No, You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent
Author Carla Naumberg shares why it's essential to give yourself a break and cultivate self-compassion as we learn to parent in new ways. Here's how to start being kinder to ourselves.
- Interview By
- Katie Covington Crane
Why did you write You Are Not a Sh*tty Parent, and who did you want to reach? Maybe I’m a sh*tty parent, but as overwhelmed as I am, sometimes the thought of reading another parenting book is too much.
I totally get that! I’m also a parent (my daughters are 12 and 14 years old), and even though I’m an author of parenting books, I spend a lot of my free reading time enjoying novels. Having said that, I see a lot of parents buried in blame and shame and an overwhelming feeling that they are, well, sh*tty parents. And that perspective a) isn’t true, b) isn’t helpful, and c) makes everything so much harder.
Self-compassion is the antidote to all of that sh*tty parent thinking, and it makes parenting so much easier and more fun. I wrote this book for all of the parents out there who are struggling with Sh*tty Parent Syndrome, and I tried to make it as funny, relatable, and readable as possible because I really get how hard it is to focus on a parenting book right now.
If we’re all going to mess up our kids somehow, what’s worth getting right or being intentional about as we parent?
First of all, I don’t believe we’re all going to mess up our kids somehow. We’re all going to make mistakes and miss the mark in parenting, to be sure, but that’s not the same as messing up our kids. Having said that, I think the one thing worth working on is our relationship with our kids - the extent to which we feel connected to them. And that doesn’t mean we have to be perfectly pleasant or patient all the time or always make sure they’re happy - that’s not what healthy, flexible, warm relationships look like. What it does mean, though, is that we do our best to reconnect after moments of disconnection. Rupture, repair, repeat - that’s the cycle of the parent-child relationship.
As more and more families adopt positive parenting principles, we realize it works. Still, it’s hard not to feel like you’re failing and living with chaos without the traditional emphasis on discipline and respect for elders. So how do you relax and have self-compassion with yourself as we learn to parent in new ways?
You hit the nail on the head with the end of that last sentence - we’re learning to do something new. And I would also say that we’re learning to do something new in an entirely new context of technology (smartphones, social media). So the more we can keep that perspective in mind - that we’re all doing something hard - the less likely we’ll be to hold ourselves personally responsible for a universally challenging experience.
Any tips for what to do when someone else notices a concern or potential issue around how you’re raising your child? How do you assess whether someone is seeing something that deserves your curiosity versus an irrelevant opinion of how you should be raising your kids? Looking at you, well-meaning Nanas.
This is such a good question! The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to make up your mind or have an opinion right away. You can listen to their thoughts, smile nicely, and take the time to consider their suggestion later. If you’re having a hard time assessing the relevance or helpfulness of their opinions, then you might want to check in with your parenting partner (if you have one) or other folks who know you and your family well (friends, pediatrician, etc.), and whose opinions you really trust!
You talk about connection and how important it is to feel community as a parent. However, it can feel awkward to open up to friends (or even a partner or parent) about the ways we’ve messed up or obstacles we’re working through with our kids. Are there any ways you’d suggest starting to talk honestly about the good, bad, ugly, and hilarious with your crew?
Oh man, those moments of sharing can feel SO awkward, and they’re not easy, but they can be incredibly helpful. First, remember that you don’t need to share every story with every person you know. Start to notice the folks who share their stories and listen to how they share them - are they being judgmental and critical of themselves and others? Or are they sharing with compassion and compassion? (Spoiler alert: you’re going for humor and compassion!) From there, you can start to share in small ways and see how you feel. Remember, the point here is connection, and there are many ways to connect, so if sharing parenting stories isn’t your jam, that’s ok. There are other options out there.
Can you share your concept of the 4 Cs and how parents can use this tool?
Sure! The four C’s are: Calm, Clarity, Creativity, and Confidence. These are the primary benefits that many parents experience as they start to practice self-compassion. When we’re no longer overwhelmed by thoughts of how badly we’re screwing up parenting, and when we can get curious about what’s going on around us, we feel calmer and it’s easier to see the situation more clearly. That place of calm clarity can help us be more creative in our parenting, and it will help us feel more confident in our parenting.
How can we start to be kinder to ourselves?
The first step is to start noticing our negative, judgmental thoughts, and rather than believing them or getting stuck in them, we can just let them go. From there, we can replace them with kinder, more compassionate thoughts, such as “I’m having a hard day. It’s ok. Parenting is hard for everyone, and tomorrow is a new day.” That’s a dramatically different perspective from, “Ugh, I’m such a sh*tty parent.”
It can be tricky to notice and replace those negative thoughts, and it’s not because our shaming and blaming thoughts are true. It’s because we’ve been thinking them for such a long time that they’ve become a habit. But stick with your new kind, compassionate thoughts, and pretty soon you’ll have a much more compassionate perspective on your own experience.
Carla Naumburg, PhD
Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker, writer, and mother. She is the author of four books, including the bestselling How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, CNN, and Mindful Magazine, among other places. Carla lives outside of Boston with her husband and two daughters.