Shameful Parenting!!

I bet you thought this post about bad parents? Sorry but it’s not, it’s so much more.

Hopefully this post will make you feel a whole lot better about your own parenting and not at the expense of others.

You see there is something trending right now that makes me feel really vulnerable and uncomfortable as a parent. That trend, “parent shaming” has probably been around since day dot, the only difference today is we have more accessible instant tools to broadcast at anytime, anywhere and anyhow. So if you are like me and make parenting mistakes and you do something slightly wrong and actually admit to it, you may well be punished and your mistake may end up splattered across the internet. At worst that mistake goes viral all the way to the other side of the globe, where parents in Budapest know just how you crap you think you are. Worst case scenario of course but the point is if you make a mistake in parenting today watch out ‘Big Mama’ is watching and is willing to share.

Now I’m not saying that everybody that has a child does the right thing by children we know this isn’t true, those that don’t do the right thing should be held accountable by the law. What I’m talking about here is the shame good parents feel when we make human parenting mistakes and we don’t measure up to the perfectionism on social media.

Shame, Shame, Shame

Now here’s the problem with shame and the impact it has on our parenting; it’s shit and makes us shitty parents. Shame has a way of wrapping itself around us and reminding us at every parenting turn that we are crap at this game. Shame loves it when we are silent and don’t admit our mistakes to others, it relishes in being in control. When we let it attach and grow it gains mega power. I’ve been reading a little of Brene’ Brown’s book: The Gifts of Imperfection lately for a work project and realised that when shame invades my parenting it makes me a pretty average parent and human being. As Brene says in her book; “When the shame winds are whipping up all around me, it’s almost impossible to hold onto perspective or to recall anything good about myself.” Or to put it another way as Jung said “Shame is a soul eating emotion”. So why am I banging on so much about shame, because it plays a huge part in most people’s parenting and we need to be aware of how it works and what it does and then how to do something about it?

It’s much easier to deal with shame in parenting when the issue is less taboo or more common. For example it’s probably easier for most to admit to forgetting to pack the kid’s lunch as opposed to not having enough money to feed your child for days.


(Picture source: Deviant Art – Artist Pink Butterfly. )

There’s a reason for this the first is if a majority of people can relate to the mistake like forgetting lunches we are more able to understand and empathise. If less people have experienced or admitted to experiencing a mistake like the second example (although quickly becoming more and more common under the Abbott government) we judge harshly. In western culture we often measure success with money so this parent is automatically considered unsuccessful and at fault if they can’t afford to feed the family.  If you can’t afford to feed your children western society thinking is usually, what have they done that has got them into this position? Unless you have experienced poverty or significant financial hardship it’s hard for you to understand and be empathetic towards the parent. The Parent will usually be feeling enormous amounts of shame and probably would not reach out for help nor tell anyone for fear of losing their children or being branded a failure. Few labels are as damaging as the “negligent parent”, once branded how do people come back from that?

Here’s another example where shame plays a starring role. Think about the child that is constantly in trouble at school and the parents are continually called to the school. At the most supportive schools you might be told “your child has behavioural problems let’s try and work together” at the least supportive schools “your child doesn’t belong here, we think you all need help, but elsewhere thankyou”. Not only is the child probably in a world of pain of some sort but the parents are most likely feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Not they would ever admit this because who would you admit this too? Who would you trust with this shameful information? So the parents keep it hidden and the shame builds power and determines parenting decisions and behaviours into the future.

I once worked with families in desperate need of all the things us lucky ones take for granted, food, shelter, warmth, love and community. I often wonder what courage it took a lot of those parents to not only walk through the door and ask for help but also to admit to hitting their children out of frustration. I’m not talking about beatings by the way. I’m talking about them saying “I hit my child on the bottom this morning because they drank the last of the milk and I hated myself for it”. Don’t get me wrong I’m not an advocate of hitting children I think today there are better ways. However what if it happens? Who do you tell? How do you be vulnerable and trusting in a world that judges parents for providing sweets at birthday parties? If people can’t say these things out loud without fear of persecution then nothing will change for the children or the parents. Individuals, groups and organisations need to realise this and consider this.

I always wonder how Australia’s stolen generation deal with parenting and whether they feel they have to be perfect because it was only a generation ago that they were taken from their families for doing nothing but being themselves. I often think if that was me, I would probably not admit to any parenting mistakes big or small I would be too frightened I would lose my children; the shame would grow large in me. For those that do reach out their courage blows me away, to reach out and ask for help in the face of injustices and fear is truly something amazing.

So how has shame steered my parenting in the past, in so many ways I can’t list them all but here are just a few:

  • Shame has steered my decision making, I let the judgement of others cloud what I knew was best for my kids.
  • Shame let me give too much power to those who were loudest and had a lot to say about my parenting. Shame led me to believe that I was doing a poor job most of the time and that’s all I could ever be.
  • Shame had me thinking that perfection was possible and that’s what I was aiming for. Nobody including me, measured up.
  • Shame isolated me; I thought I was the only one that made mistakes big and small.

How am I trying to overcome shame as a parent?

  • When I feel safe and trusted I talk to my trusted tribe, my friends, family and psychologist. However shame only diminishes when we are completely honest to those we trust.
  • I use humour to acknowledge my mistakes, ask my kids I make plenty of them daily.
  • I am practicing to be more vulnerable in the world, to put myself out there and not listen too deeply to those that don’t really matter.
  • I am learning and practicing self-compassion not easy from an ex perfectionist.
  • I am learning to call bullshit on those that like to broadcast others mistakes for a quick laugh or to make themselves feel better.
  • I have swapped should for could.
  • I admit to my kids when I’m wrong and I let go of it eventually.

I was recently listening to a TED talk by Dan Gilbert who said “Human beings are works in progress, but they mistakenly think they are finished”

Just because we make a major parenting blunder doesn’t mean that’s who we are forever, it doesn’t define us. So you let you 12 year old sign up for Facebook and you realised it was a mistake, who cares, I don’t. Don’t keep holding onto the mistake, just deal with it and move.

So my message in this blog post is don’t be too quick to judge other parents, especially those highlighted on social media as ‘shameful parents’, you don’t know what’s really happened only the bits told to make the rest of us feel better about our own parenting.

Don’t be too quick to judge yourself, you’re not the only one that missed that school concert, or forgot about the tooth fairy dropping by, in the end your children won’t remember.

In beating shame, it aint easy  it’s almost counterintuitive to find the courage to break free of shame, but like anything if you practice enough and try long enough you will eventually get good at it and your kids will thank you too (well one day they will).


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