I haven’t shared much here in the past on the specific challenges of parenting that I’m facing during any given time — I think I’ve always wanted this space to be a refreshing respite for both parents and non-parents alike to get ideas for living well, and I’ve tried to veer far from “mommy blog” territory. But lately I’ve had so many readers and friends (even the ones who don’t have kids) mention that they’d love more conversation about navigating parenthood, and since it’s such a central part of my own journey, it suddenly feels like a conversation I want to be having. So, here goes…

On a recent Sunday night, after what felt like a very long weekend of meltdowns and battles over candy and bedtimes, I collapsed into bed and scrolled wearily through my phone looking for something that might help our family achieve a little more peace and a little less conflict. In my desperate search, I stumbled across a book called No-Drama Discipline and impulsively tapped “download.” Even though the title itself sounded about as realistic as Phoebe’s stuffed unicorn suddenly coming to life. Reading the first chapter, I was caught off guard to feel a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. Here’s what it said:

“You are not alone. If you feel at a loss when it comes to getting your kids to argue less or speak more respectfully… if you can’t figure out how to keep your toddler from climbing up to the top bunk, or get him to put on clothes before answering the front door… if you feel frustrated having to utter the same phrase over and over again (“Hurry! You’re going to be late for school!”) or to engage in another battle over bedtime or homework or screen time… if you’ve experienced any of these frustrations, you are not alone.

In fact, you’re not even unusual. You know what you are? A parent. A human being, and a parent.”

As the floodgates opened, I realized that a huge weight of guilt had lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even know I’d been carrying around. Guilt that I sometimes yell at my kids (but only when they really deserve it, lol), guilt that they won’t eat spinach much less sushi like some of my friends kids do, guilt that they probably definitely get a little more screen time than they should. Reading those words reminded me that parenting is hard, and that none of us do it perfectly. But if we stay curious, learning from our mistakes and trying to get better — we’re on the right track. And if, despite our missteps, we’re seeking to create a home where our kids feel safe and connected and see kindness in action, then we’re doing a pretty great job.

In the weeks since, I’ve made it through the rest of the book with fewer tears and more “aha” moments, and I’m starting to view the act of discipline as an opportunity to, as the authors say,  “create connections in your children’s brains that build emotional and social skills that will serve them now and throughout their entire life — all while strengthening your relationship with them.”

Those realizations are for another post (do y’all want more of these parenting “aha’s?”) but that first tearful night made me understand something really important:

In order for us to make progress, in parenting and in life, we’ve got to let go of the guilt. It blinds us and burdens us and distracts us from the real steps we can make towards growth.

But when we accept our flaws and realize that mistakes are a natural part of being human, it’s like a mental fog lifts and we’re free to be more intentional about where we’re headed.

Since my inner monologue has a major impact on how I respond to my kids, shouldn’t I extend the same acceptance and love to myself that I want my kids to receive? In No Drama Discipline, the authors share that sometimes, instead of a “time out,” even more impactful can be a “time in,” where we sit and talk with our child to help them calm down and maintain a loving connection even in times of conflict. I love this idea because it puts grace at the forefront and shows our kids that we’re there for them whether they’re on their “best behavior” or not. As we do the inner work on ourselves to get better — and help draw clear boundary lines for our kids — we’re showing them by example that, even in the hard moments, forgiveness is waiting and love is in abundance.

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Photography

Kristen Kilpatrick