Parenting is a Process:
Reflections of an Imperfect Mom
The parenting slump
From time to time, we all go through a “parenting slump.” Hey, nobody can be totally on their game, 24/7, right? It’s all right to fall off the wagon once in a while, as long as you climb back on as soon as you realize there’s a problem. It’s even a good experience to share with your kids—as in: “Mom is working on talking calmly instead of yelling.” What better way to model positive interpersonal skills than to show that it takes thoughtful effort?
Most of the time, when I’m honest with myself about what’s going wrong when I’m in a parenting slump, it’s this:
I’m expecting my children to display more maturity and self-control than I’m expecting from myself.
It’s just not fair to ask that of them! Staying tuned in to my kids’ developmental stages and temperaments helps. When my expectations are realistic, I’m less likely to end up getting everyone all stressed out.
Our parenting skills tend to suffer when we are tired, overwhelmed and frazzled. Add to that financial stress from the economic downturn, and parenting skills may similarly trend downward. The irony is that when we feel badly about our parenting—when we know that we’re not doing our best—we end up feeling even more stressed out!
When those red flags go up—when we find ourselves yelling, berating, sending the message of “here’s what’s wrong with you” or repeating the same ineffective messages over and over again, it’s time to hit the reset button.
Hitting the “reset button”
How do I “reset” my parenting? I have a three-part approach.
First, I get out my trusty parenting book favorites and put them by the bedside. Often, re-reading a few chapters is enough to hit my reset button—some of those forgotten parenting tools can go back in my toolbelt, and I’m ready for action.
How we communicate with our kids is the single most important—and most challenging—aspect of parenting. My favorite books for brushing up my communication skills are:
- How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, & Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
- Parent Talk: How to Talk to your Children in Language that Builds Self Esteem and Encourages Responsibility, by Chick Moorman
A book that helps me to pause and regain perspective is:
- The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: A New Interpretation, by William Martin
There are so many wonderful parenting books out there. Summer is a great time to check a few out of the library and find the ones that speak best to you and your family. Check out YourChild: Parenting, which lists some favorites of the faculty in Child Behavioral Health.
Strategize, Meet and Plan
Second, I identify a few key recurring problems, and figure out better alternatives to the way I’ve been responding. So often, I’ve simply developed a bad habit (like yelling), and I need to replace it with a good habit. In formulating better ways of responding, it often helps to figure out where our responsibility ends and our child’s begins.
A helpful way to clarify the division of responsibility is to hold a family meeting. When the family is especially busy, we sometimes even have more than one mini-meeting a day. We keep a notebook to jot down what we agree everyone’s responsibilities are. If your child pushes your buttons regularly in a similar way, you can talk about the recurring problem at the meeting and explain how it makes you feel. Then you can listen as your child explains their perspective. Next comes the back and forth where you work out a better way to deal with the problem. You can find out more about family meetings and get some ideas for ways to make them work on the YourChild page on Sibling Rivalry.
Planning ahead how to respond to problems that occur regularly can help. If you know your kid is going to push your buttons in a certain way, you can prepare yourself, so that you react in a way that will work better for everyone.
Third and perhaps most importantly, is “Floortime.” Floortime is a parenting strategy developed by Stanley Greenspan, MD, a child psychiatrist. You set aside some time for your child, one-on-one, to simply be together. You give your child your undivided attention. You don’t try to teach anything. You listen. You follow your child’s lead—you let your child choose the game, the conversation, the activity, and tell you what to do. This is a surprisingly difficult practice. We are so used to multi-tasking and providing a constant stream of “enrichment” to our kids. To just to plop down with a child and focus completely on them, doing only what they want to do, can be excruciatingly challenging!
What does Floortime do for my parenting? Well, first of all, giving each individual child regular undivided attention, even briefly, helps their behavior. There’s less sibling rivalry and less need to attract parental attention in negative ways. I also find that it helps keep me tuned into who my kids are now: their developmental stage, temperament, and current interests and styles of interaction. Finally, it is a form of practicing mindfulness, which is easily lost in our rushed lives. That focused time together, one-on-one, is so precious and connecting, that it invariably improves the depth of my relationship with my kids (and theirs with me), and therefore the quality of my parenting.
Keeping things in perspective
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. The stakes are high. You never figure it all out. Every kid is different. Every day brings new challenges. Fortunately, kids are resilient. We don’t need to beat ourselves up when we don’t do as well as we’d like; instead, we should put our energy into knowing when and how to hit “reset.”
It helps when I do this:
I consult some parenting books.
I formulate some better strategies.
I make some time to be mindfully with each child.
And it helps when I tell myself this:
I forgive myself for the times I don’t parent at my best.
Each day—even each hour—brings another chance to do it better.
~Kyla Boyse, RN