. And even if you do believe it, ask yourself, is holding on to this thought, helping me to change my experience? Close your eyes for a moment and just think whatever negative thought you’re saying e.g. “I’m useless” or “I’m not cut out for this.” Then add the words “I’m having the thought that xyz.” Notice what happens. Then add “Notice I’m having the thought that xyz.” Notice what happens. Have you done it? No? Quick, close your eyes and do it. Notice what happens. Done it? Good? What happened? Did you feel a little more distant from the thought, when you added the words “Im having the thought and Notice I’m having the thought?” Most people start to get a sense of feeling like the thought is slightly more a neutral statement or just words their brain is telling them, rather than something that they have to believe. Although, sometimes people do struggle with the exercise and don’t necessarily see any change or it might them feel a bit worse. That isn’t the goal, but don’t feel bad if that was you! Try this one - and do try it. Your brain might judge it as you read the words and think that won’t help. Close your eyes. Think your thought “xyz” Now bring to mind any funny movie character (personally I’m channelling David from Schitts Creek haha - if you haven’t watched it yet, you need to!).
Got a character? Good. Really picture them as best you can, their mannerisms, the funny things they do. And imagine them saying the thought out loud. What happens?
Again, did you get a sense of distance? Did your thought feel a little less believable. Like you didn’t have to give it intense attention. Like it didn’t have to ruin your life or stop you from being the best Mum you can be?
Hopefully it did! Let me know how you went with those.
Third Step - Self Compassion
You're not a bad person for having negative or painful thoughts. Beating yourself up just makes you feel worse, on top of the painful thought! Easier said than done. But move on, seek support, speak to a friend or even speak to a professional if you're feeling overwhelmed. And if you're consistently low and finding parenting insurmountable, definitely seek some professional support. It's more than just talking, we'll give you practical strategies to help you cope.
You're doing a great job.
P.S. If you'd like some free MP3s to help you develop self compassion or to cope with painful thoughts, click over here and Ill send you some.
Also, for a limited time My Ultimate Online Program for Keeping Sane for Parents is 40% off until the end of the week, so get in quick :)
Payment plan is available too.
It's is filled with many practical strategies to help you manage painful feelings, like guilt, anger, how to rekindle the joy in parenting, understand your kids also how to enhance your partnership. 6 worksheets, 6 videos and 7 MP3s to help change your brain and cultivate self acceptance.
Sarah Purvey is a Clinical Psychologist and Mum of 2 girls aged 7 and 4. Sarah established her psychology practice, Eastern Shore Psychology in 2017, in Hobart Tasmania and has been practicing for 14 years. She also published her first book in 2019, titled Keep Sane and Parent On, based on her own experiences as a Mum and her clinical experience. Sarah loves supporting Mums and also helping adults heal from trauma.