- Parenting is full of contradictory emotional experiences (e.g., wanting to be with and away from one's kids).
- The principle of dialectics involves acknowledging that seemingly opposing forces or ideas can coexist.
- Acknowledging conflicting feelings is an integral part of regulating emotions.
Do you ever feel like you don’t want to be around your children? The journey of parenthood can be both incredible and intricate, with many ups and downs. Sometimes, you may feel conflicting emotions that are hard to reconcile, leading you to question your instincts.
Let me offer a framework to help make sense of these seemingly contradictory feelings.
Dialectics: A Brief Overview
Dialectics is a philosophical concept that originated in ancient Greece and has gained popularity through Marsha Linehan's dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). The principle of dialectics involves acknowledging that seemingly opposing forces or ideas can coexist and even depend on each other. This means we should think in terms of "both this and that" instead of "either this or that."
To illustrate this concept, let's look at some examples of dialectics:
- This person has qualities that I love and they are driving me insane.
- I need closeness, and I need space.
- I am sorry I hurt your feelings, and I stand by my decision to set this boundary.
- I am excited about this change, and I am terrified.
- My perspective is valid, and your perspective is valid.
Acknowledging our conflicting feelings is an integral part of regulating emotions. Additionally, recognizing and synthesizing opposing viewpoints can increase our capacity for compassion and connection with others.
Dialectics and Parenthood: Embracing Contradictions
The journey of parenthood is filled with countless examples of dialectics. Parents often experience a wide range of emotions and thoughts that can seem contradictory, yet are a natural and essential part of the parenting experience. It is possible to feel multiple feelings about an experience.
By naming and making room for these contradictions, you can develop a more holistic understanding of their role and the emotions that come with it.
Some common examples of dialectics in parenting include:
- Loving and hating being a parent. It is entirely normal for parents to have moments when they absolutely love being a parent and other moments when they deeply struggle with it. Being a parent can be an incredibly fulfilling experience, providing a deep sense of purpose, meaning, and joy, and the demands of parenting can create intense feelings of frustration, resentment, and overwhelm. All these feelings are valid and real.
- Adoring your kids and finding them irritating. Parents can simultaneously find their children adorable, amusing, and incredibly exasperating. Children can be impulsive, demanding, and prone to meltdowns or tantrums (amongst other things). They also have unique personalities and dispositions, which may clash with your expectations or preferences. Feeling frustrated, angry, or irritated with your children does not mean you don't love them enough.
- Craving time together and time apart. Many parents experience the paradox of wanting to be with their children while also craving time for themselves. You may joke about how much you can't wait for your kids to go to sleep, only to find yourself using that time to scroll through pictures of them on your phone. The desire for closeness and connection with your children often coexists with the need for personal space and time to recharge.
- Feeling both capable and incompetent as a parent. At times, you may feel like you have everything under control and can handle any situation that comes your way. These moments can be empowering and validating, making you feel confident in your abilities as a parent. However, there are also moments when you may feel completely lost, unsure of what to do or how to handle a particular situation. These moments can be overwhelming and can make you question your competence as a parent. It's important to remember that no one is a perfect parent and that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process. It's okay to feel like you don't know what you're doing sometimes and to feel proud of yourself for all that you are doing well.
- Experiencing joy and grief in parenthood. Parenthood is frequently filled with both joy and pain. You may be filled with delight as you see your children grow and develop, and yet you may also be filled with nostalgia for their infant years. It is natural to cherish being a parent while also mourning the loss of old roles and identities. Who wouldn't lament the loss of independence from being able to leave the house for a weekend getaway or a romantic night without having to worry about childcare? The "joy and grief" dialectic is especially noticeable at key milestones and transitions, such as when a child enters school or leaves home for the first time. You may become acutely aware of your ambivalence in these moments of transition.
- Wanting to protect your children and encourage their independence. One of the most challenging aspects of being a parent is balancing the desire to protect your children with the need to encourage their independence. This paradox is a constant feature of parenthood, from giving your baby the reins to feed themselves to letting your teenager drive a car. You can want them to be free to make their own choices and have anxiety about how they will fare.
Applying Dialectical Thinking to Parenthood
Mothers and fathers can develop a more compassionate understanding of their parenting experiences by acknowledging multiple truths and making space for conflicting feelings. Here are some practical ways to apply dialectical thinking to parenthood:
- Reflect on your experiences and acknowledge both sides. Take the time to reflect on your experiences as a parent and consider the dialectical aspects of your parenting journey. Embracing the validity of multiple feelings and perspectives can help you feel more accepting of your struggles.
- Practice self-compassion. Instead of criticizing or judging yourself, show kindness, care, and understanding. Remember that it's natural to have conflicting emotions and be gentle with yourself during these moments. You can also create a simple mantra to repeat to yourself, like, “I am not perfect and I am still good enough,” or "It's okay to feel this way," to help you through tough times. If you struggle to speak kindly to yourself, imagine how you would talk to a loved one.
- Communicate openly. You are not alone in having conflicting feelings. Share your experiences and emotions with your partner, friends, or support groups. Expressing your thoughts and feelings can help you process them and find understanding and support from others sharing similar experiences.
The concept of dialectics can be helpful in comprehending and accepting the many contradictions and challenges that come with being a parent. When you acknowledge and embrace the entire spectrum of your emotions, you will be better equipped to handle them.