What to do when you feel like a rubbish parent : 13 steps to dealing with parenting doubt

In a recent post I shared a list of 9 things to remember when we feel like a rubbish parent. And at the end of that post I promised to be back soon with a follow up – what to do when we feel like rubbish parents.

And here it is, a 13 step guide on how to deal with parenting doubt.

So rather than letting doubt drag us down we can use it to fuel our drive to be the parenting rockstars we all wanna be. And each time we face those doubts we get the chance to grow a little stronger and closer to our families than ever before. See, it’s not all bad 🙂

In that post, I suggested we need to get over ourselves so that we can be there for our children. And looking back, that seems a little harsh, but the sentiment stands. 

This parenting lark’s not really about us. Well, a little bit it is … how we feel, act and react in any area of our life often has much more to do with our internal landscape than external circumstances

But parenting, we’re doing it for the kids. It’s for them we dust ourselves off each time the doubt descends. And it’s for them we want to be the best parents we can be. Although a great bonus of parenting, is the chance, over and over, to work on ourselves and grow not just as parents, but as people too. 

So, let’s get on with it. And the first step, when dealing with parenting doubt…

Hit the brakes

Let’s just slow down for a minute. One thing I neglected to mention in my previous post, was the speed at which our negative thoughts, in this case our parenting doubts, can grow. Like rats, doubt breeds at alarming rates. Especially if we’re prone to pessimism and we all are.

So to stop our doubts from spiralling out of control, we need damage limitation. Let your doubt know you’re on to it and call a halt.

Get back to the present moment

Many of our worries about parenting arise when we’re obsessing over the past or projecting in to the future, preoccupied by failure or future-proofing we miss out on the moment.

And this moment is all we have. Here is where we live our lives and build our relationships. Life is a series of moments. Moments we can learn from, moments we get to leave behind and moments we can choose to embrace.

Slowing down our frantic thoughts allows us to take full advantage of each precious moment.

In practice this might look like – A grounding exercise such as the 5 senses, paying attention to our immediate environment, noticing 5 things we can see, 4 we can hear, 3 we can feel, 2 we can smell and 1 we can taste.

More mindfulness exercises here.

And more on mindfulness, especially for mothers here and here.

Be grateful

Despite our best efforts those parenting doubts might still be cycling through our minds at a rate of knots. Mindfulness is a practice and requires repeated effort but the more we give it a go the more likely we’ll feel the benefits.

The same is true for gratitude. Being grateful doesn’t always come easy but we can build those gratitude muscles with daily practice. Even in the midst of our worst doubting moments, we can be grateful for the messages doubt brings us.

Grateful for the nod, all is not well. The reminder not to keep blundering on making the same old mistakes. If we’re willing, our doubt can be an opportunity to reflect on why we’re feeling so rubbish and make it better.

And while we’re on the subject of gratitude, taking stock of what’s going well in our lives and looking for what we appreciate helps us shift from despair. And raises our energy and enthusiasm to face our doubts full-on.

In practice this might look like – Actively noticing the positive and listing 5 things we’re grateful for.

Starting a gratitude journal and using it daily.

Repeating affirmations or chanting mantras, mighty powerful tools to jolly along the mind and help us move in a more peaceful direction.

Notice the messages

We’re feeling beings, receiving feedback from our environment and our relationships constantly. And that feedback is mighty useful in keeping us safe and alerting us to danger. Noticing our feelings and considering the messages within them is a sensible strategy for survival.

Everything that makes an impression must have expression.


In practice this might look like – Journaling our thoughts.

Or a simple spiritual practice you can do with your phone.

Or phoning a friend 🙂

Keeping our emotions in flow

There’s danger in lingering too long, dwelling on our doubts. Just as fresh water stagnates when it’s still for too long, our emotions can get stuck if we don’t keep them flowing.

Ruminating on what’s wrong can make it hard to think clearly. As a verbal processor, it pains me to say this, but healthy expression isn’t all about talking it through.

