How many books and articles are there about parenting in this world? Fifty-two million, three hundred and twenty-two thousand, one hundred and forty-five. Okay, so I don’t know the exact number, but there are too many to count. What is it that we are all seeking as parents?
- How to get our children to sleep better,
- How to get them respect us and others,
- How to deal with their anger and emotions,
- How to parent a child with different mental health issues,
- Raising a creative child,
- Raising a sensitive child,
- Better communication
- How to help kids when there is divorce and separation
- and on and on…
There are many books and articles that will indeed help us as parents with sleep, communication, creativity, mental health and so much more. I remember watching a YouTube video in the middle of the night about swaddling when my oldest was a few days old – it was very helpful. I also keep reminders around my place to remind me to validate my children. My favourite sequence is from Emotion-Focused Family Therapy:
- Observe the Emotion
- Label the Emotion
- Validate the Emotion
- Meet the Emotional Need
- (Fix/Problem Solve) – (which is written in italics because it’s optional.)
Learning ways to guide and support our children is always helpful.
But then, in the search for good parenting, there is a mythology that somewhere amid all the parenting tricks and tips that somewhere there is a perfect balance of boundary setting and validation with our children. Somewhere there is a perfect balance of compassion and firmness. If we find it, what will we have… Peace? Freedom? Validation? Happiness? Harmony? What do you hope to have?
I want peace and relaxation and fun. Wouldn’t it be something if I announced that we’re having chicken for dinner and my kids shouted, “Hooray!” Or if we took them for a hike and they were so grateful for being outdoors. Wouldn’t it be great if they just went to sleep and slept until 8am? How about enthusiasm and gratefulness for having food, clothing, and shelter? How about if I made a rule about less screen time and they agreed with me because they could see how it made sense for their greater well-being.
I must admit that if my kids started acting like all my ideas were great, that I would wonder if I had entered a portal into a different dimension.
The truth of it all is that our children would continue to do many things we don’t like even if we became perfect parents.
So where does that leave us? Is there no point in changing our parenting style? Do we have no control about the outcome of the future? Does that mean we don’t need to change anything as parents? No! Our children benefit so much from our interest in shifting and changing things that aren’t working in our families. In fact, we should be giving ourselves a high-five and some kind words. The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you that all those articles and books are crap or tell you all that work you did was a waste of time. In fact, the opposite is true.
But, if we’re reading a parenting book with the hope of controlling the future outcomes of our children or our relationships with our children, then we are likely to be disappointed.
A lot of parenting books and articles will help us to a certain level with our children. At the same time, if you want to have longer lasting change within the relationship with your child, or you’re in a space where the guidance in books and articles aren’t working, then it may be a time to look within yourself.
If we explore our own wounds and defenses as we parent our children, it can be amazing to see the dynamics shift with our children. We teach our children that we are not perfect and that is okay. We teach them that it is okay to ask for help. We teach them that we are not God and they don’t need to respect us because we are their parents but because we show behavior that is respectable. We can hold boundaries with our children with respect and love. We can react more often with kindness and openness and less out of defensiveness. Ultimately it can help us have a deeper connection with our children.
The types of things we search for about help with parenting say a lot about our hopes and wishes about parenting. We often start by looking at the problems we are having with our children, and then we can use that problem to shift the lens onto ourselves.
A few questions to reflect on might be:
- What are you seeking for yourself when you look at a parenting book or article?
- What are you trying to control that don’t have control over right now?
- What do you seek more from your child – respect or acceptance? What happens if you don’t get it? How do you feel if you don’t get it?
- What are you more sensitive to with your children, disrespect or rejection?
- What are your expectations in your relationship with your children?
- What are your expectations about parenting?
Think of the best parent you know – do you think that their children always do what they want? Do you think that parent never gets defensive? What is it that you admire about that parent? This will also give us clues about what we are seeking as we raise our children. If you’re feeling bold, ask that parent you admire what it’s like in their household. If they say, “Everything’s fine all the time”, they’re lying.
As a therapist who is a parent, I can tell you that I still yell sometimes and I lose my temper. I will try and tell my children to do things because I said so. My kids didn’t sleep through the night after 1 year. I have said things that I regret to my children. My kids have been angry at me. I get into parenting situations where I really don’t know what to do or say. But THAT is parenting. Amid all the joys and pleasures of parenting there are also the struggles no matter the parenting style. Self-reflection helps me have compassion for myself in those times when I feel more inclined to feel ashamed or judgmental of myself.
We have lived in a culture where there is a myth that there is a possibility of finding perfect parenting. There is a myth that we can prepare ourselves for any situation with our child. There is a myth that parenting is about control. These expectations are false. Parenting can be messy and chaotic. We will all make mistakes – that is a guarantee. We will all do things we will regret later. That’s life as a human. The goal of parenting is not perfection. One style of parenting does not fit all.
If you want to see longer lasting change with the problems you are experiencing with your children, consider the courageous act of self-reflection and change. As you make changes within yourself you are likely to feel more freedom, peace, and satisfaction as a parent.
If you enjoy the show Modern Family, consider watching Season 3 episode 23 (on Netflix if you have it). The dynamic between Cameron and his sister-in-law Claire as they try to behave as adults while they parent completely differently is especially comedic. If you follow the show over the years you will see that neither of their parenting styles are better than the other. As a viewer we can find strengths and faults in both styles. Both parents want the best for their children using very different approaches.