Your seven-year-old son, Justin, is so embarrassing.Â He approaches adults and asks personal questions that seem inappropriate.Â He seems to have no sense of shame, and little interest in conforming to social norms.Â You cringe at the thought of taking him to family affairs and public events, where you never know what kind of catastrophe might transpire.Â And when you broach the topic, he easily dismisses it and hardly makes eye contact.Â You have already heard dubious murmurs regarding your parenting capabilities on several occasions, causing you to feel completely misunderstood.Â All this despite the parenting lectures you invested in!
Julio, who has just turned six, has been turning your life upside down for as long as you can remember.Â Â His explosive outbursts are both unpredictable and utterly irrational.Â You were convinced that his rigid inflexibility was just an extension of his â€śterrible twos,â€ť, but he has since doubled in age and his explosions have only increased in duration and frequency.
Everyone seems to adore Laura, a lovely, compliant eleven-year-old.Â But you are worried that she seems to have little drive and never takes initiative.Â She gives up easily and just doesnâ€™t seem to have many interests.Â When she does get excited and begins a project, she rarely completes it.
And Sean, who is seven, is so active and aggressive that you are scared to leave him in the playground without constant supervision.Â And even that doesnâ€™t seem to stop neighbors from complaining about him.Â Although Seanâ€™s teachers and the principal are polite at PTA, the looks on their faces imply what the future will look like as Sean journeys through his school years.
Justin, Julio, Laura and Seanâ€™s parents are worried about their children.Â Are these normal behaviors?Â Will they â€śoutgrowâ€ť them, or should the parents take action?
Most of you reading these short vignettes can probably identify a child you know as closely meeting one of these descriptions.Â Do these children need to see a therapist?Â How would therapy benefit these children?
Let us first identify the purpose of psychotherapy.
To Love and To Work
When I began my career as a Clinical Social Worker, a typical comment I would hear from friends was that they believed most people could benefit from psychotherapy.Â But what percentage of people who say this actually step up to the plate and attend weekly sessions?Â In a groundbreaking 2004 survey, a Harris poll showed that 27% of people in the U.S. received psychotherapy during that era.Â That survey also concluded that only one in three people who needed psychological treatment was receiving it.Â So, you may ask, where is the other 54%?
Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, defined mental health as the ability â€śto love and to work.â€ťÂ In simple terms, a personâ€™s mental health is limited when it gets in the way of his regular ability to function and to have relationships with others.Â The purpose of psychotherapy is to help the consumer attain those two objectives.Â This can be accomplished through many forms of therapy, with each therapist offering his own style and each consumer responding in his own way.
That said, in determining whether to take your child for an assessment, the parents should initially look at three factors: 1) The parent(s), 2) The child, and 3) The parent-child.
Finding a Therapist
If you suspect that your child can benefit from ongoing therapy, it is a good idea to determine who might be the best fit for her or him.Â For example, do you or your child have a preference for a male or female therapist?Â Younger, older or middle age?Â Would you prefer that a potential therapist has experience working with a similar family situation (such as a blended family or foster family), or a diagnosis?Â Remember, choosing a therapist is always a risk, since the results can be relative and subjective.Â There are numerous modalitiesÂ that therapists use to work with children and each one can be successful in its own right.Â Sometimes it can take a few appointments, or meeting with multiple therapists, before you can determine whether that specific counselor will be a good fit for you, your child, and/or your family.
Remember, these are just a few guidelines toward finding a good match.Â Ideally, a referral from a friend or family member can often provide you with the most vital information when seeking a quality therapist.Â Your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor might be an additional source of information, or referrals to other local professionals.Â Another resource which can be useful in finding a counselor or therapist is the 211 Helpline, which you can contact at 1-800-273-6222 or by logging on to www.211.org in the US.Â In Canada, you can reach the 211 Helpine by calling 1-800-836-3238 or by visiting www.211.ca
Moshe Norman, MSW LCSW is a child and family therapist in Lakewood, NJ.Â He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at moshenorman.com
I am the type of person that wants it all, and I want it all NOW. This mentality makes me feel like Iâ€™m perpetually chasing a bus I cannot catch, no matter how fast I sprint.Â Some days, it feels like an enormous task to just get everyone fed and into bed at the end of the day!