Sometimes when we search for the right words to convey what we’re feeling, we just can’t find them. Attempting to label and define complex thoughts can see us straying into the realms of over-simplifying or complicating matters way too much. Sometimes other forms of expression can be a whole heap healthier and happier all round 🙂

In practice this might look like – A good cry.

Moving our bodies by stretching, walking, dancing, whatever feels good.

And for tons more creative ideas on expressing our emotions, and generally taking good care of our brains, check out the work of Allison Davies here and here

All of the above can be done in a flash. Much of it while you’re snuggling your lovelies on the sofa watching Ninjago, or close by.

And hopefully now you’re starting to feel a bit better, or at least less desperate. And that’s good, cos we’re about to ramp things up for the long-term.

While we can’t expect to remove all doubt from our parenting, and neither would we want to – we do still want to keep improving after all 🙂 What we can do is build stronger foundations in our relationships and in our parenting practices so when doubt inevitably shows it’s face, we’re not quite so thrown off course. And we can tease out whats it’s trying to tell us that bit faster.

Looking for choices

Every act is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

James Clear

And I’m gonna bet that if you’ve bothered to read this far, and you’re a parent, there’s a strong chance you want to be a better one, am I right?

And you have the power to make that happen. With every choice you make.

Sometimes we feel the weight of certainty, life has to be this way and we have no choice. Yet, even then we can choose to accept the ‘inevitable’ with grace. Or not. Or we can put some welly in, some effort and imagination, boldly seeking out possibilities, options and alternatives 🙂

And everyday, as parents, we get to choose how we show up for our children.

Choosing kindness

It only takes a second to do better.

– Sandra Dodd.

Kindness has many heroic qualities. It can defuse tension, calm conflict and be immensely healing. And if we want to be a better parent, kindness is a good place to start. Now.

In practice this might look like – giving our child a hug, listening to them describe their latest gaming win or bringing them a snack, just because.

And if our kindness muscles need a little warming up, breaking out the baby books and recalling family stories can work wonders.

And what makes this kindness lark even more amazing? Showing kindness to others helps us feel kinder to ourselves.

Nothing has ever made me feel better about me than the feeling that I was being a good mom.

—Sandra Dodd

Taking care of ourselves

Of course, taking care of ourselves is crucial to ensure we’re able and willing to take care of our children.

We’ve all heard of self-care these days and I’m all for it.

But it’s worth remembering that often our parenting doubts arise because we’re feeling disconnected from our children. We can start to feel resentful and fearful from a distance. Sometimes we don’t need a break, we need to move in closer. Build up some emotional credit in both our banks 🙂

In practice this might look like – all the goodies like having a relaxing bath, sleeping, eating well, walking and water.

Plus a good dose of some sites of mutual fulfilment.

And definitely taking a break when you need one 🙂

Accepting our responsibility

Taking care of them and taking care of us, those are biggies, no question. All part of our responsibility as parents.

And another part of that responsibility, is owning up to our mistakes. Recognising when we’ve messed up and making amends. Being honest with our children and generous with our apologies can limit any harm our messing up might cause.

And while we’re on the subject of being responsible, sure it’s good to ‘fess up when we’ve made a mistake, but in the interests of being a fully rounded model of human-ness… Let’s take a moment to celebrate when things are going well, too.

In practice this might look like – saying sorry when we’ve mucked up.

And creating our very own jar of awesome when we’ve done something pretty darn spectacular, or even just, moderately fine 🙂

Getting support

Just as we’re safe spaces for our children, so we need our own safe spaces, a partner, friend or family member we can turn to. To listen to our worries, to offer some words of wisdom when we’re looking for them, a source of emotional and practical support when we need it.

And that doesn’t have to be just one person, or even a person at all. Sometimes we’ll find the support we’re looking for in a book, or a YouTube video, or a blog post.

