Parenting from an empty cup

There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. So just focus on being a real one – Susan Stiffelman.

I don’t know about you, but my biggest parenting goofs have happened during moments when I had the least control over them.

A while ago, I attended a parenting class. I have shared my experiences here. That class was a real game changer for me. It opened my eyes in ways that over 12 years of studying and practicing psychology had not accomplished. It birthed in me a passion and desire to work with and walk with parents going through different stages, phases and faces of life. I went into the class looking for tips and pointers on what I needed to do to be a better parent. When I completed the class, I was not a better parent. I was a better person. Rather than give me tips and pointers on what to do in order to produce the best behaved kids in the world, this class inspired in me a desire to focus on MYSELF.

That is why I am dedicating this post to focus on YOU. I know how easy it is to want the solutions that will get us the results we want in our children. I know that from the comments from last week, we sincerely want to know what we need to do to become better parents. And to hopefully reverse this trend of raising an Affluenza infected generation. That was my intention when I signed up for the parenting class. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was the focus of the class, not my child. You see, in my sessions with children, it usually takes me about 15 minutes to figure out whether or not I have the wrong client in front of me. And in most cases, I usually do. Through the struggles of the child, I often see a parent in distress, a parent in pain, a parent caught between a rock and a hard place. A parent in need of help. And a parent transferring their pain and frustrations, unknowingly, to the child now sitting in front of me.

So, it’s only fair that this process starts with YOU.

I have come to learn that most of our parenting is baggage driven. Heck. Most of how we do life is baggage driven. We just never get to realize that. During our parenting training sessions, one of the first exercises we do is to ‘go down memory lane’ and relive our childhood experiences. These are usually the most intense sessions we have. Talk about opening a can of worms! To put it mildly, there’s quite some pain tucked in there that we carry around and we are not even aware of. We have just perfected the art of masking our memories and painful experiences with our various roles, titles, activities, jobs and credentials; and we seem to be doing ‘just fine’.

Until life happens.

And the baggage comes tumbling out.

Life is broken and messy. And when (not if) life happens, it brings with it its own share of baggage. When baggage tumbles out, as parents, we are likely to do either of two things. Take out our frustration on our children, or let them get away with too much. When we take out our frustration on them, we are modeling to them how to deal with frustrations – by taking it out on others. When we let them get away with too much, we’re teaching them that rules are made to be broken. These are the small and subtle ways that we lose credibility over our children. We are no longer in charge. Perfect recipe for breeding Affluenza.

So…I invite us to do some self-reflection. And am not talking about over-analyzing yourself. But let’s be real here. Do you find yourself frequently yelling, snapping, overreacting, or in serious power-struggles with your children? Have you ever made regrettable decisions in your discipline? Like having an intense ‘session’ with your strong-willed child that left you wondering if you had ruined him for life? Have you let your child get away with one-too many broken rules, simply because you did not have the heart to do anything about it? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself where all that came from? Granted, we DO have our occasional moments when we lose it with our kids. I think we all are entitled to a couple of those episodes. But when it becomes the norm rather than the exception, we really need to step back and do some serious self-reflection. Trust me, I had to do that. I had to step back and make a very conscious decision to process my space so that I could be fully present for my son. It was not an easy decision.

So, what’s your baggage? Baggage is something that you are carrying that you shouldn’t. Baggage could either be past or ongoing. Either way, it is important that we start the process of ‘processing’ our baggage in order to be fully present for our children. You cannot effectively parent from a place of unresolved pain. Because pain will always find a way to express itself. And in many cases, our children become the soft targets through which we express our pain.

When you are in an airplane, just before take-off, the flight attendant goes over a couple of instructions, which often includes, ‘If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your oxygen mask on first, and then assist the other person’.

Is your oxygen mask in place? What do you need to sort out? How are you handling life pressures? Do you need help? Are you squeezed dry and emotionally exhausted? Do you have a support system?

You do not need to be a perfect parent. Just be a real one.

If you would like to continue with this conversation on ‘baggage-free’ parenting, you can check us out at www.beingparenting.com.

 

 

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Caught or Taught?

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders. But they have never failed at imitating them – James Baldwin.

If there is one thing that stands out for me as I interact with parents, it is this – parents want the BEST for their children. That’s how we are intrinsically wired as mammals. Within the core of every parent is a wired ability and desire to nurture, to protect and to influence positively.

And it is always refreshing to experience how that plays out in the sessions I have with kids. Children have an amazing insight when it comes to describing their parents. Out of the purity of their hearts, children are able to pick out the purity and good intentions of adults in a way that we as adults have long lost the ability to do.  Most children and teens in my sessions are brought in because they are getting into trouble or are already into too much trouble, either at home or at school. However, in the context of an accepting environment, they are still able to make very insightful and positive observations about the very people with whom they seem to be getting in trouble with.

