Parental Doubt

Moms and dads, do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and spend the next forty-five minutes to five hours making a list in your head of all the ways your parenting is sub-par?

I have made that list so many times it writes itself:

  1. I don’t know what I’m doing
  2. Everyone else does it better
  3. I’m messing it up

This list is not only comprehensive, but it can be applied in so many contexts of my parenting and life in general. When things go wrong (and, believe me, they do), I can pull this list out and tick off all the boxes, one by one. When my kids have an issue (or are the issue), somehow I’m able to take all the elements of that issue and make them all about my own perceived faults. Yes, I am that skilled at self-flagellation.

When our kids were little, there were banged-up knees, fevers, and dietary rebellion. I found it terrifying that I was their first responder. How did I know it wasn’t a hematoma? Were those spots chicken pox or the bubonic plague? How much therapy would they one day need if I forced them to eat the veggies before dessert?

Nowadays, the problems are complex – how am I supposed to give relationship advice? I’ve been in the same relationship for twenty-two years – we are on cruise control, people. 

How is it that these people are relying on me to help them make their most critical life decisions? I don’t even know how to distinguish chicken pox from the bubonic plague.

I wouldn’t be so quick to admit this if I didn’t think you all did it too. We all have those universal experiences, like running those last few stairs up from a dark basement like you’re escaping an axe-murderer, or packing far too many pairs of underwear for a trip. This is one of those times – parental doubt and despair is a shared human experience.

On the one hand, I think the fact that we doubt ourselves means that we take the job seriously. It’s no laughing matter, raising an entire human being to adulthood while said human being seems determined to do scary, dangerous things. Newborns can’t take care of themselves; toddlers think they can fly; teenagers know they can’t, but they try anyway. It’s scary stuff.

On the other hand, living life riddled with self-doubt means we get our kids to adulthood and are left with stomach ulcers and anxiety. There has to be a better way. 

When the list of self-doubt does start wrapping its nasty way around my pre-frontal cortex, I’ve started consciously replacing it with a new list. Understand that I do not have all the answers here, but I’m going to keep trying. Eventually, I hope it becomes automatic. Eventually, I hope I come to believe each item on the list. Eventually, I hope I tick each one off and know it to be true:

  1. I’m doing the best I can
  2. I’m the best parent for my child
  3. My children don’t need perfection, they just need me.


  • Leza Warkentin

    I have been living and teaching in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, since the turn of the century. I am a Canadian with a musician-Mexican husband and two Mexican-Canadian patas saladas who are growing up way too fast.

    View all posts

Most Popular