what makes a bad parent - despair
by Doctor Mummy | 19:10

In medicine, we sometimes talk about ‘imposter syndrome‘ – where a doctor (or other professional!) doubts his or her accomplishments, feels insecure and feels like she is just pretending to be accomplished at her job. Essentially, she feels like an imposter.

I think I currently have the mum version of this. This lovely woman emailed me a few days ago and said that she loved my blog. Then she called me a ‘supermum’. I had to email her back and explain that I’m not a supermum, a lot of the time I’m not even sure if I’m an average mum!

I doubt myself a lot. I question my decisions. My family tease me for being sensitive about any implied criticism of my parenting and they’re right, I am.

Because being a parent matters. If I get it wrong, it matters.

So today I’ve been asking myself – what makes a bad parent?

What is a bad parent?

stop sign

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to define a good mum. This holds true with good or bad parents. Leaving aside the obvious – abusive parents are clearly bad parents – it is difficult to know what a bad parent really is.

There are many different parenting styles and many parents don’t fit neatly in to one category. Strict parents may see more laissez-faire parents as ‘bad’ parents and vice versa. Parents who home-school may believe that their way is the best, whilst those whose children attend school may think they’ve made the right decision.

Sometimes as a parent it feels like we can’t win.

My eldest is 3 and a half years old. In the time since her birth I have been told that I: am too strict, am too lenient, am not setting enough rules, am setting too many rules, put her to bed too early, put her to bed too late, don’t let her have enough fun, let her away with too much, spend too much time with her, don’t spend enough time with her… there are probably more that I’ve forgotten about!

People seem to find it hard not to offer an opinion on my parenting. Part of that is strangers because I invite it by having a blog like this, but part of it is also friends and family. Everyone means well, but it can be difficult not to let it knock my confidence.

Parenting books and the Internet don’t help – you can find thousands of resources on how to be a good parent and avoid being a bad parent, but hardly any of them agree.

So faced with a total lack of consensus and conflicting opinions from everyone, what on earth am I supposed to think?

Am I a bad mother? Some days, yes…

Am I a bad mother - despair

The truth is that I know myself when I’m being a good or a bad parent.

Yesterday I was a rubbish mum. Baby J was teething and I couldn’t get him to feed or nap all day. He was overtired and cranky and by the afternoon, so was I. I picked 3-year-old L up from nursery after lunch and we went to gymnastics class, which was really the only bit of the day when our little family were happy.

From the moment we got home both J and L were miserable and grumpy and tired. L wanted me to play with her but I was busy with J and kept telling her I didn’t have time. I stuck the TV on for L and made dinner with J hanging off my leg howling.

Our usual bedtime routine fell apart as J was screaming with tiredness and sore gums, L was exhausted and upset that she’d had next to no attention all afternoon and evening. She started acting out by switching lights on, jumping around, singing, shouting and screaming whilst I tried to get J to sleep.

The evening culminated in me letting my daughter run wild until I got J to sleep, then me screaming ‘why are you being so naughty?’ and dragging her back to her room, where she finally climbed in my lap in tears and fell asleep after five minutes of cuddles, which was clearly all she’d wanted all along.

I believe in positive parenting and treating my kids with respect and understanding. Yesterday that went right out the window. It didn’t matter that I knew why L was upset and acting out, I was tired and stressed and I didn’t have it in me to sit and talk through her feelings and how she could manage them – I couldn’t even manage my own.

Yesterday I was a bad mother.

But not always

parent and baby bears

Today wasn’t perfect either. L was tired as she went to bed late last night after all the messing around and she got up earlier as a result, so she wasn’t in the best of moods.

However, today I did a better job. It was partly that J was a bit happier – he fed and napped better. He was a bit restless so I let him sleep on my chest for an hour and a half to make sure he was well rested. No matter how tired I am, I can’t be grumpy with my baby asleep on me.

I picked L up from nursery after lunch and we played. J crawled about playing with his toys and L and I had some snuggles and did some colouring and glitter.

We all made dinner together, we talked about yesterday and what a hard day it was and why.

L and I talked about how we felt and why we did and said the things we did. I said sorry and she did too. We talked about how when we’re tired we get cross. We made J laugh by playing at being ‘grumpuses’ and stomping around throwing pretend tantrums. Then we acted out what we could have done differently so our day would have been different.

When L got annoyed later in the evening and shouted at me for telling her to stop pulling on J’s leg, we did an ‘action replay’ and both rephrased how we had spoken to each other.

The kids had a great time in the bath laughing their heads off and splashing everywhere, but when I said there was too much water on the floor L said ‘don’t worry mummy, we made the mess so we will clean it up’. She went round clearing up (or at least trying) the water with her towel and deferred to J to ‘check’ the quality of the clean-up since ‘we both made the mess so we clean up together’. It made me very proud of her.

We did stories and snuggles and then I sat in the room whilst the kids fell asleep. I thought L was asleep and I was just leaving the room when she suddenly said ‘I love you mummy… even when we are both being grumpuses’.

Today I was the mum I want to be, I handled conflict with my daughter with empathy and humour but still ensured that she behaved the way I want her to. I got to spend time with and snuggle both my kids. They fell asleep feeling happy and loved.

There will always be good and bad days

Baby and parent hands

I would like to be a ‘good parent’ every day. I have good intentions, but a lot of the time I fall short of being the mum I want to be. I can be tired or grumpy or impatient.

But the great thing about kids is that they are immensely forgiving. L isn’t focusing on the rubbish job I did yesterday, she’s just glad that we had fun a fun day today.