My mum prays for me, and that makes me feel good. My dad works very hard to provide for what we need. My teacher is kind. My grandma is very loving. My uncle loves to hang out with me.

It never ceases to amaze me how insightful children are. So here’s my pointer for today – whether or not you are intentional, your children are always learning from you.

The beauty – and tragedy –  of this is that the unintentional lessons are the ones that stick the most in a young, impressionable mind.

Listen. Your children are constantly taking psychological notes as you interact with them. These notes form the basis of the core beliefs through which they view their world and will make future decisions. They learn about good ol’ African hospitality when they see you cheerfully bustle around the kitchen to make a meal for the unexpected guests who just arrived. They learn about wise spending when they see you write down a shopping list and stick to it when you take them shopping. They learn about courtesy when they see you give way to the driver who is trying to ease into your lane. They learn about patience when you stay calm as the clerk at the cash register fumbles about with a faulty barcode. They learn about respect for authority when they watch you deal with a situation at school in a diplomatic way, even when it’s obvious the school made a mistake. And when you say hello and thank you to the security guard at the mall. They learn about taking responsibility for their actions when you apologize TO THEM after you realize you were wrong about something. They learn about being accountable when you keep the promises you made – TO THEM. They learn about time management when you show up on time at the parents meeting in school, and they learn about commitment when you stay through to the end of the meeting.

Hospitality, wise spending, courtesy, patience, respect for authority, taking responsibility, time management, commitment and accountability. Perfect antidote for Affluenza.

You want your kids to have these qualities? Forget about the schedules and the rewards and the pointers and the tips. Forget about the ‘dos and don’ts’ of effective parenting. As important as those are, they need to come from a core. And for me, the core of effective parenting is ‘parenting yourself’. If we can’t get this part right, we will not get the rest of it.

Does this sound like too much work?

Hard work or not, it is possible.

Check us out on www.beingparenting.com. Let us walk this journey together.

 

 

 

WHO’S IN CHARGE – AFFLUENZA EDITION

“Children are living messages we send to a time we will not see” – Anonymous

Have you ever heard of Affluenza? No… not the common flu. AFFLUENZA. It is basically a blend of two words: affluent and influenza. It is characterized by extreme materialism where someone has an insatiable appetite to amass wealth. Just like influenza, the flu virus, this social virus infects millions of people, and it consumes their lives with the shameless pursuit of material possessions. It has produced a new set of values where people regard material possessions and status as more valuable than character. In the process, it removes all sense of accountability, creating a society where short-cuts are the name of the game. Sounds familiar?

The major symptoms of Affluenza are lack of conscience and the sense of ‘not being in touch with the consequences of one’s actions’. Apparently, this term has been around for a while, dating back to the 70s.  However, it hit the headlines in 2013, when 16 year old Ethan Couch from Texas killed four people as he sped in his truck while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the adult legal limit and there were traces of Valium and other drugs in his system. The alcohol had been stolen from a local supermarket. Couch admitted to intoxication and manslaughter, and the case seemed very straightforward – 20 years in jail would be the expected sentence. But here’s where it got interesting. His lawyers argued that he suffered from “Affluenza” and because of his privileged upbringing; he was not able to fully understand the consequences of his actions. A psychologist testified in court that because of Affluenza, Ethan was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences because his parents never taught him about setting limits. Based on that testimony, the judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation with no jail term, instead of the 20 year jail term.

Incredible. Right?

Yeah. I thought so too.

As I read through the outrage that poured out from all over the world on the ruling of the case, I silently wondered about Ethan Couch. And naturally, as I always do in my line of work, I wondered about his upbringing. And it made me think of the new breed of clients coming through my office. The new breed of young adults being churned out of our schools and colleges, into the job market. And I wondered if there was any possibility that they could be having traces… yes… just teeny weeny traces of Affluenza. And, naturally, again, I wondered about their upbringing. And, even more naturally, I arrived at the same conclusion that I get to EVERY SINGLE TIME. That faulty parenting begets faulty children and teens, who turn into faulty adults and who make up a faulty society. A society with a severe case of Affluenza.

And I became afraid. Very very afraid. That without really being aware of it, we could be breeding a generation of “Affluenzic” citizens. In very small, very subtle ways.

Now, I am not big on parent-bashing. As a parent, I have made my fair share of goof-ups. In a transitioning and developing country like ours, with the current education system and all the economic pressures and social demands, 21st century parenting has got to be the most challenging job on this side of God’s earth. Add to that, the pressure to be a perfect, present, loving parent, and you have the perfect recipe for burnout. So, my intention is not to parent-bash. My intention is to point out, very specifically, the ways in which we could, unknowingly, be creating an Affluenzic society. Ways in which we could be breeding little Ethan Couches, who, 10 to 15 years from now, will claim that they were not able to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Tragic actions that will have cost lives. And a lot of pain.

