When my girls were little I felt like an epic failure at bed time. They nursed to sleep when they were young. The books and the pediatrician, who didn't have any children of her own, said you should not nurse babies to sleep so they could learn how to fall asleep on their own. When the girls were older bedtime involved many stories and then many songs, and ultimately me staying in the room until they were all asleep. We often played musical beds in the night and you never knew where everyone would be sleeping come morning. If a conversation with other parents turned to the topic of bedtime I would tell them that I had always been a failure at bedtime.
To know if you are a failure you must know what you are trying to accomplish. If my primary goal was to have children who listened to one story and then drifted off to sleep, alone in their room, then yes, I was a failure. If my primary goal was to have children who felt safe and loved and connected to their parents then I was a huge success. In the latter case I was a failure when I let experts and society, and other people's advice and expectations, distract me from being the parent I wanted to be. I was a failure when I walked out of the room because, "I should be able to have time to myself at night after the kids are in bed." I was a failure when my children were crying and I failed to offer comfort because "they need to learn how to go to sleep on their own." I was a failure when I did not listen to my heart and when I failed to meet the real needs of my children. I look back and am saddened that I felt like a failure when I was meeting their needs. Instead of enjoying our night times together, too often I struggled with guilt and frustration because of my "bad parenting".
Society does not encourage us to meet our children's needs. Parenting books, magazines and television shows primarily focus on how to parent through controlling our children's behaviors and changing them so that it makes our life easier. They tell us that if our child does X then we should do Y, and then our child must do Z. If our child yells, "I hate you!" at us then we should put them in time out. The child must also apologize for being disrespectful and promise never to yell "I hate you!" at us again. These sources of parenting information focus on behaviors, not on children. (Read The Case Against Time-out HERE)
Mainstream parenting information aims to support parents, not children. It tells us how to get our children to conform to societal expectations, not how to celebrate and enjoy each unique child. It does not tell us that if our child yells, "I hate you!" at us that we should take our child's feelings seriously and validate those feelings. We are not told that our best response will happen when we stop, take a deep breath, and consider what it is our child needs in that moment. Most parenting information will fail to mention that what your child does not need is isolation, separation, with drawl of love, or a punishment of any kind. And that your child does need patience, compassion, understanding, respect and your unconditional love. We are not reminded to to look at the situation from our child's perspective and that we also may need to examine our role in the situation because often we unintentionally or unknowingly cause situations to escalate, as I discussed Here.
When you get advice on how to parent consider the goal of that advice. Evaluate whether what you are hearing will ultimately strengthen your relationship with your child. Is the goal to reach a greater understanding of your child and his needs, or is it to stop your child from expressing his needs? Are you being encouraged to gain a greater understanding of what needs are causing her behaviors, or are you being told how to stop behaviors while ignoring any related unmet needs?
When you are find yourself challenged by some aspect of parenting, frustrated by your child's behavior, at your wit's end regarding any particular stage your child is going through, start asking questions. Start with "What does my child need and how can I meet this need?" You may need to ask, "What do I need and I can I get my needs met?" Keep asking questions until you find an answer that truly resonates with you, your child and your family. My post "Learning from the questions we ask" shows how one question can be the starting place for a stream of questions that can challenge and inform your perspective on a particular parenting topic.
When you feel that you have failed as a parent ask yourself where that feeling is coming from. If you realize that you are letting society tell you that you are a failure take a moment to make a mental list of all the ways that you are an amazing parent who is meeting your children's unique needs. If you are truly struggling to be the parent you want to be reach out for help, search for like minded friends as discussed in my post on Peer Pressure and be gentle with yourself as you continue on towards becoming the parent you want to be.