What parent doesn’t have some form of regret?
It comes with the territory. Looking back. Seeing whatever you did, said, ignored, thought, blurted out, screamed — and wishing, “I’d handled that better.” There are many times you did well, were more patient or more firm. And that’s important to remember. But those times that you looked the other way when you shouldn’t have because you were overwhelmed, or came down way too hard on a kid because of your own emotional baggage from a childhood full of criticism — can haunt you.
Whether it’s yesterday or a decade ago, parents who are trying to be honest with themselves, can see their weaknesses.
That’s what people with integrity do. Parenting is tough.
I personally could fly to Paris and back if I had a dollar for every mistake I made. We try, and that’s what’s important.
“I’m doing my best,” is what many parents say.
What does that mean, really?
Sometimes, we’re not doing our best. Sometimes, one of the easiest, but most harmful of defenses gets in our way.
It’s called denial.
“I know I get too mad, but I’m not like my mom.”
“Will can read all right. I don’t want him labeled at school.”
“The kids will be fine with us splitting up. They’re good kids.”
“I just like to get relaxed at night.”
Experts define denial as “…the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist.” You don’t want to accept something that’s right in front of your nose. Couples can both be in denial about their own behavior or something about their children. They can even act to support one another in turning away from what is obvious truth.
Or, if only one refuses to deal with reality, it can be a source of tremendous conflict.
“You’ve got to get control of your temper. They think you’re mad at them all the time.”
“Will needs to be tested. He’s falling behind, and he thinks he’s stupid.”
“You may think the kids will be fine. And maybe they will. But leave your new friend out of it.”
“Your drinking is way out of hand.”
What does it take to confront denial? Too often, it’s when something bad happens — something really painful and harsh. A parent wakes up, and realizes the damage their own behavior has caused.
That can be tragic.
You fly into a rage, and hit that child that you adore. Your son starts smoking weed — he doesn’t know how to fit in with kids that are achieving in school. Your 13 year-old daughter sleeps with her boyfriend — she’s angry and confused after the divorce, and he’s “there” for her. You get a DWI, after one of those times that you were getting relaxed.
All of us can have blinders on. We can see what we want to see, instead of what’s really there.
Confronting denial takes honesty with yourself — brutal honesty.
Recognizing and dealing with the way things really are? Who we really are? What our children need from us, that we struggle to give?
So without something tragic happening, how do you confront denial?
- Listen to what others are telling you about yourself, especially if you’re hearing it from more than one source. Ask a trusted friend. Check out the rationality of your opinion or your thinking. If your friend thinks your drinking is out of hand, for example, consider stopping for a while. Or talk to someone about AA.
- Try to realize if you’re having an over- or an under-reaction to something because of your own history. An example of this would be if you were highly disciplined, and you hesitate to ever discipline, or you “hate it” when your spouse raises their voice with the kids. You may also have a sensitivity to it that’s valuable to your spouse, and he or she needs to realize how they’re appearing and sounding. Again, this is a two-way street.
- Realize you can admit vulnerabilities. You don’t have to deny that you have trouble with affection, for example, if you admit it with your family. They’ll accept that about you, and love whatever you have for them. It’s when they don’t understand that it can be misinterpreted.
You don’t have to deny yourself the acceptance that your loved ones can have for you, and you for them.
But denial is not your friend.
You can read more from Dr. Rutherford here.