As parents, we have a huge weight on our shoulders every single day.Â I know you are busy. I get that you are often overwhelmed. I can appreciate that you just want a hammock somewhere on quiet beach. I do, too. But, what are you doing these days just for you? To take care of yourself?Â To climb into that hammock, so to speak?Â Whenâ€™s the last time you got off the merry-go-round that is your life and made time for yourself? Think thatâ€™s impossible? Iâ€™m here to tell you itâ€™s not.
Back when my boys were in preschool, I knew I needed something more. I had a full-time job in advertising, a more than full-time job raising my sons alone and a house with a yard to maintain, but my soul yearned for more than this. After leafing through a catalog of writing classes one day, I later found that I just could not drop the fantasy of signing up for something. The class I wanted to take met on Monday nights across town for six weeks. The boysâ€™ dad was around, but I knew I could not count on him to commit to six consecutive Monday nights, so I began to problem-solve.
Now, asking for huge favors is very difficult for me; yet I knew if I didnâ€™t honor this yearning in me, I would be snuffing out a portion of my heart.Â Across the street lived a young couple with two boys. Theyâ€™re a fantastic family, and we adults enjoyed hanging out while the boys played.Â So I summoned up some courage and went to talk to my neighbors about a barter system of sorts. Would they be open to watching my boys those Monday nights in exchange for me babysitting their kids? They said yes, they were happy to help, not a problem. What a relief! I still remember the feeling of driving to the class each week, feeling completely liberated and energized. My boys had a complete blast being at the neighborâ€™s and I, in turn, did babysit for them (note: spending an evening with four boys under the age of six is perhaps one of my biggest accomplishments thus far).
The lift I received from my writing class gave me a newfound energy and zest for life. I loved using my brain in a different way from my 9 to 5 job; and because I was in class learning something Iâ€™m passionate about, the energy snowballed into other areas of my life. I was able to get up super early to complete my weekly writing assignments. I began to observe daily life more thoroughly, realizing that writing material was everywhere.
So brainstorm some options about what you could do for yourself and how to make the time to do it. What matters to you?Â Who may be able and willing to help you? Do you dream of being home alone with your sketch pad? Rock climbing? Maybe an hour walking around a lake alone sounds amazing.Â Realize there may be sacrifices.Â And if itâ€™s hard to ask for help, you are going to find yourself dancing in the â€śuncomfortable zoneâ€ť for a bit. Thatâ€™s ok, thatâ€™s how we stretch and grow.Â Remember, you are doing the asking; itâ€™s up to the other person to decide if they need to say no.
Keep in mind that simple things have huge benefits.Â Yes, there are some seasons of life when your passions really do need to take a backseat.Â But watch out for the â€śbusy-nessâ€ť trap!Â It can make you feel like you couldnâ€™t possibly take time to do something for yourself, ever.Â Start making time in your life for your passions and hobbies, and you, too, will quickly feel the rewards and benefits.
Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.
â€śI can do it Mom!!!â€ť she says confidently as she takes the knife and starts digging into the peanut butter jar.Â Trying to pull it out, the knife flicks up, and I duck as a chunk of peanut butter flies past me.Â â€śOops!Â Sorry, Mom.â€ť â€śThatâ€™s okay sweetheart,â€ť I smile back at her.
Getting the toast buttered at 5-year-old speed moves us well past the â€ścritical buttering period.â€ť When she finally gets the peanut butter onto the cold toast, it takes all of her strength to spread it around.Â Finally, with huge blobs of peanut butter in random spots on the bread, she looks up at me, beaming with pride:Â â€śSee?!â€ť
Parents have always known that itâ€™s important for our kids to try things and fail, and now the scientific evidence and psychological research confirms it.Â This is how kids build resilience, which is critical to their development and their happiness.Â Kids learn when they try, struggle, fail, try again, and then finally get itâ€”not when you deliver them the already buttered toast.
We know this, and yet…how do we handle the discomfort that comes when we pull back and let our kids struggle?Â And Iâ€™m not just talking about the â€śsheâ€™s not doing it the way I would do itâ€ť unease, (unevenly buttered toast makes me cringe).Â Â When you love your children so deeply, what do we do with the pain of watching them struggle?Â When they have to learn the lesson about losing the game?Â Or about the vulnerability of making new friends?Â Or how to ride the bike without training wheels?Â How do we give our kids the space to do things by themselves, when every part of our being just wants to protect them from pain and suffering?
