When I go out with the tots, I often push a stroller that seats four. With a child or two walking alongside, that can create quite a stir. People point and smile, people gasp, people laugh out loud. Many come over to talk, and when they do, I think the thing I hear most often is "Look at all those children! You must be so patient!"
Guess what? I'm not. Not particularly. Just like everyone else, I have my strengths and weaknesses, but patience is not a particular area of excellence for me. I can be quite impatient in certain circumstances, but over all, I think I'm patient-neutral. This does not make me a bad caregiver: it just means that I need other strengths to compensate. It means I likely interact with the children differently than a more patient person might; I probably structure my day differently. Differently, not better or worse.
It would be a huge problem, though, if I felt I should be patient, if I berated myself for my impatience, and worse, if I allowed myself into situations that would try my patience beyond bearing - because daycaristas should be patient! "Why is this so hard? I should be able to cope!"
Accepting that in this area I fall short of an ideal means that I do my job better than if I continued to strive to be other than what I am. Please be clear: Accepting what I am does not mean that I allow myself self-indulgent hissy fits at the childrens' expense! It means that I structure my day and align my expectations of the kids to minimize stress on my less-than-saintly patience levels.
What about us as parents? What are our expectations of ourselves? Do we have an idea of what a mom or dad "should" be? Do we try to squeeze ourselves into molds we just don't fit? Do we berate ourselves because we're not this or that enough, or because we have this or that feeling we "shouldn't" have? Some of our "shoulds" are conscious, others are not. These are hardest to deal with.
I suspect that if you're dissatisfied with your parenting, and especially if the dissatisfaction is vague and global, you may be suffering from a sense of inadequacy brought on by failing to be an unconscious "should". Dig it up and take a good look at it. Does that "should" reflect who you really are? Can you compromise with your Inner Perfectionist, and accept that you can be a great parent without meeting all your "should's"?
Life is a process of gradual maturity and improvement. Some of those "shoulds" are attainable, and the striving for them can bring great satisfaction. Others are not, and we need not allow them to detract from the joy we can take in our children, and in our relationship with them.
What are your "shoulds"?