So if you have fallen short of the parent you want to be today, then please don’t beat yourself up – just try to do better tomorrow.

There’s no right answer

hands held in the shape of a heart

I asked my husband what makes a bad parent and he said ‘one who doesn’t care’. I think he’s right – being a good parent means caring – caring about your kids and caring about the job that you’re doing in raising them.

If you’re doing that, if you’re doing your best, then I think that makes you a good parent.

Your version of what ‘good’ is might not be the same as mine, but then your family is completely different. We all define good or bad parenting differently, but if we’re honest with ourselves then we know deep down whether we’ve been the parent we want to be today or not.

And really, that’s all that matters – trying to be the best parent we can, for the little ones that we love.

I hope that you’ve found these thoughts on what makes a bad parent interesting, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think defines a good or bad parent!

Please follow me on social media!

Comments

Babsie

Oh, thank you so much for this website, and for this article. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like this where I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing according to the wisdom of “they” with what was appropriate for the situation I was in with my kids, and now my daughter struggles with the same things. She is so wonderful to my grandson, who is 2-1/2 years old and a handful, and she is attentive and yet strict when needed – I think she is doing a top-notch amazing job with him. I am so proud of her. She doubts herself, and she needs to read your blog. I’m going to direct her to it, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing what we all have gone through (whether everyone admits it or not, they HAVE lol). – Babs

Dec 19.2018 | 12:35 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Babsie, thanks for your lovely comment. I’m so glad that you like the article and I hope that it helps your daughter too. In the current ‘perfect parent’ climate of social media I hope it helps people to see that we all have days where we feel like ‘bad parents’!

    Dec 19.2018 | 12:54 pm

Kate

Your article is so heart warming , I have many days that are ups and many days that are downs. Yesterday I had my first ‘no matter what I do, I can’t protect her from everything’ day! N was at her Xmas dance show and she was having a great time. She only had 3 dances and the 1st went great. On the second dance she got paired with a ‘newbie’ and they were supposed to spin round together. Well the other girl didn’t want to dance and just stood with her arms crossed, I could see N being kind and trying to encourage the girl….. and then after all her attempts with no luck getting the girl to dance, she ran off the stage! She was devistated!! Wouldn’t go back on, wouldn’t do her last dance and wouldn’t go on to see Santa. So I went on the stage with her so she didn’t miss out on seeing Santa. She left that evening upset and saying she never wanted to do dancing again. I told her I was so proud of her as she was being so kind to that other girl even though she wouldn’t dance and that made her happy and feel better. She went to bed and I sat and cried!!!! It was such an awful feeling to be so helpless when I could see she was hurting emotionally and it was nothing I could really do about it! I know it’s trival but it really hit home that I couldn’t protect her from other people’s reactions to her and how she feels about them….. and it really knocked her confidence. She is fine today but it still hurts how helpless I feel about what happened. Life will always throw a curveball and I feel we handled it well between us a parents but time will only tell when she goes back to dancing how much it has effected her! I feel proud of the way she handled it but also wishing I just hadn’t taken her that I could have prevented it, even though I know that’s not exactly true!

Dec 19.2018 | 11:03 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Kate, thanks for commenting and sorry for the slow response over the holidays. Poor N, it sounds like she was doing so well and it’s really hard to be thrown off by someone else when she has worked so hard. It sounds like you handled the situation incredibly well, supporting your daughter and helping her to work through her emotions. I’m sure she felt better for it. I think we all wish we could protect them from ever getting hurt, but we can’t and helping them learn how to cope when bad things happen is one of our most important roles as parents. It sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job so don’t beat yourself up about what you can’t control!

    Jan 05.2019 | 12:45 pm

mai

I am always in constant battle with own self, every single day for being a “bad mom”. It is frustrating most of the time but all I can do is to accept my truths and that I cannot be a perfect mother to my children. No one is a perfect mom, and I get to tell that to myself like a daily mantra. It helps in my postpartum healing when I voice out my thoughts like these and talk to other moms. Really, we have to be kind to ourselves too and stop being perfect because we can’t but we can always try our best to be “better moms” each day.

Jan 28.2019 | 06:17 pm

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Mai, thanks for commenting. I absolutely agree – there is no such thing as a perfect mum and we all need to learn to be kind to ourselves and recognise our achievements as parents, instead of focusing too much on the times when we fall short. I’m sure you’re a fantastic mum!

    Feb 10.2019 | 05:50 pm

Lejla

This is very good article at the right time for my niece. I will definitely share your post with her. So she has two twins. The oldest are almost 4 years old and the youngest are 5 months old. Most of the time, she is in bad mood and we all try to understand her and help her as much as we can. Recently she told me that almost every day she feels that she is a bad mom and that she doesn’t know how to handle twins in the future. And the struggle is real. Just a week ago she came back from a short vacation with her husband. And unfortunately she still feels bad. She wants to be a perfect mom, she forgets about giving her self some “alone time”.
I know it can be difficult. After the birth of my son I had that struggle too. With time, I have learned to be more kind to myself and eventually I felt better and better.

Mar 04.2019 | 09:09 am

    Doctor Mummy

    Hi Lejla, thanks for your comment. I really hope that your niece finds it helpful. I an’t imagine having two sets of twins, that must keep her really busy! I so hope that she starts to feel better soon, but if she’s feeling bad every day then it might be worth getting her to go and have a chat with a health professional for a bit of support? Being a parent is so hard and there’s no shame in needing a hand every now and then!

    Mar 06.2019 | 06:07 pm

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.