When to Step In
My very general rule is if there is a possibility of serious injury, I step in.Â For example, last night we rode our bikes to the park, and Lily went to play on the monkey bars.Â Even though I suffered a mini panic attack watching her up there, the ground was soft, she wasnâ€™t that high up, and she was still wearing her bike helmet.Â So I sat back quietly and let her go.
Alternatively, sheâ€™s just learning how to swim and is unreasonably confident in her abilities.Â She is certain she can do it by herself, even though each time she starts paddling she goes under.Â So Iâ€™m there at armâ€™s length while sheâ€™s flailing around, just in case.
Trust yourself that you know your kid, and if your intuition is telling you to get in there, do it.
Two Tips to Help You Pull Back
Create a Persona
Some of the best personas Iâ€™ve heard are the â€śGuard Dog,â€ť â€śThe Helicopterâ€ť and â€śPanicky Patty.â€ťÂ Ideally, find a persona that makes you laugh, so that when you notice this character show up you can view the situation with humor.
Once you have your persona, just notice when it shows up.Â â€śOh look, the girls are setting the table with the wine glasses, and Panicky Patty wants to jump in and stop them.Â Hi, Panicky Patty.Â Thanks for keeping an eye on the girls, but itâ€™s okay.Â They arenâ€™t in any real danger, and itâ€™s important for them to learn.â€ť
Build the Space to be Mindful
When you notice the urge to jump in and help your kids, just stop.Â Pause.Â Take a deep breath and count to 10.Â Notice what it feels like to wait.Â Notice what thoughts run through your mind about what could possibly happen.Â Most importantly, notice your children.Â Notice how they work through the challenge without your help, how their faces change while theyâ€™re figuring it out.Â Â You still have the option to jump in, but try not to.Â See what happens when you wait.Â Not just for them, but also within yourself.
There will be a point in their lives when you wonâ€™t get to watch their every move.Â Consider this â€śheart trainingâ€ť for whatâ€™s to come.Â Not only are you doing your kids an incredible service by giving them the space, youâ€™re doing one for yourself.
Gillian Rowinski is Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, specializing in mindfulness and neuroscience.Â She works with busy moms to help them reduce stress, get more time and live happier lives.Â Visit her website at www.growcoaching.ca to receive a free copy of her ebook â€śMindful Kids!Â 6 games to teach your kids compassion, self-awareness, and optimismâ€ť
Hi, my name is â€śThe Orange Rhinoâ€ť and I yell at my kids. Actually, I should say that I used to yell at my kids. All the time.Â For whining, fighting with each other, leaving toys out, not listening to me, refusing to get in the bathâ€¦the list could go on and on.
I used to yell at them for what now seems like just about everything and anything. I yelled for supposedly legitimate reasons:Â â€śSeriously, you colored on the walls, again?!â€ťÂ And I yelled for not so good reasons (after all, spilled milk is just spilled milk). Sometimes Iâ€™d catch myself before the yelling got out of control.Â And sometimesâ€¦well, sometimes I didnâ€™t.
One particularly hard morning, our handyman caught me out-of-control-screaming at my four boys. Weâ€™re talking red-in-the-face, body-shaking, full-on screaming! I was mortified.Â But it was a life changing moment; it caused me to do some serious soul searching.Â I could no longer accept that yelling at my kids wasnâ€™t a problem. I could no longer accept all the excuses about why I couldnâ€™t change: Iâ€™m too tired; I donâ€™t have the time; nothing else will work.Â And I could no longer accept that my kids were starting to think of me as a screaming, mean scary mother instead of the loving, patient and firm-but-kind mother I knew I could be.
So I decided to change. I made it my mission to go 365 days straight without yelling at my boys. And I did!
It took a lot of hard work and support. I discovered my triggers and created a plan for them. I had an awesome online support group. I created fun alternatives to yelling so the journey didnâ€™t feel like a chore.Â I wore orange to remind me of my promise and to remind me to find warm words.Â And I made a promise to myself to go one moment at a time and to forgive myself if I slipped.