And not forgetting our children, of course. Not in a make them do chores or burden them with all our worries type way. But our children can be the most amazing resource for support in looking after each other and our homes. And in offering valuable feedback on our parenting too. After all, who knows more about what they need from us? 🙂

In practice this might look like – reaching out to friends and family for help.

Finding supportive sources of inspiration online and off.

Joining parenting and home ed groups.

And listening to our children when we’re having doubts, and when we’re not 🙂

Exploring our values

At the start of his book, Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn invites us to imagine we overhear other parents talking about our child…

Pause for a moment to think of a word or sentence that you would be especially delighted to hear. My guess – and my hope – is that it wouldn’t be, ‘Boy, that child does everything he’s told and you never hear a peep out of him.’ The crucial question, therefore, is whether we sometimes act as though this is what we care about most.

– Alfie Kohn

This can be a powerful exercise to help us uncover what matters to us most. Exploring our values and defining our priorities can profoundly impact our parenting practices.

Taking time out of our already busy schedule to consider the bigger picture might seem too much. Yet if we can, we might find daily decision making becomes easier.

Clear on our priorities, we’re more confident in the choices we make, stronger in the face of criticism and less prone to be shaken by the selected snippets of someone else’s life we might see on social media.

In practice this might look like – Drawing up our own parenting philosophy (sounds grander than it has to be, many home educators are familiar with the idea of an educational philosophy and for many of us, this is also our parenting philosophy, more about ours here)

Or a family mission statement.

Being guided by our child

This isn’t about becoming the perfect parent. Getting too attached to our vision of what a good parent looks like can trip us up. Parenting philosophies and mission statements are all well and good, but if we don’t prepare these with the needs of our children at their heart, it’s a bit like creating a healthy menu plan without checking the fridge – looks good but isn’t much use.

And of course, the needs of our children change. Creating strong connections and open communication with our children is crucial to understanding those needs and helping us evolve as the parents our children need, and want.

If your child is more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier.

Sandra Dodd

When we’re strongly attached to our convictions it can be hard to consider alternative viewpoints, yet maybe that’s when it can benefit us the most. Keeping an open mind and being willing to question our assumptions and be flexible in our thinking can lead to more harmony and happiness in our homes and in our hearts.

In practice this might look like Lots of connection and conversation with our children.

Family meetings and regularly updating any philosophy or mission statements.

Research and reflection 🙂

Making a plan

Now we know what’s at the heart of our worries, and we know where we want to go, we can make a plan.

A plan for what to do next.

In practice this might look like Getting back to our children and enjoying them. And if they’re busy elsewhere, consider strewing or setting out an invitation to play for them to discover later.

And a plan for how to tackle our doubts in the future.

In practice this might look like Bookmarking this post for later 🙂

Preparing a list of soothing activities that we can cycle through in times of stress. When we’re in a state of panic or fear, what seems obvious on ordinary days can go right out of our minds. I have an upcoming post on this you may like – be sure to subscribe to the blog to make sure you don’t miss it.

I’ve also got a couple of older posts that might help, I’d love it if you checked them out…

The trouble with worrying (and what to do instead)

Soothing quotes for scary times

Hoping this all helps. And thanks for reading x


  1. Daisy says:

    Love the ‘putting into practise’ parts – a great addition to the post! That Alfie Kohn quote as well really gave some food for thought. Hmmmm

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Daisy. I’m glad you liked the ‘putting into practise’ bits. Love so much of what Alfie Kohn has to say, hoping to get some book reviews posted soon and share some more of his wonderful quotes. Really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂

  2. Hayley, there is such an abundance of good stuff here! “Life is a series of moments” and the whole section on gratitude were great takeaways for me today, and then I saw the part that suggested “bookmarking this post for later” and now, I’m thinking that yes, that’s a good idea;)! Lots of good food for thought. Thank you.

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Erin. That bookmarking for later… a little cheeky of me, but I’m glad you thought it was a good idea. So grateful for you taking the time to read and comment 🙂

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