It’s no secret that we’re raising a generation of children with a massive sense of entitlement. Let me tell you how it all started. Many of us were raised by parents who, when it came to discipline, they ‘did the deed’ before they said they’d do the deed. In fact, most of them just did it… the ‘saying’ part was optional – for just a few ‘un-enlightened’ parents. There was no discussion, no consultation, and no questions. They just did. They fully bought into the school of thought that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Other times, all they did was give you ‘the look’. Remember that classic stare that was especially famous with mums? It was enough to make you rearrange your face, your thoughts and all your body systems and align them accordingly… ‘or else’. Nobody ever waited for the ‘or else’ to happen, because our parents and all the adults in our ‘village’ meant exactly what they said…. Or ‘look’ed.

Fast forward. 20…30 years. You are holding your sweet little angel in your arms for the first time. And you cannot even begin to describe the surge of emotions that are going through you. Such love. Such tenderness. A sweet sense of awe and amazement. You’ve never felt anything close to this before. Not even your teenage heart-throb from way back in the day who ended up breaking your innocent heart into tiny little pieces and ‘ruined you forever’, came this close. And at that moment, as you hold the priceless bundle in your arms, something deep… very deep inside of you… that primitive animal instinct within you, makes a silent vow. A solemn vow that you’re not even aware you’ve made.

I’d do anything for this little angel. I’ll protect her with my whole life. I’ll move heaven and earth to give him the best the world can offer.

And so you set out to do exactly that.

Problem is, there’s no manual for ‘the best the world can offer’. Since the only standard of parenting you have is your own upbringing, a lot of your parenting decisions are determined by what your parents did, or didn’t do. If you were raised by a strict disciplinarian who communicated ‘the look’, it most likely left some bile in your mouth that has caused you to silently swear that you’ll never allow your children to go through what you did. It becomes a case of the pendulum swinging from one extreme end to the other – you become overly permissive. A no-spine, no-grit kind of parent. Still, for others, it may not necessarily be in defiance or rebellion against your upbringing. It simply stems from a genuine desire to give your children ‘the best the world can offer’.

Enter Affluenza. In all its trappings.

Ethan couch’s case might be an extreme, but whichever way you’re coming from, you have to agree with me that we’re faced with a generation in their teens and early 20s who have very little, if any idea, what ‘respect’, ‘authority’, ‘kindness’, ‘empathy’, ‘hard work’ and ‘delayed gratification’ really mean. To them, these are just catchy phrases that do the rounds on social media as famous quotes by a guy called ‘Anonymous’. Phrases that only require you to ‘like’ or ‘share’ as a public declaration that you endorse the quotes. But… what they truly mean? Absolutely no clue. And trust me, I am not being sensational. It’s simply an acceptance of facts as they are. I interact with them as I teach at the university. I encounter them in my therapy sessions. And I can tell you with all confidence that these kids truly, sincerely and genuinely believe that the world should be handed over to them on a big fat golden spoon, dripping with honey and garnished with all those delicious toppings from Planet Yogurt. Yum. And as they would put it… Like for real.

So….How did we get here? Better still, how are we getting there?

Over time, I have made a couple of observations, most of them from my own parenting goofs, others from the therapy sessions I have with children, and many more from the training sessions I do with parents. These observations have helped me realize just how easy it is to get there. Because these habits creep up on us in very small and subtle ways.

And here’s my candid conclusion. As parents, we have relinquished the reins of authority to our children. We have sent them a very clear message that we are not in charge. We are afraid that if we don’t give them what they demand, they will dislike or even hate us. And woe unto us if our children disliked us, right? We have allowed them to believe that parenting is a democracy in which their vote is required for EVERY decision of their waking, and sleeping moments. Our kids believe that they are the center of the world. That the world MUST revolve around them. That they have to be rewarded (or bribed) for simple house chores because ‘that is someone else’s job’. They believe that while rules can be made, they’re not necessarily made to be followed. After all, if the rules are broken, there are no real consequences. That life has shortcuts and when the going gets tough, all you need to do is find a way to cut through the system. That there is always an easy way out, it just needs to be discovered. And whoever invents it becomes the hero of the day. Mind you, the hero will only last a day, because the inventions are coming at us real fast and furious.

We’ve done this, not deliberately, but out of very good intentions – to give our children ‘the best the world can offer’.

I have dedicated the a few posts in this blog to sharing my thoughts, based on my experiences as a parent, trainer and therapist, just to shed light on some of the clues, some of the parenting behaviors that are likely to lead to traces …or to a full-blown serious case of Affluenza.

