When you stand beside a river, you cannot help but have the sense of the constant flow from the source to the ocean. You look upriver and, though your eyes can only see as far as the next bend, you can visualize what’s farther upstream, all the way up into the mountains. And if you glance downstream, you can imagine where the water flows, how the river grows with each new tributary and how it eventually slows and empties itself into the ocean.
As parents, we can experience an unending flow of things we could be doing to be parenting better. Our beautiful active minds present more and more possibilities. Our love for our kids and our dedication to parenting has us constantly noticing room for improvement in ourselves.
It’s an unending flow and, even if there were 200 hours in a day, you could never do them all. You can never catch up when the supply of suggestions is constant, just as gravity calls the highland rain showers to the sea.
You know this intellectually and yet it leaves you feeling in your heart like you’re not doing enough as a parent. That you’re not enough.
This is the most common thread amongst all the parents I coach – they worry that they’re not a good enough parent.
Read that again. Feels like a punch in the stomach. Or a crack through the heart.
Parents are swamped by thoughts of things they could be doing – things you’d love to be doing, so many ways you could do better by this beautiful human who came into your care – and, all the while, paddling hard, making meals, calming adolescent tidal waves, etc.
And for many of us, the list of ideas sound like “shoulds”. And then guilt creeps. I should be asking her more about her friends. I should be modelling more respectful communications. I should…
It’s no wonder that you end up feeling like you’re not doing enough: the river never stops flowing.
Of course, striving to do one’s best is admirable and, yes, it’s true that the world desperately needs more young adults who have been raised consciously.
This becomes a problem at the point where the overwhelm and inadequacy spill over into resentment, frustration, despair, nervousness. It can become a habitual way of talking to ourselves: you should have done this, you did a poor job on that, you’d better do this…
It can also become a habitual way of talking to your teen or young adult child: “I’m trying so hard. Why don’t you ever…?”
If this sounds familiar, please keep reading because there is a way out of the ‘not-enough’ trap.
How to Feel You’re Enough
What does the phrase, “I’m enough” evoke in you?
A sigh of relief, a longing in your heart, maybe some skepticism too?
If you had suggested that to me when I had young kids, I would have scoffed and marched along into the thousands of things I thought I had to get done. I can still feel the angst of that earlier version of myself. She was always striving to be a good mother. Always. She felt drained and alone climbing toward the unattainable peak of parenting perfection. A lot has changed since those days, believe me.
And in my work with other parents, I’ve witnessed similar transformations. While I don’t know the specifics of your situation, I’m betting that some of things that have worked for me and my clients will also be helpful to you.
1. Fully register what you accomplish/contribute.
The pace of life for parents can have us finishing one thing and quickly moving on to the next, with no real acknowledgement of what we’ve just completed. There’s no marking of the thing being done. No pause, no celebration. Just starting into the next thing.
What I’ve come to know is the surprising value of intentional completion. Not a special dinner or elaborate ritual. Just a sincere phrase and gesture that wrap up your parenting accomplishment. Stand still for 30 seconds and feel that completion land in your body.
It just makes sense. When we develop a habit of registering what we’ve completed, day by day, we cultivate an overall sense of having done enough.
2. Check who you’re comparing yourself to.
When you hear the phrase, “You’re not enough of a parent”, whose voice do you hear and whose face appears before you?
It’s so easy to jump to conclusions about how well other parents are doing. We see their outer world and hear about something they’ve done well with their teenager and we instantly see a lack of capability in ourselves. Please remember that they are in a different situation, from a different background, raising a different kid. You are not meant to copy nor compete with them; you are meant to create a way of parenting that fits you and your particular child. If there’s a river of ways you could measure up to your neighbour, let it flow right past you without getting you wet. There’s no one right way to parent, so set your intentions toward your own instincts and love.
And if the “not enough” critic sounds like one of your own parents, then you are in the good company of all of us who are slowly but surely untangling ourselves from our parents’ beliefs and behaviours. We are taking an honest look at those models, which may have been handed down for generations. Habits that we are built to break. It’s one of the great gifts of parenting: the power to interrupt unhealthy parenting patterns and sow the seeds of something better for our children and grandchildren.
3. Say hello to your inner critic.
You can trust me when I tell you that there is so much to be learned from the part of you that tells you you’re not good enough. This critic/skeptic isn’t going to vanish so, instead of wishing, lean in and get to know them.
Where can you sense ‘not enough-ness’ in your body? Is it a weight on your head, a clenching belly, a curving spine? Listen to his/her words and tone of voice. How does this part of you talk to you?
Carve out some time to have a conversation with this critic/ skeptic. What is this part of you saying it needs? Listening to this part of yourself is the key to quieting it. And when you listen more deeply in your heart, what do you sense he/she is trying to avoid or longing for as the river of parenting improvement ideas continues to flow?
4. Set your own enoughness scale.
When asked how much practice is enough, my qigong master says, “Good-better-best. Ten minutes x 3 mornings a week is good, 45 minutes is better, etc.” It sounds so simple and yet, there is such freedom and self-compassion in setting your expectations in this way.
So I invite you to set you own scale of enoughness. First, identify an area in which you often feel like you’re not doing enough, perhaps a skill or activity you want to be doing more often. An area in which you are strongly affected by that river of more ideas, more possibilities and more shoulds.
Now consider what would be a minimum for doing that. Define this clearly, like the qigong practice. How many minutes/how often would have you going to bed feeling satisfied that your minimum had been done, that it was good enough? And now, what would be a maximum that could be attained occasionally? Write these down. Or draw them as your personal scale of enoughness. Then, every time you do this skill/activity, say out loud, “That’s enough for today.” (And if your child hears you saying it, all the better.)
I stand by the river
Awed by the rich surge
Endless sparkles of creation.
Some are for me; many are not.
I stand by the river
Listening as it babbles and roars
Its words of inspiration.
Some for me and some not.
I stand by the river
My heart beating its own rhythm,
My life, a miracle.
With you on the journey,