Before having children, every parent daydreams about who they’ll be as a parent. It’s hard to have zero expectations for yourself—after all, child rearing is an extremely important job, and it is one every parent wants to excel at. “We often measure ourselves by our past experiences,” says Julie Dubovoy, LCSW-R a clinical social worker and therapist in Babylon, NY. “Therefore, parents strive to be better than their own parents and for their children to have a higher sense of security than they themselves had as children.”
In doing that, parents unintentionally put pressure not only on their children but on themselves, ultimately straining their relationships and stressing themselves out. Here are a few useful tips to manage those expectations, give yourself a break, and cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself and your family.
1. Set healthy, reasonable goals
Instead of worrying about getting your kids into the absolutely best preschool, or worrying that you’re “failing” because they’ve had too much screen time, invest your mental space into things that will benefit them in the long run, like just getting your kids to turn into reasonably well-functioning adults.
“The goal is for children to be self-sufficient when they enter adulthood in all senses of the word: emotionally, mentally, physically, and intellectually,” Dubovoy says.
2. Don’t dwell
It can be easy to laser in on our mistakes—and believe us, there will be mistakes. Instead of dwelling, Dubovoy encourages overly self-critical parents to reframe their points of view, and shift harshness into a neutral place.
“For example, you can transform ‘I am a bad mom’ into ‘I am a mom who can learn from my mistakes,'” she says. “A child learns so much from their parents, and will model everything including being harsh on themselves. A parent who can admit mistakes, apologize, and follow through with not repeating that mistake is doing great. Children especially crave ‘repairs’ from their parents—a simple acknowledgment of wrongdoing goes a long way in the eyes of any child.”
3. Work with your village
Whether you’re a single parent with the support of friends and family members or you have a partner, make sure you don’t just lean on them, but work with them. They may have different approaches to raising kids than you—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Talk as much as you can, and listen to each other’s values and views,” says Dubovoy. “Continue as the children grow and find ways to compromise, as a balanced approach will yield better results than high or low expectations.”
4. Reprioritize yourself
It sounds counterintuitive, but the truth is, in order to be there for your family, you have to be there for yourself, and if you have a partner, to make time for them, too.
“Couples often say the reason for disconnection is from raising a family,” Dubovoy says, noting that it’s important to make time for other relationships in your life. “Children are sponges and soak up everything.” When parents take time for their partners, friends, other family members, and hobbies, that can lead to good learning moments. “Telling a child to wait while the parents talk or finish an activity teaches the child what a healthy and loving relationship is,” Dubovoy says.
5. Remember that quality time, not fancy stuff, is the top priority
For anyone looking to be the best parent they can be, it can be easy to think that your kid’s brain won’t be able to develop properly without a $200 educational toy set. But the truth is, being a good parent is actually much more simple than you think. According to Dubovoy, it all boils down to being as present as you can be for your children.
“Put down the devices that we all know we use,” Dubovoy says. “They become blockers. Look into your kid’s eyes when they’re talking to you—this is called ‘attunement’ and holds significance in supporting a child’s self-esteem. Hear them: you do not have to agree with what they are saying. This allows a child to build their own authentic self.”
6. Accept defeat
There is no such thing as perfect, and that’s just a simple fact of life.
“No matter how hard you try, you will mess up your kids in some way,” Dubovoy says. “Have humility. Be open-minded in learning different ways to connect, correct, and engage with each child.”
Managing expectations can be hard, because all good parents want to do right by their kids. But honestly, if you’re worried about it, that probably means you’re already a great parent. Breathe—you got this.