Check out the blog…and please stay away from the flu. BOTH flus..:) ….

Meanwhile, you can log onto www.beingparenting.com, to learn more about our work with parents.

 

 

 

 

A Peek into the Teenage Mind..#IfikieWazazi and #Project X

If you can’t go back to make a new start, start now to make a new end  ~ Parenting in Africa Network

So, I have been following the hashtag #ifikiewazazi that has been trending over the past couple of days. Reading through the comments, I was reminded of the Project X fiasco, about 2 years ago  – and the storm that brewed when word came out that some teens and young adults were planning to attend a Project X bash in town. Out of curiosity, I went ahead and watched Project X, the movie… and wrote my review – more than 2 years ago. In light of the #ifikiewazazi furore, I thought to update my review… and share my thoughts that will hopefully shed some light on the #MindOfATeenager.

PS..It is a long but worthy read. Get some popcorn (or groundnuts) if you must. Enjoy… and please do share your thoughts with me, o.k?

………….

Last weekend, I attended Project X.

The movie.

And…..It really did feel like I had attended THE actual party. To put it very mildly, the sexual content, obscene language and graphic images imprinted in my mind are enough to last me a couple of months in detox. Let’s just say that for the next few weeks, am content to sit and watch ‘KungFu Panda 3’ with my son – for the umpteenth time. Maybe  – just maybe – I will receive some absolution.

Project X is the movie that has inspired the controversial Project X party that has been trending over the last couple of weeks. The movie is about 3 high school geeks – Thomas, Costa and JB, who plan to gain popularity by throwing a party at Thomas’ house while his parents are away during his birthday weekend.

There’s just something about being a teen and popularity.

The movie starts with the usual disclaimer, “the events portrayed in this film are fictional… performed in a controlled environment…. No one should attempt to recreate any of these scenes or general activities portrayed in this film”. I don’t know about you, but these disclaimers kind of remind me of the ‘forbidden fruit’ command in Genesis. What is it about a warning that makes something so irresistible? Since the movie was released in 2012, several of these parties have been replicated all over the world – with each party trying to outdo the previous one.

So. Thomas Kub’s parents are going away for the weekend, leaving him alone in the house, with very explicit instructions on what should and shouldn’t happen that weekend. Mr. & Mrs. Kub are your regular middle class family, living in a quiet Californian leafy suburb. Their 17 year old son, Thomas, is a quiet, intelligent, focused young lad who scores high grades in school; earning him the not-so-noble title of ‘geek’. His mum’s minivan spots a bumper sticker that reads, ‘My son is an honor student at Franklin Jr High’.

Thomas is every teenage parent’s dream come true.

And he is planning to have a small birthday party with his two best friends, Costa & JB. He promises his parents that the party will have a total of 5 friends –maximum. A promise that he truly intends to keep. His dad gives him 40 bucks for pizza and leaves very specific instructions: No-one should enter my office. Stay away from my Mercedes. Take good care of Milo the cat – the usual instructions that you casually throw at your very responsible teen who already knows the rules.

Let me just pause here and say this. When it comes to our teens, there is a BIG difference between what they intend to do and how things eventually turn out. (Actually, that’s true for some of us adults as well… but… let’s stick to the storyline). There are many reasons for that, but let me give you one that I have found very helpful in understanding teenage behavior. Unlike other organs, the teenage brain is still under very active development. According to Dr. Siegel, a renowned neurologist, the parts of the adolescent brain which develop first, are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the parts of the brain, which control reasoning and impulses, develop last. The reasoning part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25. The end result is an adolescent who is physically and emotionally motivated, yet with still developing reasoning capacities. That explains why many teens may engage in risky and impulsive behaviors without thinking much about the negative consequences. Their brains are still ‘under construction’.

To put it in layman’s language, “The accelerator is fully functional, but the brakes are still under construction”. Can you visualize that?

Please tuck that image somewhere at the back of your mind. It is going to be very useful as we keep going.

Enter Costa & JB – Thomas’ geek friends. Now, you and I know that most geeks are kind of boring. However, in any given ‘Geekdom’, you are very likely to stumble across some surprisingly fun geeks. Like Costa. And JB. Although they are not popular with the rest of the crowd outside Geekdom, they can be pretty fun in a geeky sort of way. But Costa & JB are tired of lurking in the Valley of the Shadow of Geekdom. They want out. Like typical teens, they want to assert their identity. And throwing the party of the decade at Thomas’ house, a party that would feature booze, drugs, sex, two DJs and all the popular kids, seems to be the ‘perfect game-changer’.