But one of the most important reasons I succeeded was realizing that my kids werenâ€™t always the problemâ€”sometimes I was. That all of the â€śreasonsâ€ť I yelled werenâ€™t always the real reason.Â As I tracked my yelling to figure out when and why I yelled, it became abundantly clear that a lot of the time, (maybe even 9 times out of 10) I yelled because of me.
I really wasnâ€™t yelling because the kids made a mess or were slow getting ready, but becauseâ€¦
Basically, I yelled when I was not in the calm, patient place that I needed to be in order to respond to my kids in an equally calm, patient way.Â Â And letâ€™s be honest, it was way easier to blame my kids’ behavior instead of looking within and accepting that a lot of the time, I was the real cause.
And sometimes I yelled even when I was in a good place. I would yell because their behavior was just bad. The time one son deliberately pushed the other down a few steps? Yeah. That time I yelled.Â Â But looking back, even in that moment, I yelled because of me.Â Yes, the pushing triggered me.Â But my kids didnâ€™t make me yell; I let myself yell. That moment triggered another important insight that helped me succeed.Â I canâ€™t always control my kidsâ€™ actions, but I can always control mine.Â I have the choice to yell and cause my kids to tune me out.Â And I have the choice to decide not to yell so that I can deliver my lesson in a calm way that has a better chance of sticking.
Here are some more tips that can help you, too, yell less and love more:
Direct Anger Where it Belongs
Take a 5 Minute â€śMommy Breakâ€ť
Schedule a Yell
Share Your Emotions – Gently
Count Down to Bedtime, Figuratively Speaking
I am still not yelling at my kids. Actually, I should say that I am yelling less and loving more. I have slipped.Â Letâ€™s be real; itâ€™s hard to remain self-aware, to remain mindful of the choices I make and to control my actions given the stresses of life.Â But when I do slip up, I forgive myself, apologize to my kids and focus on what is going on with me so I can move forward.Â Â So be kind to yourself, get support and be proud of your efforts to yell less and love more!
The Orange Rhino is the author of â€śYell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kidsâ€“and How You Can Too!â€ť and creator of The Orange Rhino Challenge and the popular blog www.TheOrangeRhino.com. Her book is a 30-Day Guide to help others start their own journey to yell less and love more and includes easy steps to follow, 100 alternatives to yelling, and honest stories to inspire. It hits shelves this fall but can be pre-ordered now to guarantee the lowest price! Click here to get your copy and to start your journey to yelling less!
The Adrian Peterson story has ignited a debate about corporal punishment in our countryâ€”particularly around whether itâ€™s ok to use the same methods of physical discipline some of our parents used on us. Iâ€™m seeing comments that run from one extreme to the other on social media:
â€śMy dad used a switch on me, and I turned out ok.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s a monster. Turn the switch on him and see how he likes it.â€ť
Stories like this touch our nerves quickly as parents. We think back immediately to how we were disciplinedâ€¦or not. We defend the parent at the center of the controversy or we vilify him. The truth is, the moment of learning for us as parents comes neither in the defense nor the vilification. It comes from asking ourselves if we have all the training we need to do this job of â€śparent.â€ť
We donâ€™t know the details of what happened in Adrian Petersonâ€™s home. What we do know is that parents everywhere have a need for direction on how to discipline their children. As a society, we succeed if parents have clear direction and a plan for dealing with negative child behavior. I think we get into trouble when parents donâ€™t ask for help and rely too often on instinct, â€śgut,â€ť or the way they were parented. We simply need more than that today, and fortunately there is more than that available.
In our work with parents and behaviorally disordered children, my husband, James, and I held fast to this rule: There is no excuse for abuse. That holds true whether the abuse is from the child to the parent or the parent to the child. I believe itâ€™s important for parents to understand what abuse is, what their options are for effective discipline and where to turn for help if they feel they are out of options. For example, they can call the 2-1-1 National Helpline to connect to resources in their area for parenting support. IfÂ you are concerned about a childâ€™s safety, the National Child Abuse Hotline can help at 1-800-422-4453.
I also believe the time has come to remove the stigma around parents asking for help once a bad pattern is established. Any parent who loves their child and wants to make a change is highly motivated and can be very successful in changing a negative dynamic. But they have to ask for help, and we have to make it okay for them to ask for that help.
