If you find yourself overwhelmed, confused, burnt out and lost as a parent, you are not alone. As a parent of two children and a therapist specializing in working with children, teens and parents i am here to tell you your feelings and experiences are common among most parents today. We don't tend to talk about how unsure and confused we feel most of the time about raising healthy children. Sure, we might talk about the difficulties of not having enough time to ourselves, or the lack of sleep or maybe even the behavioral issues our kids are having, but it is not as common to talk about how lost we might feel about how to parent and especially to teach and discipline our children. As a whole most modern parents are more aware of just how important our choices in parenting is. Many know what they do not want to do; how they do not want to raise their children, and yet many also feel lost when it comes to what to do instead. Most parents I encounter do not want to follow in the footsteps of past generations. They do not want to spank their children, they do not want to yell and use fear as a mean of discipline. We know we should not bribe the kids by offering candy or toys to get them to what needs to be done, and yet many find themselves doing some of those exact same things out of desperation, exhaustion or just plan lack of alternatives.
This is a confusing time to be a parent. Most people get basic or even extensive training to do almost any other job, and yet, unless we had to go through the adoption process, we were just given a baby at the hospital and were expected to know how to raise them. Well that might have worked a few generations back but not anymore.
We are getting confusing and contradictory information about raising healthy children, from experts, books, online articles, the teachers, or even our friends families and neighbors. I believe parents today are putting more effort and energy into raising their children than many other generations and perhaps feeling like they are failing as parents more than any other generations as well.
This is all common among typical parents raising typical children. Now if you happen to be blessed with a child who is somehow not neurotypical, you will feel all these feelings and experiences much more intensely. Where many of the traditional or even modern approaches to parenting will at least give you some result with typical children, if you are dealing with a neurodivergent child who might be on the autism spectrum, have adhd, be very sensitive or anxious, the same strategies can backfire and leave you feeling like an utter failure as a parent. Many times in my experience parental confidence and satisfaction has had to do with having an “easy” child vs a “challenging child” rather than actual parenting skills.
I remember personally as a new parent of a 3 month old baby going out with other moms to have lunch, and feeling confused when their babies would just stay in their seats cooing or calming down with slightest interventions, when my baby would scream her head off the whole time. I had to stop going out like that. I remember questioning myself harshly, thinking i must be doing something wrong. It was years later when I learned that my child has had sensory processing issues and could not handle the noise of a busy restaurant and that her inability to calm down had nothing to do with my parenting skills. I think a real difficult part of parenting any child, but especially parenting a neurodivergent child the the sometimes perceived and sometimes real judgment we feel from others, and also judging ourselves harshly.
So next time, probably right now or tomorrow, when you feel lost, confused and unsure about just how in the world you are supposed to do this thing called parenting, know that you are not alone. I want to invite us all to be more gentle and forgiving to ourselves and each other, as the only “perfect parents” are those without children.