Do you think that one of our greatest fears as parents is that we might screw our children up completely – that we might pass down dysfunctional family patterns, and mess our children up? It was definitely one of mine.
I find it’s a really deep primal fear. And I definitely know all about getting it wrong, because in the family in which I grew up, everyone used to joke that I was a mistake.
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I was used to hearing, “You were a mistake, Oona. Mummy was furious when she found out she was pregnant with you…”
I have felt as if I’ve got it wrong from the very beginning. I was literally told I was wrong through my very existence!
This has dogged me right through my life – the fear that I might make another mistake. It has been quite a thing for me to unpick. And I’m still at it.
I’m a work in progress.
We tend to think that if we’re very, very aware of what we might get wrong, then we’re more likely to get it right. But, in fact, the research shows completely the opposite.
My personal, anecdotal research of myself and with the clients I work with, tells the same story. When we’re worried about or focused on getting it wrong, this compounds any difficult situation we’re in because, naturally, we feel guilty.
We feel fearful, we feel anxious – maybe grumpy and negative – and we’re not going to show up as our best selves when we’re feeling like that.
So, what can we do about it?
It’s all very well to tell ourselves not to be fearful, but what can we actually do about it?
This fearful inner voice that thinks we might get it wrong is what’s sometimes known as the ‘inner critic’.
It has our best interests at heart. It has the best of intentions. But this means criticising the hell out of us in order to prevent us from making mistakes and being vulnerable.
So, what can we do when we hear that voice telling us we might get it wrong?
One thing we can do is literally turn to it, and say, “Thank you for sharing. I understand that you want to be safe. And I hear what you’re saying, and I hear that you’re worried.”
Literally acknowledge it, like we might acknowledge a child. This helps it feel heard, so it quietens down a little.
Secondly, we can attempt to separate ourselves from it, so that we recognise that it’s just a voice in us, but it isn’t us. And then do whatever we can do to help ourselves feel better.
Last week I asked my Facebook community what message they would like to send to their younger selves when they had their first child. And no one said, “Get it right. Don’t get it wrong.”
All of them sent messages like this…
“Take time for yourself.”
“Rest where you can.”
“Ask for help.”
“Look after yourself.”
There was a lot of encouragement to rest.
And I feel this is so true – that the most important thing we can do, especially if the inner critic has been let loose or is becoming active, is to be kind to ourselves, do something to feel better. Put your feet up, have a cup of tea, take a break. If you can, ask for help.
And, what we can do when we’re worried about getting it wrong, is this:
Gradually start unpicking that thinking that divides things into right and wrong. I think this is a lifetime’s work, and I’m definitely still at it.
What if it wasn’t about getting it right and getting it wrong? What if this duality didn’t exist?
What if we were all just on a learning path, a path of growth and development?
How would you feel if it was impossible for you to get it wrong? How would you feel if you could only get it right?
I’ve been experimenting with that when I press the ‘go live’ button on my Facebook lives. And it makes the world of difference, because I’m not going into it thinking, “Oh, I must say this. I must say that. I mustn’t get that wrong.”
I’m just being who I am – showing up as I am – doing my best in the moment.
And I would encourage you to do this with your children. Just step into the moment – whether you’re going to pick your child up or you’re starting off the day – step into it with the sense that you can’t get it wrong, because you can’t. You literally can’t.
Lastly, what if you feel you haven’t showed up in the way that you would have wanted to for your child?
This happened to me at the weekend. I was going somewhere and giving my son a lift. I got very impatient when he kept me waiting. At the time, I felt it was very unreasonable!
What we can do in those situations is be sure to repair. Repair is so important. It makes all the difference between being a connected or disconnected parent, because when we leave things without the repair, those impatient moments don’t get healed.
And it really is enough just to say something like, “I missed an opportunity to connect,” (or to be patient or to show understanding…) “I’m sorry.”
On this occasion, I told my son, “I’m sorry, it was not my finest moment.”
I had a phase, with my son, where we had those kinds of conversations quite frequently.
I’d tell him that actually, what I was feeling was nervousness that we’d be late for school and teachers would think ill of me. So, I would reveal to him what was actually going on. And then he started doing it too. And he still does.
He’ll come and say, “I’m sorry. Actually, what was happening was this…” And that’s gold for me. Because then we’re talking about real things, having real heart-to-heart conversations with our children.
Even when things have gone wrong – you can make it right.
And that brings back that duality of right and wrong! It’s there in our minds and our societies, and I think we can learn to work with it in these positive, connecting ways.
To sum up:
- Acknowledge the voice that tells you you’ve got it wrong.
- Help yourself feel better by separating form it and practising self-care.
- Invite yourself to consider you’re not getting it wrong, or right, you’re on a path of development.
- Repair conflicts with your child.
If you liked what I’ve shared here, you may want some practical help in how to take this further into your family life so that you don’t get into these difficult, conflicted situations too often.
If that’s the case for you and you haven’t yet downloaded my guide below – Solve the Struggle With Your Kids – then I really recommend it because there are a lot of practical tips.
There are concrete examples of things you can do and say that fit right in that are right out of my radically loving approach.
Solve the Struggle with Your Kids
The 6 Wise Parenting Powers
Download my no cost guide to raising a secure and happy family.