The tearful woman across from me was struggling to understand why being a mother left her feeling bad about herself. She asked me to recommend a parenting book that she might find helpful. As a therapist I generally shy away from recommending self help books, too often they leave the reader frustrated. I decided to put my opinions aside and take a trip to a local bookstore. I wandered over to the Parenting section to browse. I was assaulted by the message conveyed by the titles, do more, be more. Reading these books might offer some helpful hints, but the endless simple steps offered could lead to feeling inadequate. What would it say about me if I bought Parenting for Dummies? Perhaps I would leave I better impression if I purchased I Refuse to Raise a Brat. Surely that would be a socially acceptable goal.
For instance Supernanny, Superimmunity and Phenomenal Family by Dr. Phil make my point. My goodness, I thought most parents would be thrilled to have regular, healthy and happy children. I learned there is a Mommy Brain, a Mother Trip and most intriguing was Hip Momma who I am sure would excel in Unconditional Parenting . I suspect she would have read the Parents Tao Te Ching to help her accomplish her heightened awareness. I felt sure she was a shoe in for Parenting with Love and Logic, after all, she’d have to be a sensible person after all this reading.Well, then I got to the shelf that made it clear having a perfect mother was not enough, Step up to the plate dad, get prepared with Father to Daughter-Life Lessons in Raising a Girl and of course for balance Father to Son- Life Lessons in Raising a Boy. Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul, I had barely finished thinking about the soul of a relationship when I glanced up and began considering the soul of Expectant Mothers, of Fathers, Kids, Mothers, Parents and Grandparents. This was getting exhausting.Why did these self help books cause me to feel so irritated? The bar has been raised to unrealistic heights. We must rear Sensory Smart children (and I did not even know what that meant), who areFinancially Fit, Self-Reliant, Peaceful and accept Responsibility, also Raise Boys with Emotional Intelligence and Girls with Mathematical Intelligence. . As a parent you want to believe in your parenting skills and values and trust doing your best to raise children will be enough. You can’t constantly second guess yourself and feel the disapproving eyes of a myriad of authors tsk, tsk, tsking at you. It is realistic to expect that sometimes you will get stuck or unsure and this could be the occasion when a book will help. If situations arise when you would benefit from additional support, seek help from someone who will speak to YOU and does not increase your feelings of insecurity. Our culture today offers little support for normalcy, everything is super-sized. My advice for parents is to find their own voice and their own values.
My goal is to help parents to say “I know how to parent my children; I accept I am not perfect. Each day I will strife to show love and kindness. I’m going home to relax and enjoy my family and take some pressure off of us all.”Laney Kibel LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland. She has many years of experience working with adults and children. Until recently, she was the clinical director at JFCS. firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 781-3900