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12/22/2014 10:08 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Reasons You're Not the Parent You Want to Be

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Being a parent in the modern world sucks. Not all the time. Sometimes your kids are cute and tell you that they love you and your heart melts and you remember why you thought becoming a parent might be a good idea. The rest of the time you are frustrated, beat yourself up for not finding that elusive "balance," or feel guilty when you do. Maybe it's just me, but I often worry that I might be doing lasting psychological damage to my offspring.

Parenting well is hard. Even when it goes well, it's difficult. How do you know when the latest annoying behavior is just a passing phase or the beginning of some dreadful character flaw in your kid that needs to be addressed right now? What if the way you respond to tantrums is actually making them worse?

Here are the top three pitfalls all parents face.

1. You're frustrated.
I can't believe I'm writing about this today. My 5-year-old is going through one of those periods when she is whining about things not going exactly as she wants them on a daily basis. Crazy-making stuff like: Mama, you need to get dressed at exactly the same time I do! Or You walked down the stairs before me! Waaaa! Followed by an all-out tantrum.

Maybe it's just me, but it's always worse in the morning. I try to get her ready, make breakfast, pack lunches, make sure she has everything for the day and get myself ready for a day of meetings and teaching. I want to get out the door. Time is limited. She's having a huge meltdown. I want to scream.

Instead I stop. I put down whatever I'm doing. I sit down on the couch. I wait for her to come over. "Yes, honey. I see that you are really, really mad. I understand that you want things to be different." I try to match my breath to hers. It's an old trick I learned years ago. Matching my breath to hers forces me to be present with her and to slow myself down. In the long run, it seems to take just as long to sit down and connect with her as it does to try to force my way through her tantrum.

Try this: Slow down. When I feel that my frustration is running the story, I stop what I'm doing, connect with my kid and breathe with her. If nothing else, I feel calmer and less out of control.

2. You're overwhelmed.
Ugh! Why do I feel like my life has become one giant game of memory? Socks, shoes, my keys. The first problem is that there's really just too much stuff. The second is that there's just too much to do in a day. When do I get to have time to myself? This is not what I thought my life as a parent would feel like.

But wait. What if you just focused on one thing at a time? There's a dangerous myth out there about the benefits of multitasking. Don't believe the hype. I'm here to tell you that focusing on one thing at a time is the secret to feeling less overwhelmed. I can't tell you how many times a day I hear myself saying, "I can only do one thing at a time."

Try this: For one day, do just one thing at a time. Next time you're trying to prepare a meal when your kid interrupts to ask you to find their favorite toy, you get the opportunity to model paying attention to just one thing. Whatever that is. Just practice this and let me know how it goes for you.

3. You constantly feel guilty.
This common pitfall is based on the myth that successful moms have found the elusive magic known as balance. There is no balance between work and parenting. You can't have it all. You can have most of it most of the time, but you have to be willing to work really, really hard and give up sleeping.

Seriously, you feel guilty because there really aren't enough hours in the day. Parenting is a full-time job. Your full-time job demands at least 110 percent of your attention. It's a losing proposition. What's a savvy parent to do?

Try this: Be gentle with yourself. Step one: Stop beating yourself up. Parenting in the modern world is really hard. The first thing to do is let yourself off the hook and stop telling yourself that you should be doing a better job at finding balance.

Second, give yourself a break. Parenting will get easier, or at least change, as your children get older. One thing you can try right now is making peace with the fact that you will want to be working when you are with your family and you will long for your family when you are at work. When you find yourself wishing you were somewhere other than where you are, offer yourself gentleness. It's not just you. Have compassion for yourself and for all the other parents who are struggling to make it look as though they have it all together. (Especially when it becomes clear that neither you nor they really have any of it under control.)

When you start to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or guilty, remember that you bookmarked this article somewhere in a folder called Good Things to Remember about Being a Parent. Or drop me a line and I'll remind you that what you are feeling is normal. This too shall pass.

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