Lessons from other parents
"Probably one of the most startling (and as a parent, most reassuring!) things was that despite the number and variety of people I interviewed, circumstances they were in or had been in, and the different stages they were at on their parenting journey, the same set of challenges seemed to come up"
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1.I interviewed a wide variety of parents in the summer of 2022, along with chewing off the ear of anyone who would talk to me about their experiences of parenting!
2. Despite the number and variety of people I interviewed, circumstances they were in or had been in, and the different stages they were at on their parenting journey, the same set of challenges seemed to come up.
3. 🤯 Feeling unprepared and overwhelmed
4. 🤔 Feeling guilty or having regrets about how we spend our time
5. 😑 Not having time for family, and not feeling present when we are with them. This was the most talked about challenge.
6. 😒Judging yourself and feeling judged by others
7. 💔Relationships suffer and become transactional
8. 😵💫We lose our sense of who we are
9. The good news!? There was so much great advice and experience that I was able to capture as to how they had navigated these challenges
10. 🧐 Re-setting Expectations - or perhaps, especially in the early days, having as few expectations as possible.
11. 🔢 Setting Priorities - that remove the feeling of guilt from how we spend our time, based on a new and more fluid set of expectations.
12. 🙏Finding a non-judgemental community that can help support us both practically and emotionally.
13. '😇 Acceptance that things, and us, will change, quite often outside of our control
14. I am beginning to think this final point on acceptance is the most critical and unlocks the rest - as Tim Ferriss often quotes on his podcast, "what we resist, persists"
15. By focusing on these 4 areas we can have a dramatic impact on how good and confident we feel about parenting, and everything else that ends up revolving around it.
Over the summer (2022) I interviewed a wide variety of parents, along with chewing off the ear of pretty much anyone I spoke to who made the mistake of mentioning children. My intent was to understand what challenges they were facing so I could design a coaching programme to help parents (more on this coming VERY soon!). I promised I would share the conclusions I came to from my conversations. These were surprising, reassuring and I hope contain some really helpful insight for other parents.
The most startling (and as a parent, most reassuring!) thing was that despite the number and variety of people I interviewed, circumstances they were in or had been in, and the different stages they were at on their parenting journey, the same set of challenges seemed to come up. Or put another way, however you are feeling right now, another parent, somewhere, is almost certainly feeling the same way:
🤯 Feeling unprepared and overwhelmed - No matter how we try and prepare for parenting (initially and then as each stage of development comes and goes) its tough to feel confident and on top of things. Things change too quickly, and trying to stay ahead of the game whilst dealing with the day to day is often too much. A lack of practical support and information on what to expect and how things do change, especially in the earlier days, was also a really common comment.
😒 Judging yourself and feeling judged by others - all of above lead to constant judgement of yourself as a "parent" especially compared with all your faves from Insta, and a feeling that others are judging you (or in the case of your family, who are kind enough to just tell you they are!). It was often mentioned how this led to feelings of isolation and not having anyone to confide in.
😑 Not having time for family, and not feeling present when we are with them - the challenges of time management, combined with tiredness and overwhelm mean that even when we do carve out some time with the family, it is hard to stay in the moment knowing we are showing up as the best version of ourselves. This came up time and again and was the most consistently talked about challenge.
🤔 Feeling guilty or having regrets about how we spend our time - trying to balance time with our family (because we know the clock is ticking) with work or other commitments (which pay the bills and make us feel like we have purpose and are achieving something), then realising that we haven't had any time for ourselves in a long time...
💔 Relationships suffer - the stresses and strains of being a parent make relationships transactional, and we don't have a lot of time to see anyone else anyway...(except the in-laws. Obviously.)
😵💫 A loss of self - Compared to pre-children, we definitely don't feel like ourselves, in fact, we're not entirely sure who we feel like any more...
Whilst I have added a touch of drama for effect, the truth is that several, if not all of these, seem to resonate with every parent at various points on their parenting journey - they certainly did with me.
The good news!? There was so much great advice and experience that I was able to capture as to how to navigate these challenges, those that consistently came up as having the biggest impact were:
🧐 Re-setting Expectations - or perhaps, especially in the early days, having as few expectations as possible. After all, happiness is the gap between reality and expectations! This removes a huge driver of frustration and a sense of judgement.. Key seemed to be unpicking how and based on what/who we are setting expectations - be that our own historical patterns or feeling like we must live up to family, friends and social media.
🔢 Setting Priorities that remove the feeling of guilt from how we spend your time - based on a new and more fluid set of expectation. What I heard from those who I could see had really mastered this, was giving permission to ourselves to parent as a priority and taking visible steps to make this the reality. Often this meant changing the approach to work and other commitments, both practically, and in terms of the way we measure and judge our contribution. This really resonated with me as someone who habitually worked long hours and tried to get across everything I could. The need to focus on what is going to have an impact, rather than doubling down on time spent working has been a huge change of mindset and one I still struggle with.
🙏Finding a non-judgemental community that can help support you both practically and emotionally - all of the issues identified above make honest conversations about parenting hard to find, and of course we all have our own circumstances that mean "advice" may not stack up for us. Identifying who is and isn't being a positive influence, and allocating your precious time accordingly was at the core for those who had managed to create a more healthy support group and feel less isolated.
😇 Acceptance that we are going to be subject to change outside of our control - I especially heard from those who were further along their parenting journey, that over time gaining this acceptance made a huge personal difference for them; We all know things are going to change, but accepting the new situation, what it means for you, and practically having the space and time to deal with this, are very different things
I am beginning to think this final point on acceptance is the most critical and unlocks the rest - as Tim Ferriss often quotes on his podcast, "what we resist, persists". In order to be present, guilt free and confident, I keep coming back to having to accept that I can't carry on with my previous lifestyle, behaviours and mindsets. The funny thing is, this doesn't bother me at all (most of the time!) but I still have to constantly remind myself to relax and let go, especially when tired and stressed. It's like I am an elastic band snapping back to how things used to be.
So, simples right, just fix 1 - 4 and all is good?!? Sadly, as we all know, this is a tough ask (and I haven't even talked about sleep deprivation yet!). Jeez, accepting yourself and your situation, and deciding who you want to be is a lifetime's work for many. That said, I can certainly identify each of these as critical in my journey over the last two and a bit years, and I wish I had had these distinctions in mind from day one. It would have been a lot easier than bumbling my way through the parenting experience trying to figure out how to knit everything together whilst half asleep, triple booked and buried in nappies!
So, whilst sadly these aren't a "simples" sliver bullet, my own experience, and that of pretty much all of the parents I talked to tells me that by focusing on these 4 areas we can have a dramatic impact on how positive we feel about parenting, and everything else that ends up revolving around it.