At first, we see good-boy Thomas Kub struggling with the decision of even allowing the party to happen. He tries to call it off a couple of times. You see, Thomas is a really good boy. In him, we see a profile of the typical teenager. We see the fundamental struggle of adolescence come alive—the desire to please his parents pitted against the overwhelming need to fit in with his peers. This need to belong is one of the most basic needs of humans, and right about the adolescence period, it surges with as much force as all the hormones raging in their bodies.

But Costa has a plan. He wants to be popular, and he will use this opportunity to gain fame. He wears down good-boy Thomas with his persistence. We need a game changer – no one even knows who we are! This party is gonna change everything for us!” he says.

Let’s face it. Our kids have friends like Costa. Friends who make them feel lousy for not being ‘fun enough’. Friends who will go to extreme lengths to convince them that ‘it really is not that big of a deal’. Friends who know everyone ‘who is anyone’. Costa the strategist, who will convince you to cut off your own hair and donate it to charity. Costa the dealer, who knows where to get the cheapest booze and weed. Friends who shoot down every argument because they have a really smart mouth.

Most of our kids are like Thomas Kub. But they have friends like Costa.

After much wheedling and cajoling, Thomas finally agrees to a ‘50-people-absolute-max, just-big-enough-to-make-us-cool’ kind of party. Costa plans everything down to a T. I tell ya… This guy is good! He sends out posters, flyers, video clips. He puts out an advert on the local radio station – the news about the party goes viral. The kind of images you have seen advertising Project X are nothing compared to Costa’s strategy. Suddenly everyone is talking about the party of the decade that’s ‘going down’ over at Thomas Kub’s house.

As the plot thickens, we begin to see Thomas warming up to the idea of instant fame and ‘scoring with the hot chics’. Just in case you’re not aware, that’s what the average teenage boy’s dreams are made of. Suddenly, Thomas Kub is gaining popularity. Everyone who is anyone is coming to HIS party.

But even as the plans escalate, we see the ‘good boy’ in Thomas struggle to keep up with Costa & JB. He protests at every point. But all the forces are against him. Outnumbered, he loses the battle and throws himself fully into the fun.

Heck. If you can’t beat them, join them.

And all hell breaks loose. I am still trying to recover from the images.

The party lasts all night. The Kub’s home is invaded by over 1,500 kids! The whole house is in shambles. Mr. Kub’s Mercedes Benz ends up being driven out of the garage – into the swimming pool. The whole neighborhood goes up in arms and calls the cops. The kids somehow manage to outwit the cops, who watch helplessly as havoc is wreaked throughout the once quiet neighborhood. The entire ‘shindig’ is picked up live on national TV and radio stations. And to cap it all, a drug dealer who had a score to settle with Costa, sets the Kubs house on fire. And everything burns down.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So. How could Mr. and Mrs. Kub leave a 17 year old boy home alone for an entire weekend? You will ask. Or maybe the question for you is, ‘How did we get to this point where teens would post such images that have been trending on #ifikiewazazi?’.

The answer is simple. Mr. & Mrs. Kub join the almost 75% of the parents who I like to call, ‘well-meaning but uninformed’. (PS..the other word to use is, ‘innocently clueless’). In all fairness, let me say that at the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Kub does express her fears about leaving Thomas home alone. However, Mr. Kub quickly dismisses her by saying, “C’mon, honey, he’s not exactly Mr. popular. He’s not that type of kid…He’s a sweet kid, but… he’s a loser.”

In other words, ‘our son is not the type who can pull off anything worth…ummm…anything’.

Sadly, in my experience, those are the kind of kids that are likely to bring the whole town down, with a party like Project X. The ‘good’ kind of kids. The ones that have difficulty saying ‘no’. The kids who are craving for identity. Kids whose dads.. or moms… describe them as ‘losers’. And even when their parents do not say it with their words, they say it with their actions.

Reminds me of this phrase by Dr. Meg Meeker ~ Every time a boy interacts with his dad, that interaction leaves him feeling either better or worse about himself.

We place too much responsibility on our kids to do the right thing and make the right decisions based on the fact that, ‘they are just good kids’. Look. It’s actually the really nice kids that get pushed over and bullied into engaging in risky behaviors. Why? Because they are ‘too nice to say no’. Because they want to belong.

So.. what to do?

A good place to start is with you and I as parents. We’ve got to be clear about our values. You and I have to get to the point where we ask ourselves.. what do I ..really… believe in? Why is it important to me? What’s wrong, for instance, with having sex at 17? Or a couple puffs of weed? Here’s the thing – If you are not clear about your values, you will come off as inconsistent and ‘wishy washy’. Your child will latch onto the loopholes, convince you to cave in, and give you a run for your money.

If your teenage child knows they can wear you down, they will push you.

