Parenting is one of the toughest and most responsible jobs in the world.
The problem is, it comes with limited to no training.
Certainly many of us think we “should” know what to do, after all we have been raised and are adults.
Believing we should know what to do leaves us vulnerable to external feedback aka criticism, and the internal monologue of self-doubt. When we are doubting ourselves, that leads to anxiety, which reduces our ability to make great decisions, and then we become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The reality is, even parents of multiple children are still on a learning journey, because every child is an individual, and every time a new child arrives, just like in business and in sport, we have a new team, and there’s a whole lot of fresh adjustments to make.
While there might be lots of things that could be derailing our journey, we tend to be our own worst enemy/critic. Here are a few possibilities to consider. It’s only with awareness can we make adjustments.
Let me know in the comments what resonates for you, if any.
1. Expecting the journey to be one size meets all.
We do it to ourselves all the time. Even when we intend to appreciate that each child is different, if you catch yourself comparing your relationship with this child, their progress or behaviour to anything else, you’ve fallen into the one size fits all trap.
How to avoid this is to be consciously aware of when you do that, and then notice, what are my thoughts. Is there a problem? How is it a problem? Is it a problem that needs to be “fixed”? Where does that thought come from?
So often we try to “fit” our child into someone’s idea of what a child “should” be doing. The problem is, no child has read the manual and they certainly don’t all follow the “typical” journey.
When we find ourselves being driven by what the standards say, we are falling into the comparison trap. Sure, it’s good to be aware, however, not to be married to the idea that we are failing if our child is not on the standard part of the continuum.
I have four children, and they all had “something” about them that wasn’t like the others. I am fortunate that I had a good team of advisors and mentors around me. My baby number two was borderline failure to thrive. As a nursing mother, with a baby who was 2 months old who lost 400gms/around a pound, I could have been mortified and given up nursing.
Instead, with the support of the medical team, we did supplementary feeding and working through the issues, all while she was dropping down through the bands on the baby weight tracking chart to below the bands, ie off the chart. At no time was I judged for keeping on trying the nursing. We worked as a team together towards success. The doctor was monitoring her, and even though she had lost weight (and didn’t gain any for four weeks), she was otherwise healthy.
We have to look at the whole picture, not just one piece of the puzzle. Instead of looking at the obvious solution, to change the type of feed, was to look at, why did she loose weight. Turns out it was most likely a dietary issue on my part. We made some adjustments, and then things went well. I fed her for another twenty months, until I was pregnant with my next child.
This won’t be the solution match for everyone in the same circumstances, because your challenge might not be the same, and your needs may not be the same. It’s about choices that are a match to you.
Be kind to yourself, and gracious to your child.
The guidelines are put out as just that, GUIDELINES.
Being aware is important, but not if it’s going to lead you to anxiety and self-judgement.
2. Being caught by other people’s opinions.
Sure, we know we don’t know everything, but that doesn’t mean that we know nothing.
It’s great to listen to other people’s experience, however that doesn’t necessarily mean that your choices are not a match for your child.
The most valuable thing you can do for your child is to be confident in the choices that you make, AND be open to IF you hear something that is even better.
One of the things I have said for many many years to new mothers is to listen to everything, and use what feels right to you and is a match to your child.
You are the expert on your child. No one knows your child better. It’s absolutely appropriate to be listening to people with more experience, and open to possibilities of doing things differently. However, that doesn’t mean what you are doing is wrong. If it’s ecological (good for you, good for your child and good for the greater good), then it’s the right thing with this relationship. You can still listen to what others say, after all it’s usually with best intentions, and if things change and what you are doing no longer works, you have options to explore.
Though also appreciate, being married to a dogma/philosophy/doctrine of parenting, can be a down fall to good and healthy relationships. I really feel for the mothers who, for instance, believe that co-sleeping is the only appropriate way to raise a healthy child, who keep going despite the fact it’s no longer working for them. Then being upset that their child is no longer settling, and keep going regardless. Sometimes we have to release that self-judgment, and see whether doing things differently will improve the situation.
When a process is no longer a fit for all parties, than it’s no longer the best for that relationship.
No matter how much we believe in the process, if it’s not working, it’s ok to do something else. You are the master of your destiny.
I appreciate that changing might mean that there will be, “I told you so’s” Or “What are you thinkings”, however they are not your problem, as your focus is doing the best for you and your child. Not trying to be a slave to somebody else’s opinions. Not always easy, especially for the people pleasers among us.
In the book Raising a Secure Child by Hoffman, Cooper and Powell, they talk about “shark music”, for anyone who’s seen or heard of the movie Jaws, will be familiar with the concept of the theme.
When we can overcome the concept that what other people’s thoughts are is none of my business, we can have an even higher quality experience. What I mean by that is not about being rude, or even dismissive. It’s being able to accept that we can have differing views and still be friends.
If we can’t be friends, then that’s a shame that the basis of the relationship is only ok as long as you agree with me, then that’s not a healthy relationship. Not my job to make you agree with me, though appreciated if you understand that the guidance is offered with love. Fine for you to disagree. It’s called being a functional adult.
3. Believing that a child is supposed to conform without question
This is a biggie for many of us, especially those brought up in a more traditional model of parenting where parents were seen as the “authority”, and children were supposed to fall into line.
