Parenting is no simple task. Sure it happens every day, is a part of every culture, and has occurred since the dawn of time, but that does not make it ordinary or intuitive!
Many parents I work with feel discouraged because they place upon themselves the expectation that they ‘should’ know what to do in every situation. They feel they ‘should’ always have a calm, patient attitude when dealing with their children, and that they ‘should’ be able to get their kids to listen and obey all the time.
While these are not necessarily bad goals to be working toward, they should (I am using ‘should’ appropriately here!) be just that: goals. This means no, you didn’t get a parenting manual hardwired into your brain the second you were born (or birthed or adopted a child). No, you are not a robot, you are actually a real person with real feelings and real emotions that are effected and impacted by your kids. And no, your primary purpose in parenting is not to achieve compliance but to cultivate relationship with your children.
Re-understanding your goals as a parent can help relieve unnecessary pressure on yourself, pressure that often leads not only to personal burnout and stress, but also impacts your emotional availability for your children.
Parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (authors of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk) put it this way: “Our purpose is not to set forth a series of techniques to manipulate behavior so that children always respond. Our purpose is to speak to what is best in our children – their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of responsibility, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others… We want to create an emotional climate that encourages children to cooperate because they care about themselves, and because they care about us. We want to demonstrate the kind of respectful communication that we hope our children will use with us – now, during their adolescent years, and ultimately as our adult friends.”
The good news is you can take a deep breath and join the rest of the struggling parents in the world – what you are experiencing is normal! The bad (or shall I say challenging) news is that change, the setting and achieving of goals, takes work. Work takes time, energy, planning, strategy, contingency plans, and even periodic vacations.
The work of parenting also takes supportive relationships, an invested community, and lots of grace. This means you cannot wait for good parenting to happen to you, or for your kids to ‘grow out of a phase,’ or for an epiphany to strike you like lightning and drastically change your circumstances. Parenting, like all relationships, takes intentional investment of time and energy, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
But before we get to the nitty gritty of steps, specific strategies and recommended skills to use with your kids, I would ask you to pause and take personal inventory:
1. What would it look like to extend grace to myself in this process of growing to become a better parent?
2. What are the ‘shoulds’ I place on myself? Or inherited from the way my parents raised me?
3. What are the positive (what I do want them to do) goals I have for my children? (rather than the negative goals: what I don’t want them to do).
4. Who or where can I find personal support when I am tired, frustrated, angry and struggling? (this could be a partner, friend, family member, parenting group, church group, etc.)
5. And finally, how ready am I to make the investment necessary to learn, grow and change personally and parentally?
Ponder these questions, or better yet discuss your answers with a partner or friend, for these are actually the first steps toward change. And stay tuned for more information on those specific skills and strategies to try with your kids in the coming days!