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10 Things Every Parent Needs to Let Go of Right Now

We have this idea that to be a good parent, we need more: more time, more patience, more resources, more know-how. We always seem to be lacking, don’t you think? Always falling short.

But what if we flipped it? Maybe the effort to being a better parent is marked by what we have less of, not more—less attachments, identities and crutches. Less baggage. Less distraction.

Maybe we already have everything we need, but the weight is too heavy. We don’t have enough space in our arms or our hearts, not anymore. We have to let go of something or else we’ll topple over. And there are certain things that we could all work on letting go from our lives:

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1. The guilt

We need to own our choices, and then decide if our guilt comes with a legitimate message.

Sometimes guilt acts like a gnawing reminder that something is wrong or missing in our lives, that something needs to be addressed. It happens when I’d drop my 5-month-old off at daycare, before he barely opened his eyes, and come home just as he was drifting off to sleep for the night. (I only did that for four months, before the guilt ate me alive and I quit my overly demanding job. Thank goodness I did.)

We feel guilty for all of the imaginary reasons, too. Guilty for not measuring up to the expectations we dreamed up or the expectations of strangers. We feel guilty for feeling guilty, because we know it’s not good to feel guilty. And so then we feel guilty for feeling guilty for feeling guilty.

The cycle needs to end. We need to own our choices, and then decide if our guilt comes with a legitimate message. If it doesn’t, shut it down. Parenting comes with hard choices and sacrifices, there’s no getting around it. Pick what you’re willing to sacrifice and let go of the unproductive guilt clogging your mind. It’s too heavy.

2. How your life "should" be

We have these ideals, these expectations, for how our life is supposed to look. And rarely does our life measure up to exactly what we imagined. As soon as we can see things for how they are, not how they should be or would be or could be, the more space we have to appreciate these fleeting stages of parenting.

3. How your kid "should" be

The word “should” is often a portal away from reality, a way to fight whatever is happening. Just because our kid should be hitting a certain milestone or should be more polite or should be less aggressive, doesn’t change how they actually are. If we can see our kids for who they are, right in this moment, then we can meet them where they are, not where we imagine they "should" be.

4. What a "real" parent looks and acts like

We are real and important; the comparisons are not.

Wouldn’t a "real mom" have a special trick for getting out stains? Wouldn’t a "real mom" own an iron? Wouldn’t a "real mom" be done with college and have a retirement plan in place?

Humans like to perpetuate this absurd fantasy that a certain group of adults know what they’re doing. There are adults who are far more experienced and legit than we are; we are mere imposters.

Whether we don’t have enough kids, or we don’t face the right struggles, or we don’t have the right haircut and the right tax bracket—all of that is weighing down on our true potential. We are real and important; the comparisons are not.

5. Your need to be in control

If there’s one thing we need to let go as parents, it’s our control issues. As soon as we bring a new life into this world, it’s painfully obvious that we can control very little. (Why mothers haven’t evolved with force field capabilities, I’ll never understand.)

6. Past parenting mistakes

You yelled, again. The kid ended up in your bed last night, again. You said something insensitive and nasty in front of your kid, and now he’ll probably grow up to be an asshole.

Or we could let the mistakes go. Start each day fresh, forgive ourselves a little more easily, and try again the next.

7. Old patterns and habits

So much of how we operate (especially as parents) has to do with our conditioning in childhood—how our parents behaved, how they spoke, how they punished, how they loved. We formed habits and conditionings long before we knew what we were doing. Sometimes, not always, we need to untangle ourselves from the unconscious conditioning with a little awareness as to why we do the things we do. We need to let go of our complicated, painful childhood stories. Otherwise we’ll never be the kind of parents we want to be.

8. Distractions

The more we let go of our distractions, the more we see and experience our real, actual life.

Anything that takes our attention away from the present moment—be it a blinking text message or a sticky daydream or an entertaining podcast—takes us away from this reality, the one with our kids in it. The more we let go of our distractions, mentally and physically, the more we see and experience our real, actual life—the one that's happening around us, right now.

9. Compulsive worry

It’s not productive. It doesn’t help you; it doesn’t help your kid. No one is safer or healthier because you worried yourself down a dark, scary rabbit hole in your mind. And reminding your children how worried you are about them only piles on the guilt and fear. It might be normal to worry, but it’s certainly not making us better parents (or people, for that matter).

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10. Power struggles

Pick your battles. Don’t keep score. Let it go.

And then eventually we’ll have to let go of our children, too. Let them make mistakes, get some bruises, learn their own lessons. We’ll have to let go of our early motherhood roles—the doting, holding and physical nurturing—and move on to a new stage of responsibilities. We have to let go of the sweet toddler voices, the tiny clothes, the phases. Our identity as “mother” will keep evolving, and our attachments to each stage will only make it harder to move forward.

We have to let go.

And we just might be better, lighter, happier parents because of it.

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