The problem with this concept is, that it fails to validate a child as they develop. Sometimes our child can be our best teacher. They are the experts on themselves and what they need. Where we get caught is between meeting needs and meeting wants.
What I mean is, that a child, especially those in the very young under 6-10 age group, what they need is to be heard, even if we are unable or unwilling to give them what they want.
It’s the concept in Raising a Secure Child of appreciating that we are not just bigger and stronger, we have an obligation to be wiser and kinder.
Children under the age of eight, have NO intrinsic logic or reasoning skills. That means their ability to problem solve and make sustainably great decisions is almost none existent. Having expectations that a child “should” be able to do things repeatedly once they have been told once, or even several times can open us up to lots of judgment of our child and overlooking when they are not coping.
If we approach from the perspective that everyone is doing the best they know how and are capable of in that moment, and then work from there as to what is going on, then we have the greatest chance of finding a sustainable and repeatable solution to a problem.
I do appreciate that this can be a difficult concept for adults who were abused as children. And even though that is a dreadful experience to have been through. As an adult, it’s reflecting on that even though their behaviour was poor, that it was the best they were capable of.
Consider, instead of judging them and staying mad at them, which gives all the power to them, is to appreciate that for whatever reason, they were incapable in those moments of doing better. Otherwise, we get stuck in the ”should” because, yes they “should” have done differently, however they didn’t.
That’s not an excuse for poor behaviour, it’s a reason to let the attachment go. Their poor parenting was not your fault. Like any behaviour against you, it’s actually about the other person and where they are at, even when it feels like it’s against you. As a child that’s super tough, because feelings are facts. However, as an adult, we have the opportunity to reflect differently. Staying mad at them for doing poorly, only leaves them in control.
4. Expecting our child to be more capable than they developmentally are.
So many times I see comments like, I know my child knows better. It’s worth asking, why do I assume my child knows better?
In young children, all children are subconsciously driven to do what works to meet their needs (even adults are when left to default mode). The young ones specifically don’t care how those needs get met, negative or positive. They have no ability to discern the difference. They don’t speak any verbal language fluently, so are creating meanings from their brain that has no common sense, no logic or reasoning skills and just does what works.
If we keep doing the same response and expect a different behaviour from our child, then that’s on us. We are driving the behaviour, not consciously, it’s the misunderstanding the capabilities of our child and their ability to process what’s happening when we talk with them.
It’s appreciating that our children, especially in those first six to ten years learn more from what we do than what we say. It’s why it’s important to understand who we are being. If our words and our actions clash, our child will always go with the message in the body language.
It’s why in those early years, being confident in our choices, rather than hoping for the best can make a difference. Even if it’s a fake it till be make it confidence, backing ourselves means our child can build the trust they need to follow us with confidence.
If you are the parent of a toddler, right now. Life is super busy, because they are at a high management stage of development. Sorry, no short cuts, you can’t just tell them once, or even five times to do something and expect they will be able to sustainably follow that. It’s just not in their realm of priorities. They are on a mission of discovery, a born scientist testing and measuring anything and everything as they learn at exponential speed.
In those first six years, they have no filters, everything goes into their brain, as it is, with the meanings they create.
Where we can add value is by accepting them where they are as they are, and treating them as if they are doing the best they know how and are capable of, because they are.
When they’ve been doing well at a behaviour for a while, is avoiding being disappointed and get mad at them for failing on occasion. They are doing the best they know how, and it’s feedback to look at, is there a problem that needs to be fixed and is it their problem than needs to be fixed, OR is this a reflection that just now, they’ve hit their max capacity and is it our attitude that could adjust?
5. Is it possible that we’ve been inconsistent with our expectations.
What I mean by that is, for some of us we get caught between being authoritarian and being authoritative, and so will sometimes go down the permissive track, without conscious awareness.
The problem is, that younger children, those under the age of eight and very much the below sixes, don’t understand the concept of intentions. Their interpretations are literal, which means for them, they get confused about what is expected, if today X was ok to do or have, and then tomorrow, the preferred behaviour is required.
I hear parents say, it’s ok to let things slide sometimes. That’s based on really poor foundations of understanding of the effect on small immature neurological development.
Being gentle is different to being permissive. Being gentle means appreciating that consistency is supporting a child to build trust and confidence in who we are being. It’s what leads to them following our instructions because they get to believe what we say is what we mean and we mean what we say.
It takes effort to be consistent. It’s tough when we are tired. However, it’s the short-term loss (on energy in us) for the long-term gain in the quality of relationship. It expedites our child’s ability to do the things we ask.
When we have children the reality is, there is a LOT of front-end work and management that needs to be invested in order to get the long term results that are needed for a family to create sustainable and joyful relationships.
Remember, YOU ARE Enough.
Your child/ren do in fact accept you just as you are.
If you can accept you where you are, instead of being focused somewhere else, past, future then we can BE the person our child can build a healthy relationship with.
Being Enough isn’t about staying as we are, it’s accepting where we are and understanding that there is nothing wrong with being where we are, and seek the opportunities to do better, as they become available and we can process them.
Let me know your thoughts.