I invite you to take a moment and reflect on this question… what do I really believe in? This is a journey of clarifying your values, that will lead you to parenting from a place of confidence. And believe it or not, IT IS POSSIBLE to parent with confidence, authority and purpose.

Regardless of where you are on this parenting journey, it’s never too late to recalibrate your parenting GPS. The mind of a teenager, with all it’s turmoil and turbulence, is also a minefield of resourcefulness, and still very, very moldable.

You have not lost your window of opportunity. No. You still have plenty of chances to influence your impressionable teenage or young adult’s malleable mind.

You may not be able to go back and make a new start… BUT… you can start now to make a new end.

YOU are ENOUGH.

Check us out on www.beingparenting.com and walk this journey with us.

 

Of Failure and Parenting… and Consequences…

 I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas A. Edison

How do we measure ‘good parenting?’ What yardstick do we use to say, ‘that’s a really good parent!’ The number of trophies they bring home? The A’s on their report cards? 350 marks? How well-behaved they are? How articulate they are?

What, really, is the measure of a good parent?

I came across a phrase that really resonated with where I am as a parent, “If parenthood came with a GPS, it would mostly say: RECALCULATING.” That’s how it feels like everyday to me. Parenting is sneaky. At one point, you really think you got it covered. Other times, you find yourself questioning even your most basic move.

Parenting, to me, is a journey of growth, in which you discover more about yourself than about your children. It is a journey wrought with pleasant and sometimes not-so-pleasant surprises along the way.

As a parent. Learning. Never. Ever. EVER. Stops.

So. I experienced one of those ‘ GPS re-calculating’ moments the other day, when I went to pick my son from school. He had stayed late for Tae kwon do practice. I was a few minutes early, so I sat next to this distinguished looking elderly lady, who had a disarming smile and an enviable air of calm about her.

Within minutes, we were chatting up about our ‘amazing’ children, and the Tae kwon do tournament that had just ended the previous weekend. My son had done pretty well, and I was still riding on the high of that victory.

I was feeling like a pretty good parent.

Just as  I was about to launch into a long discourse about how incredibly well he had done, she remarked, rather casually,  ‘‘ my grandson was disqualified in the first round.” Startled (and a little ashamed of myself), I turned to look at her. She had this serene look on her face, her eyes full of love and admiration. “Well,” she went on with a smile, “the next tournament is coming up next month, and I know he will give it his best shot.”

Suffice it to say, my discourse on my son’s performance came to a grinding halt.

You see, many times when I have that look of love and admiration on my face, it is when my son has done pretty, pretty well. Her quiet admission, stated with such confidence and finality, sent my parenthood GPS whizzing back to ‘recalculation’ mode.

In her wisdom, probably spanning over years of failures and victories, this beautiful grandma knew that her 7 year old’s stint in Tae kwon do was just the start of many failures, and many victories that will prepare him for life. To her, this was a very small and necessary part of the journey of her grandson’s life.

To me, my son’s ‘amazing’ performance was THE measure of my great parenting.

Well, they say that we teach what we need to learn most. So, here I am. The one thing that I learned from that encounter was this – I want to teach my son about the beauty of FAILURE.

I would like my son to experience as many opportunities as he needs to fail, in order for him to succeed.

Not a very easy feat, in this competitive, trophy-laden culture.

A culture where we are so sensitive about not ‘damaging’ our kids, that we insist on ‘trophysizing’ everything they do.

Gee! My son has a bigger collection of medals and little trophies that he has collected over his short 7 years, than my decades of toiling and sweating through several ‘higher’ institutions of learning!

In this culture, we have come to define success as ‘the avoidance of failure at all costs’. And that is what we are passing on to our children.

In our mistaken definition of a ‘good parent’, we have embraced this notion that good parenting is equal to protecting our children from all harm, including – heaven forbid -the slim possibility that they might fail.

By not allowing our children to fail, we are failing our children. By shielding them from temporary pain, we are making them permanent quitters.

We seem to have forgotten that without struggle, there can be never be any progress. That our children need to go through embarrassing moments, so they can develop the gift of empathy.

We need to let our children fail, so that they can succeed. How?

Let them go back to school with unfinished assignments, because you will not remind them to do their homework – yet again….This is what we call a natural consequence… But you must reveal to them in advance!

Let them show up in school without their homework books and face the consequences, because you are done putting their books back in their bags for them… Again.. reveal this in advance.

Let them come home after a long tiring trip, and find their rooms as messy as they left them… because you are DONE reminding them.

Let them carry to school that weird looking project that took them the whole weekend to put together – a box-house whose walls keep caving in – because, like my grandma friend says, it is not the end result, but the effort, that counts. And because next time they will try harder to make their project more perfect and learn great lessons in the process.