There are many, many parents all over this country who will be pushed today and who will react in a way that they regret, that isnâ€™t effective or that is hurtful emotionally or physically. They wonâ€™t be able to see their way through the problem in front of them, and neither will their children. They wonâ€™t see that between, â€śStop that!â€ť and striking out at their child, there is a whole range of tools and options that will get them better results. Â In the end, bad child behavior stems from a childâ€™s inability to solve basic social problems. Teach them how to solve problems better, get some coaching from our Parental Support Specialists, and youâ€™re more effective as a parent. You donâ€™t have to parent in the extreme because you have a plan and options.
In the weeks ahead, there will no doubt be more publicity about the investigation surrounding this case and its career implications for the man at the center of the controversy. But those headlines are really not relevant to the core problem this story reveals: the absolute importance of getting parents the coaching they need to be better parents.
For more on how to use effective consequences to discipline your child, check out my article here on Empowering Parents: Child Discipline: Consequences and Effective Parenting
Janet Lehman, MSW has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years and is the co-creator of The Total Transformation Program. She is a social worker who has held a variety of positions during her career,Â including juvenile probation officer, case manager, therapist and program director for 22 years in traditional residential care and in group homes for difficult children.
Back-to-school can bring up many emotions for parents.Â One of the more emotional and difficult transitions can be when a child goes to college.Â We recently asked the readers of Empowering Parents about the challenges and concerns they have about their child attending college, and we received some great responses (You can view the full results of the poll by going here).Â Thank you to everyone who participated in our poll.Â Below are our readersâ€™ top 3 concerns as their child heads off to college.
1. My Childâ€™s Safety.Â Many parents are understandably concerned for their childâ€™s safety at college.Â Media reports of crimes such as sexual assault, shootings, riots and arson around college campuses are not uncommon, in addition to prevalent alcohol and drug use.Â Â While you canâ€™t be there to help your child stay safe, you can share your concerns with them. Have a problem-solving conversation with your child about some common scenarios, and how they can stay safe.
Some things college students can do to stay safe:
Campus sexual assault, in particular, is gaining increased visibility as a public safety issue at many colleges across the country.Â Â Â The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nationâ€™s largest anti-sexual assault organization, has more advice and information for parents of college-bound students in their article Have You Had the Talk?Â For support around sexual violence, you can reach them by visiting www.rainn.org or by calling their free, confidential 24/7 hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
2. Paying for College.Â Letâ€™s face it, higher education is expensive, and it does not appear that costs will be going down anytime soon.Â With numerous stories in the media about recent graduates struggling to find jobs and facing crippling student loan debt, itâ€™s no wonder that many parents try to take on financial responsibility for their childâ€™s education in order to eliminate or reduce that burden for their child.Â If that works for you and your family, thatâ€™s great!Â If this is not working for some reason, (for example, if your child is repeatedly failing classes or you are struggling to make ends meet) itâ€™s OK to step back from taking on this responsibility.Â Once your child turns 18, anything you choose to provide is considered a privilegeâ€”including tuition.
One strategy for parents who are wondering whether to continue paying for their childâ€™s college education is to think about it as an investment, like a stock portfolio.Â If you are repeatedly getting a bad return, chances are you are going to make some changes in your investment strategy.Â Itâ€™s important to have clear communication with your child about how much financial support you are willing and able to provide and the terms of that support.Â Do some brainstorming with your child about how they can help make up any difference between the amount you can contribute and the costs incurred.Â If they arenâ€™t willing to do this, it will be most effective to step back and let your child figure it out on their own.Â Let them experience any natural consequences that come from their decisions.
3. I Don’t Know What’s Going on with My Child on a Daily Basis.Â When your child goes away to college, it can be quite an adjustment for everyone. When you are used to the day-to-day minutiae of living with someone, updates via phone calls, emails, text messages and social media just arenâ€™t the same.Â Many parents feel hurt, frustrated and/or worried if they donâ€™t hear from their child every day.Â Itâ€™s helpful to keep in mind that this is a normal part of your childâ€™s development.Â Teens and young adults need to develop their own identity outside of the family, and create their own life path.Â Itâ€™s probably not a personal attack on you, or your child trying to hurt your feelings.Â Itâ€™s more likely due to your child acclimating to their new environment:Â new classes, new professors and a new social scene to navigate.
