Let’s Ditch the Parenting Scorecard

We’ve all heard the saying, “You are your own harshest critic.” I’ve found this description to be particularly fitting in motherhood. We don’t get traditional performance evaluations for raising human beings. But I often imagine a virtual scorecard inside my head, tallying my successes and missteps as they occur in real time.

Remembered to pack loving notes in kids’ lunches – Good job, you’ve earned 1 point! 

Yelled at kids for arguing, instead of using peaceful parenting techniques – Uh-oh, lose 2 points!

If I were grading my performance as a mom, I’d place myself squarely in the average category, perhaps a B student with some D’s and F’s, and the occasional A. Very rarely do I meet or exceed my own expectations. Most days, I’m just not enough. Not patient enough, not cheerful enough, not present enough, not calm or fun or loving enough. I’m a mediocre cook and get easily frustrated when helping with homework. I can’t sew, bake, or throw a Pinterest-worthy soirée. And sadly, I’d rather fold laundry or scrub the counters than play another round of Candy Land. The list goes on and on.

One area I especially struggle with is patience. I’d like to be a calm, unflappable, Zen-like mother, but too often, I’m just not. While I can maintain a relatively even keel most of the time, after a finite number of garden-variety offenses – from sassy retorts at the breakfast table to bickering in the backseat to permanent marker scrawled on the kitchen floor – my accumulated frustration spills out in a shocking burst. I yell, threaten to banish toys and screen time for all eternity, and basically throw my own version of an adult tantrum.

It’s difficult to resist that emotional release valve, but I always regret it after the fact. I worry my kids will be haunted by memories of Mama yelling and being angry at them, and that those memories will overshadow the happier ones. Soon the emotional hangover kicks in, and I feel guilty and ashamed, convinced I am a monster.

But I realized something recently: my kids don’t see it that way at all. One day earlier this week, I was having a really tough time keeping it together, and my youngest daughter made me this:

“I Love You,” LEGO-style

Even when I screw up, my daughters don’t view me as a horrible monster, unworthy of love and forgiveness. In fact, my kids even seem to think I’m cool and fun (side note: I really have them fooled there!). Just yesterday, my youngest said, “Mama, there couldn’t be a mom better than you. Well, okay, maybe just one could be better than you.”

“That’s honestly one of the biggest compliments you could give me,” I told her. “But what about the bad days? What about when I lose my temper and yell at you guys?”

“Who cares?” my oldest daughter piped up. “You always love us!”

In the simplest way, my kids have reminded me that the way we view ourselves as parents isn’t always the reality. Moreover, our own perception is often strikingly different from the way our children see us. Our kids don’t care how many mistakes we make, nor do they expect us to behave like calm, serene robots who never struggle with big feelings.

If our kids gave us performance evaluations, I bet their grading rubric would be pretty straightforward. Do they feel loved, safe, and heard? Do they come to us when they’re sad or scared? Do they want to share their joys and excitement with us?

Maybe it’s time to ditch the artificial, self-imposed scorecard that lives inside our brains. It’s far less important than we think.

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