Oh! And this is a hard one for me. Let them go back to school with sentences that are wrongly constructed and wrongly spelt! (I need to remember that I’m not the one being tested… Sigh).

Let them color outside the lines.

Let them write the D with the ‘stomach’ facing up.

You see, teachers have gone through specialized training to help the kids in a systematic way to learn how to write a D. And to color within the lines. Training which you haven’t been through. Let the teacher do their work, so you can in turn do your job as a parent.

And this one is for mums – let your children fall off their bikes – it is the only way they will learn!

And for the daddies. Go easy on your kids. Let them know failure is acceptable.

Why? Because – the greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Your job as a good parent is to walk with them. Not over failure. Not around failure. But through their failure.

To the other end.

Wanna learn how? Check us out on www.beingparenting.com. 

 

WHO’S IN CHARGE – Affluenza Edition

“Children are living messages we send to a time we will not see” – Anonymous

Have you ever heard of Affluenza? No… not the common flu. AFFLUENZA. It is basically a blend of two words: affluent and influenza. It is characterized by extreme materialism where someone has an insatiable appetite to amass wealth. Just like influenza, the flu virus, this social virus infects millions of people, and it consumes their lives with the shameless pursuit of material possessions. It has produced a new set of values where people regard material possessions and status as more valuable than character. In the process, it removes all sense of accountability, creating a society where short-cuts are the name of the game. Sounds familiar?

The major symptoms of Affluenza are lack of conscience and the sense of ‘not being in touch with the consequences of one’s actions’. Apparently, this term has been around for a while, dating back to the 70s.  However, it hit the headlines in 2013, when 16 year old Ethan Couch from Texas killed four people as he sped in his truck while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the adult legal limit and there were traces of Valium and other drugs in his system. The alcohol had been stolen from a local supermarket. Couch admitted to intoxication and manslaughter, and the case seemed very straightforward – 20 years in jail would be the expected sentence. But here’s where it got interesting. His lawyers argued that he suffered from “Affluenza” and because of his privileged upbringing; he was not able to fully understand the consequences of his actions. A psychologist testified in court that because of Affluenza, Ethan was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences because his parents never taught him about setting limits. Based on that testimony, the judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation with no jail term, instead of the 20 year jail term.

Incredible. Right?

Yeah. I thought so too.

As I read through the outrage that poured out from all over the world on the ruling of the case, I silently wondered about Ethan Couch. And naturally, as I always do in my line of work, I wondered about his upbringing. And it made me think of the new breed of clients coming through my office. The new breed of young adults being churned out of our schools and colleges, into the job market. And I wondered if there was any possibility that they could be having traces… yes… just teeny weeny traces of Affluenza. And, naturally, again, I wondered about their upbringing. And, even more naturally, I arrived at the same conclusion that I get to EVERY SINGLE TIME. That faulty parenting begets faulty children and teens, who turn into faulty adults and who make up a faulty society. A society with a severe case of Affluenza.

And I became afraid. Very very afraid. That without really being aware of it, we could be breeding a generation of “Affluenzic” citizens. In very small, very subtle ways.

Now, I am not big on parent-bashing. As a parent, I have made my fair share of goof-ups. In a transitioning and developing country like ours, with the current education system and all the economic pressures and social demands, 21st century parenting has got to be the most challenging job on this side of God’s earth. Add to that, the pressure to be a perfect, present, loving parent, and you have the perfect recipe for burnout. So, my intention is not to parent-bash. My intention is to point out, very specifically, the ways in which we could, unknowingly, be creating an Affluenzic society. Ways in which we could be breeding little Ethan Couches, who, 10 to 15 years from now, will claim that they were not able to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Tragic actions that will have cost lives. And a lot of pain.

It’s no secret that we’re raising a generation of children with a massive sense of entitlement. Let me tell you how it all started. Many of us were raised by parents who, when it came to discipline, they ‘did the deed’ before they said they’d do the deed. In fact, most of them just did it… the ‘saying’ part was optional – for just a few ‘un-enlightened’ parents. There was no discussion, no consultation, and no questions. They just did. They fully bought into the school of thought that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Other times, all they did was give you ‘the look’. Remember that classic stare that was especially famous with mums? It was enough to make you rearrange your face, your thoughts and all your body systems and align them accordingly… ‘or else’. Nobody ever waited for the ‘or else’ to happen, because our parents and all the adults in our ‘village’ meant exactly what they said…. Or ‘look’ed.

Fast forward. 20…30 years. You are holding your sweet little angel in your arms for the first time. And you cannot even begin to describe the surge of emotions that are going through you. Such love. Such tenderness. A sweet sense of awe and amazement. You’ve never felt anything close to this before. Not even your teenage heart-throb from way back in the day who ended up breaking your innocent heart into tiny little pieces and ‘ruined you forever’, came this close. And at that moment, as you hold the priceless bundle in your arms, something deep… very deep inside of you… that primitive animal instinct within you, makes a silent vow. A solemn vow that you’re not even aware you’ve made.