It can be helpful to develop a self-care plan for times when you are feeling anxious or hurt by the drop in communication that typically happens when kids go to college.Â Get back into a hobby you once enjoyed or start a new one.Â Enroll in an adult education course.Â Talk with friends who may be going through the same thing.Â Of course, these are just examples; the real key is finding something that you enjoy doing to help you get through this time.
College is a big change on a lot of levels.Â As with most transitions, it is normal to feel anxiety about what might happen, and what outcomes may result.Â Recognize this as a normal part of the process, and remember to take care of yourself too!
Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving MommaÂ to her sonÂ and a dedicated ParentalÂ Support LineÂ Advisor. She earned her degree in Social Work from WestÂ Virginia University and has been with Legacy Publishing since 2011.Â Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings andÂ schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who haveÂ survived significant emotional and physical trauma.
On Monday, you couldn’t turn on the news or go online without coming face-to-face with the horrific video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancĂ©e while they were in an elevator. And while another video had previously surfaced showing him dragging her unconscious out of the elevator, this was an added information bite that led to an indefinite suspension for the player. It seemed like everyone, including President Obama, weighed in on the incident. It was a heinous act, one that deserved the resulting consequences.
I tried to avoid seeing the video, myself. After all, seeing a man knock out a woman is not anything I want to watch. But, it just wasn’t possible. Media inevitably stokes this type of news for ratings.Â On Facebook, Twitter, my Yahoo homepage, and every TV channel I flipped through, the video was front and center. I ended up seeing the whole thing in bits and pieces by the end of the day.Â It was almost inevitable. And it got me thinking: if I eventually viewed the video even though I was actively trying not to, how many kids were exposed to this? More than anyone would want, I’m guessing. One unfortunate by-product of the videoâ€™s media saturation is the impact watching this violent act has and will have on our children. Its impact may not be readily apparent until you go on Twitter and other social media sites. While the majority of adults were appalled by the video (and the posting to effect), there were teen boys tweeting things like â€śgoing #RayRice on herâ€ť and â€śpull a #RayRice on her.â€ť
The truth is, sports stars are held in high esteem, near blindly idolized for their talents. Kids don’t just look up to them, they want to be them. As Dr. Kate explains in her blog, Justin Bieberâ€™s Wild Ride: How to Talk to Your Child about Celebrity Heroes Behaving Badly, it’s important to talk to our kids when their idols fall. It may even be more important in this situation because it involves domestic violence.
As upsetting and distressing as this situation is, it can be a chance to talk with our kids about things we might not normally discuss, such as why it’s not OK to use physical violence as a way to deal with issues and what other coping skills can be utilized to deal with anger and frustration.Â You will want to be mindful of your child’s developmental age and take care not go into lecture mode. You also want to be careful not to criticize the person and keep the focus on the behavior. This is especially true with teens. Because of their developmental stage, they are hardwired to defend people they hold in esteem, like friends and people they consider role models. Keeping the focus on the behavior will help avoid this pitfall.
You might start out by asking if your child has seen the video and what their thoughts are around it. This can be a springboard for a deeper discussion around what exactly abuse and domestic violence is. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has guidelines you can use for explaining what domestic violence and abuse is on their website, www.TheHotline.org. It can also be a good time to review with your kids the red flags indicating that they might be in an abusive relationship. After all, most abusive relationships do not start out that way. Helping them to learn the warning signs is another way of giving them the tools for developing healthy relationships. While most people would have this talk with daughters, it is beneficial for sons as well.
I’m not trying to get up on a soapbox. I think we can all agree that domestic violence is an awful, terrible thing for anyone to have to experience or witness. I really wish the world was such that these types of conversations weren’t necessary. But that’s not the world we live in. As parents, we need to help our children develop the skills to be successful adults.Â We need to be aware of the impact these types of events have on our kids and be willing to talk about them.Â And even if the conversations are uncomfortable or feel awkward, we still have to have them.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: a 17-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son.Â She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from USM and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from ICF.
