Because parenthood is challenging, we can sometimes forget how to just be a happy parent in the midst of it all.
Let them go. Allow yourself to be a happy parent for your child—and yourself.
Mama, it's time to let go of the following:
1. “Supposed to"
We were conditioned by our own early family experiences to believe that parenthood or childhood are supposed to look a certain way. But if you hold onto the way things are “supposed" to be, you may miss enjoying how they actually are.
Be willing to question what you prioritize as a parent and why.
2. Keeping score
What does your mental score-card keep track of—Which parent does more? Who's most consistent? Which mom contributes most in your child's class? Keeping score wastes energy. Just do what you feel inspired and able to do.
Don't feel obligated by others' contributions. Don't obligate them to live up to yours.
Digital classes from Motherly
As a parent, you have a responsibility to set boundaries. But if a child consistently resists a certain boundary, don't just force them to comply. Ask yourself and your child, “Why?" Think of yourself as your child's trusted and effective guide, not their dictator.
When they experience you this way, they're more likely to listen, which means less struggle and frustration for both of you.
If you're not a yeller, this one isn't for you. But if you tend to yell when upset, consider this question: Has yelling strengthened your relationship with your child? Yelling usually happens in anger and it often frightens and intimidates children. It destroys trust and a child's feeling of safety.
Pay attention to times and circumstances when you yell and then commit to changing those scenarios in the future.
5. Your desire to be perfect
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Embrace your imperfections. Laugh at yourself. The best parents are willing to always learn, change and improve.
Compulsive worrying doesn't make your child any safer. It doesn't make you any happier. And it teaches your children to live in fear.
Release your worries and cultivate gratitude for your child's safety in the present moment.
7. One-size-fits-all rules
Every child is unique. What works for one won't always work for another. Certain standard rules apply across the board (for example, everyone needs to speak respectfully). But consider the possibility that being a fair parent doesn't mean doing the exact same thing in the exact same way for every child.
8. The food fight
If you demand a certain number of bites from your children, you set yourself up for struggle at the table—and you set your children up for struggles with food later in life.
Guide, direct, encourage and prepare healthy food. Let your child voice their preferences. Focus on healthy overall patterns, rather than forcing a certain regimen at a specific meal.
9. Your role as event coordinator
If you feel like parenthood is a treadmill you can't keep up with, you may be taking too much responsibility for your children's time. Make plans that are supportive of your children's development, but don't map out every minute for them.
Downtime is beneficial for most children. Moments of boredom allow children to take responsibility for their own time. Make resources available and then let your children create the experience they want. You'll all be happier.
10. Unhealthy self-sacrifice
As a parent, you generously give love, time, and attention. But you shouldn't give up your core self just because you're a parent. When you ignore your basic needs, you teach your children that when they grow up, they shouldn't take care of themselves.
Parents sometimes fall into the self-sacrifice trap because they feel unnecessary guilt. Guilt can be useful if you use it to recognize where you need to make changes. But overwhelming, paralyzing guilt that makes you feel worthless as a person or parent doesn't accomplish anything.
You are enough, just as you are.
12. One-sided decisions
As the parent, you often have the final say. But you and your child will both be happier if it's not the only say. When age-appropriate, involve your child in decisions that will affect them.
By showing children the decision-making process, you'll empower them to make their own good decisions in the future.
13. Negative messages
So many messages are repeated to children: you're too loud, you're too quiet, you ask too many questions, you're exhausting, you're demanding, you're too talkative, you should make more friends, quit moving, speak up, settle down, smile more. You can comment on the exact same behavior in a positive way.
For example, you can see the trait of, “You're too talkative," as “You really make friends easily."
14. Your own childhood story
What did you experience that you most want your children to avoid? Being teased at school? Lack of money? Feeling not-enough? Your fears may actually set up that same pattern to be re-created. Don't trap your children now in your fears of the past. Let them go. Create what you want, not what you don't want.
15. Giving up
I've heard from parents who worry that they've damaged their child, or that they've made a mistake that will last a lifetime. I've said this many times:
It's never too late to be a better parent.
Whether your children are 4 or 40, they respond to genuine love from their parents. It's never too late to show up as the happy, supportive parent that you're meant to be.
You have everything you need to be a good parent. OK, deep breath. It's time to let go of whatever keeps you stuck and let the happiness in.
A version of this story was published July 10, 2021. It has been updated.