The goal of parenting
In my experience as a therapist, and as a mom of two kiddos whose needs go above and beyond the norm (whatever that is), there are three things I find myself teaching most often to the moms and dads I help, daily.
First let’s get this out of the way. The goal of parenting varies, depending on who you talk to. But when all is said and done, a healthy goal is to help your children become the best “them” they can be, and to eventually be self-sufficient, independent adults who can function successfully in the outside world. If you’re really successful at it, they’ll grow up understanding the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that others are not responsible for their happiness.
Parenting is basically a crappy job. But one that certainly will challenge you, stretch you to your limit and if you’re smart about it, will grow you like no other experience. When we parent without the goal in mind, it’s easy to veer off course. If we parent without a plan, and without intention, the results are similar to trying to build a house without a blueprint.
It’s most likely not going to turn out well.
So here we go…
Tip #1: Deal with your own shit.
I debated over whether or not to make this post G or PG-13. I opted for the latter after trying lots of different words to convey the same message. Crap, stuff, baggage, past junk….none of them really have the same meaning as shit. Because that’s what it is. The nature of my hesitation to say the word, or put it into print conveys it all. It’s stuff that we don’t want to look at, don’t want to talk about, and definitely don’t want to deal with. It stinks. It’s the stuff that keeps us up at night worrying if we’re good enough, because we’ve never dealt with the self-esteem issues that we gently put aside in order to raise children. The stuff that, when we think about, makes us want to run to the kitchen and dull the pain with a few vodka tonics and a double-chocolate walnut brownie.
We all have shit we haven’t dealt with. And as I tell my clients, if you don’t deal with it, it will eventually deal with you. And it usually ain’t pretty.
Our own shit seeps out in all kinds of ways when we parent.
Your daughter gets invited to the prom, and you get nervous remembering the time you went to the prom with the guy who treated your body like his own private playground. And you didn’t tell him no, for fear that he wouldn’t like you anymore.
Or, your son doesn’t make the baseball team, and you’re reminded of the time you didn’t make the team, and how it hurt so much, but you couldn’t cry cause your dad would’ve called you a wimp. (Or worse. But I’m trying really hard to keep this PG-13.)
If we don’t deal with our shit, we forget that our kids are not mini versions of us.
We forget that they’re not on this earth to re-do the stuff we screwed up.
We forget that their experience of life is different from ours.
But if you don’t deal with the unexamined shit, you can be sure you’ll pass it along.
Shit is sticky like that.
Tip #2: Self-Care is not optional.
One of the first things I ask new clients is how much time they spend on self-care. Usually after a long pause they look at me with a glazed-over look.
Am I allowed to do that?
Isn’t that selfish?
When would I even have time to engage in this self-care you speak of, when I barely have time to take a shower?
Self-care doesn’t need to be lengthy or extravagant in order to be productive. It simply means you care about your kids and family enough to re-fill your own cup before helping them. This might be as simple as making yourself a cup of tea before anyone else gets out of bed in the morning and sipping it quietly while watching the birds out the back porch window.
It might be as extreme as planning a weekend away by yourself once in a while. It really all depends on your own needs.
After I started my private practice, I found myself checking email obsessively in order to keep up with new clientele. It started draining my energy. I found that I had to force myself to take a break and institute a “Email Sabbath” every Saturday. This means I don’t allow myself to check email at all, all day. I liked it so much, it extended into Sundays. Now, most of the time, I don’t lay eyes on that gmail icon for almost two full days, and wait until Sunday evening to get my work week started again.
But notice, I said I have to MAKE myself. Just like saying no to eating an entire tub of Haagen Daas caramel cone ice cream, I need to remind myself that it’s not really good for me and I’ll be much happier if I don’t do it.
Your Kids Are Watching
Don’t forget, your kids are watching you. They really are going to do what you DO, and not what you say. If you ridicule your own body, they will develop poor self-images of themselves. If you’re a workaholic, they will get the message that’s what it means to be a man.
Treat yourself with compassion so your kids will do the same.
Take care of yourself, so that your kids will take care of themselves.
Your child’s self-esteem is a learned trait. And it starts with how you model it for them.
What things are getting in the way of your self-care? (Besides your kids.)
Tip #3: Allow your kids to fail.
Yeah, here’s the toughie. And I gotta tell ya, I’m not so great at it either. It helps to re-frame what it means for our kids to “fail”. Of course we don’t want our kids to learn not to cross the street while the light is red by having them get hit by a truck. That would be allowing harm. What I’m talking about it allowing some hurt to happen. And it will happen, as long as we don’t get in the way.
Pain is a teacher. Hurt, not harm, is a powerful motivator. It’s what will encourage them to bring home a paycheck someday fro their family. It’s what will motivate them to do their best when they get to college. It’s the thing that keeps us going to the doctor for preventative checkups, and the impetus to save money instead of spend it. Basically the important stuff in life, that responsibility is made of, is a result of trying to avoid pain and discomfort.
But what happens when your child never experiences discomfort? Or mistakes?
People who don’t learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings, end up numbing the pain.
That’s how addicts become addicts.
Let’s take for example, the teenager who let’s his parents know he has a project due, the night before it’s due. Many parents would engage in the usual round of teeth-gnashing and hair pulling and then proceed to help their child put together a project until the wee hours of the morning.
What has the child learned? That when you don’t take responsibility, or plan ahead of time, your parents swoop in and save the day, and you wind up with a project that is much better than you ever could’ve done on your own.
A much more effective response is to say to your child,
“Wow, that’s gonna be tough. You don’t have much time, but I guess you’ll just have to do your best with the time and resources you have left. Let me know if I can bring you a snack or something to drink while you’re working.”
This puts the ball firmly in their court, and allows them to come up with solutions, solve the problem on their own, and take ownership of it. They might do really poorly.
They might even, dare I say, FAIL.
But it’s their grade, not yours. And if you continue to react as if your child’s grades are your own, they will never learn to take responsibility for them.
But they also could surprise you and do really well. They may even get an A on the project.
You’ll never know if you save them from the experience.
Janeen Herskovitz is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in treating families living with autism and related issues. She resides in North Florida with her two kids, fabulous husband and poorly-trained Havanese-Poodle. Catch Janeen’s podcast, Autism Blueprint, where she helps autism families and professionals create more peaceful homes.