A little while before my son was born, I started on a quest to track one the worldâ€™s most elusive creatures. There have been times when I think I am really, really close and have caught glimpses of this rare beast over the past 20 years. Iâ€™ve seen something out of the corner of my eye but when I would turn around, the image would be gone. Sometimes I have felt dejected; if I could only find this being, my life would be complete and the sun would shine down on me all day. Other times I felt guilty, wondering if I had made the right choices. Had I spent too much time in my search, at the expense of my kidsâ€™ happiness and my own? Then, I would see something on TV, on my Facebook newsfeed, or on a Pinterest board that would remind me of my search and I would be off again on my mission. There have been times, too, when I was too tired, discontent, or annoyed at my lack of success, and I gave up the mission completely.Â Surprisingly, it has been during those times that I have had the most peace.
At this point, you are probably wondering what I could possibly be searching for all of these years. It’s something many of us spend a good deal of our adult lives searching for â€“ the perfect parent. Iâ€™ll take a moment to describe to you what image I carry in my head for the perfect parent. For me, the perfect parent keeps an immaculate house, with â€śfloors so clean you could eat off them,â€ť as my mom would say. There are no dirty laundry piles because it has all been washed, folded and put away before anyone else is even up. Meals are planned well in advance, using only the best, most nutritious ingredients. She is able to bring the family together each evening to share in the delectable dinner she has prepared. She always knows the right thing to say to motivate her children, and is able to balance work/life perfectly. She has it all, itâ€™s all put together, and itâ€™s all in the exact right place. And, most importantly, she never, ever has a voice in her head questioning whether or not she is doing the â€śrightâ€ť thing.
While it may look very different than mine, this vision of the idealized parent has likely grown and changed over time as you witnessed more parents exhibiting flawless execution of nurturing and caring. I use the term â€śexhibitingâ€ť here on purpose. For, â€śto exhibitâ€ť means to put on display or to expose to view. As parents, we are all on display as we parent our children in the store, at the soccer game, or at the local pizza place. We see other parents and it can be pretty easy to compare ourselves to them. That comparison often comes up lacking on your end if you happen to have been blessed with a strong-willed child as I have. I know Iâ€™m not alone in this because I talk to parents every day who ask me the same question: â€śWhy canâ€™t my family be like that?â€ť
I could go into all the cliches about how each family is different (they are), your family isnâ€™t as dysfunctional as you believe it to be (itâ€™s not), and how weâ€™ve all been there (we have). James Lehman is able to clarify whatâ€™s going on much better than I when he says, â€śDonâ€™t compare your insides to other peopleâ€™s outsides.â€ť Donâ€™t compare what goes on in your home, with your family, to what you see going on in other families. Those glimpses we get into other peopleâ€™s lives are just thatâ€”glimpses, and not the full picture.
Iâ€™ve come to the realization that the perfect parent will never be found because the perfect parent doesnâ€™t exist, like the mythical unicorn.Â It is simply an ideal we have created within ourselves from a mishmash of what we â€śthinkâ€ť a parent is supposed to be. Having an ideal isnâ€™t necessarily bad. After all, it may motivate us to change things about our parenting that just arenâ€™t working with the child we have. The problem comes when we keep that ideal in the forefront of our minds, constantly comparing and berating ourselves for always, always coming up short. It can cause us to harbor a lot of negativity in our lives in the form of guilt, sadness, worry, and blame. Those feelings may keep us stuck where we are and cause us to miss out on all the positives that exist right alongside those challenges.
Do I still think about being a perfect parent? Of course I do. Something that ingrained may never go away completely. My aim has changed somewhat, though.Â Instead of perfection, Iâ€™m looking for just right, or what Janet Lehman refers to as the â€śgood enoughâ€ť parent. We have dinner every night in my house and most of the time we sit down together. Sometimes I donâ€™t know what weâ€™re having until I go into the kitchen to make it. Itâ€™s not always the most nutritious and sometimes it comes from a box or a bag, but, we always have dinner. Some of the time I do know exactly what to say to my kids to motivate them or to help them through a tough spot. Other times, I come up empty and only hope that I can help them with my presence. The laundry will never be done because, well, itâ€™s laundry. Until they develop self-cleaning clothes, there are always going to be clothes that need to be washed. I may not have it all or be completely put together, but I am becoming more aware of who I am and what I offer my kids as their parent. While it may not be perfect, Iâ€™m pretty sure it is good enough.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: a 17-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son.Â She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from USM and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from ICF.