Am I a bad mom?  Am I a bad dad?  These questions haunt good parents everywhere which is why I go out of my way to tell every parent making the effort to come into my office and address their struggles this:

You are a good mom (or dad).

As a way of introducing myself to the community, I have been guest speaking in classrooms through the South Bay Adult School Parent & Me Program.  My first couple opportunities were just twenty minutes while parents attended to their babies.  My next class is for the parents of preschoolers and I have been asked to speak for an hour.  I am nervous.  Am I a “parenting expert” or just a therapist who likes working with parents?  And then I began to wonder, what is a parenting expert?

Recently, I have been reading No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson who are presumably “parenting experts” who wrote a book.  I am a big fan of The Whole Brain Child which they also co-authored.  Dr. Siegel is a medical doctor who works from a neuroscience background and believes that our job as parents is to help our children integrate the different parts of their brain.

The authors suggest that a key to effective discipline is to consider the why, what and how before disciplining:

Why is my child behaving in this way?

What is the lesson they need to learn?

How do I teach this lesson effectively?

A huge principle of their strategy is connected parenting.  Set healthy boundaries with your children.  Connect with your child instead of just reacting to their behavior.  Be thoughtful in the discipline that you offer.

So as any reasonable parent would, I nod my head and take these principles home to my own children.  My baby girl who is almost two now throws an enormous tantrum because she wants to wear a stained cardigan that no longer fits and nothing else to her father’s office party which we are running late for.  She screams and cries and fights me because I am trying to put clothing and a diaper on her.  I roll out some of what I have read.

“Honey, you are very sad and mad with mommy because you don’t want to get dressed.”  I hold her and try to console her and wait for her downstairs brain (as Dr. Siegel would call it) to calm down.  Then I try to engage her upstairs brain and explain that we have to wear clothing to go to the party.  Her sister is wearing clothing, her brother is wearing clothing, doesn’t she want to get dressed so she can go too?  I then try to put on the clothes.

She screams and cries even harder.

What would Dr. Siegel too?  We are late.  I try to connect, “Oh, honey, you really want to wear this cardigan.”  I think, ‘what is the lesson I need her to learn and how will I teach it to her.’  And then I look at my watch and think ‘how am I ever going to get this kid dressed and in the flipping carseat?’

Let me cut to the ending.

I offered her a lollipop if she would let me put her clothes on.  A few minutes later she was chanting “lollipop” and complied.  I am pretty sure this is not what Dr. Siegel would advise.

Why am I telling you this story of how I have failed at using the principles that I plan to discuss and recommend when I speak next week to this classroom?  It takes 10,000 hours to become an “expert” according to “experts” whoever they are.  I have an 8 year-old and 2 year-old twins which puts me well over that mark.

Technically, anybody with a child between one and two years old meets the “expert” qualification.  I also have a masters in clinical psychology and have experience working with adults, both parents and non-parents (all of whom were once children), couples and children.  I have taken classes on childhood and adolescent development and I have read a lot of books.

But I am no more of a parenting expert than any other parent.

At the end of the day, I am doing as all parents do — the best I can, hoping that my child doesn’t require years of psychotherapy to undo the damage that I have done in parenting moments like the one I just told you about.  The caveat to books by “parenting experts” is that as parents we are also people who do react and struggle.  Even the parenting experts who wrote the book confess to making parenting mistakes themselves.

Parenting is hard.

My little girl had a tantrum.  I did my best to connect and redirect.  The reality is that my baby girl will learn that she needs to get dressed sometimes whether I bribe her with a lollipop or not.  I do not fear that she will grow up running naked through the halls of elementary school or require lollipops to get dressed when she goes to college.

There will be plenty of opportunities and moments where I feel good about the lesson I taught my child.

There will also be moments when I fall short.

And even in that, I am teaching my child that I too am human and imperfect.

In the end, I have decided that a “parenting expert” is any imperfect parent doing their best to raise a healthy well-adjusted child.  I am as much a parenting expert as any other imperfect parent out there.  I manage my own ‘stuff’ so that I can be the best parent I can and I help my clients do the same.

If you’re struggling with parenting, we can support you in that journey.  Reach out here.  

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