I think most parents have had this experience: You’re out somewhere and your child (toddler, teenager, anywhere in between) is behaving in a way that you find embarrassing, and that you hope is not reflective of your parenting. But you feel the shame anyway, and the judgment of others, and you wonder: Is this my fault? Is my child my reflection?
This is an even more pronounced worry when your child is not just sporadically rude in public but is dealing with deeper problems (like depression, cutting, substance abuse, etc.) We feel ashamed, afraid, incompetent.
Parenting is a constant challenge to the ego. Even the most self-assured person can be pushed to the limit by their children and forced to question their every decision. That’s because there are just so many decisions to make, every day.
In order to minimize the second-guessing, it’s important to recognize a few things.
1) Temperament is king.
There are certain traits that are innate. They exist inside your children and they can only be shaped or influenced; they can’t be eliminated.
In some ways, this is comforting. There is an essential self that is not interchangeable with other selves. Your child is a distinct individual, with inborn proclivities.
But what if you don’t like those tendencies?
2) Think in terms of influence rather than control.
I would take the word “control” right out of your parenting vocabulary. It’ll save you a world of difficulty.
Yes, sometimes you have to assert your authority. You have to make it clear that there is no choice for your child but to get in the car, NOW. (With my toddler, sometimes I’ve had to physically wrestle her into that car seat. It’s not fun, and it’s not pretty, but sometimes it’s necessary.)
But control is something different. Control is about trying to break another person’s will, and I would urge you to never have this as a parenting goal. Your child will need a strong will in this world. He/she will need to have a sense of self, and an internal compass as a guide. So your job is to influence–by modeling the traits you’d like your child to inherit, by teaching self-compassion and empathy for others.
3) Realize that you and your child are two separate people.
This sounds obvious in theory but can be surprisingly difficult in practice. Your child is having a meltdown, other people are staring at you like “Do something!”, and you feel the sense of completely responsibility, failure, and shame.
Remember that it’s your child who’s melting down; it’s not you. When it’s your teenager throwing attitude, it’s them, not you.
Yes, you can intervene as best you can but ultimately, you will not control every situation. Because you are not your child. So what you can do is manage your own expectations and your self-judgment. Stay calm, have a plan, and execute it. The outcome will be imperfect.
But you are not your child. You’re a parent. And a damn good one.