I’d do anything for this little angel. I’ll protect her with my whole life. I’ll move heaven and earth to give him the best the world can offer.

And so you set out to do exactly that.

Problem is, there’s no manual for ‘the best the world can offer’. Since the only standard of parenting you have is your own upbringing, a lot of your parenting decisions are determined by what your parents did, or didn’t do. If you were raised by a strict disciplinarian who communicated ‘the look’, it most likely left some bile in your mouth that has caused you to silently swear that you’ll never allow your children to go through what you did. It becomes a case of the pendulum swinging from one extreme end to the other – you become overly permissive. A no-spine, no-grit kind of parent. Still, for others, it may not necessarily be in defiance or rebellion against your upbringing. It simply stems from a genuine desire to give your children ‘the best the world can offer’.

Enter Affluenza. In all its trappings.

Ethan couch’s case might be an extreme, but whichever way you’re coming from, you have to agree with me that we’re faced with a generation in their teens and early 20s who have very little, if any idea, what ‘respect’, ‘authority’, ‘kindness’, ‘empathy’, ‘hard work’ and ‘delayed gratification’ really mean. To them, these are just catchy phrases that do the rounds on social media as famous quotes by a guy called ‘Anonymous’. Phrases that only require you to ‘like’ or ‘share’ as a public declaration that you endorse the quotes. But… what they truly mean? Absolutely no clue. And trust me, I am not being sensational. It’s simply an acceptance of facts as they are. I interact with them as I teach at the university. I encounter them in my therapy sessions. And I can tell you with all confidence that these kids truly, sincerely and genuinely believe that the world should be handed over to them on a big fat golden spoon, dripping with honey and garnished with all those delicious toppings from Planet Yogurt. Yum. And as they would put it… Like for real.

So….How did we get here? Better still, how are we getting there?

Over time, I have made a couple of observations, most of them from my own parenting goofs, others from the therapy sessions I have with children, and many more from the training sessions I do with parents. These observations have helped me realize just how easy it is to get there. Because these habits creep up on us in very small and subtle ways.

And here’s my candid conclusion. As parents, we have relinquished the reins of authority to our children. We have sent them a very clear message that we are not in charge. We are afraid that if we don’t give them what they demand, they will dislike or even hate us. And woe unto us if our children disliked us, right? We have allowed them to believe that parenting is a democracy in which their vote is required for EVERY decision of their waking, and sleeping moments. Our kids believe that they are the center of the world. That the world MUST revolve around them. That they have to be rewarded (or bribed) for simple house chores because ‘that is someone else’s job’. They believe that while rules can be made, they’re not necessarily made to be followed. After all, if the rules are broken, there are no real consequences. That life has shortcuts and when the going gets tough, all you need to do is find a way to cut through the system. That there is always an easy way out, it just needs to be discovered. And whoever invents it becomes the hero of the day. Mind you, the hero will only last a day, because the inventions are coming at us real fast and furious.

We’ve done this, not deliberately, but out of very good intentions – to give our children ‘the best the world can offer’.

I have dedicated the a few posts in this blog to sharing my thoughts, based on my experiences as a parent, trainer and therapist, just to shed light on some of the clues, some of the parenting behaviors that are likely to lead to traces …or to a full-blown serious case of Affluenza.

Check out the blog…and please stay away from the flu. BOTH flus..:) ….

Meanwhile, you can log onto www.beingparenting.com, to learn more about our work with parents.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Recovering Yeller

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1

She sat across from me, looking drained, defeated.

“I am a terrible mom. I can’t stop yelling at my kids.  When I get ticked off, it’s like a tap that’s been turned on, under very high pressure. Everything just gushes out and I’ll not stop till am spent. It’s like a bout of ”- she looked away and sighed – “diarrhea. Then later I feel so terrible! I can’t erase the look of pain on my son’s face. I think I am ruining them and I can’t stop myself! What is wrong with me?”

Sigh. My heart resonated with her words. Her predicament struck a familiar chord within me. And here’s why.

My name is Carol and I am a Recovering Yeller.

And like all bad habits we need to recover from, I was not born a yeller. Heck. I am not even a natural yeller. Under normal circumstances, I am as calm as they come. Ever been to those workshops where you are asked to introduce yourself by adding an adjective to your name? Like Joyful Joy, Amazing Anne, Daring Daniel and Courageous Chris? Mine is always Calm Carol.

And I am a Recovering Yeller.

See. We don’t wake up in the morning with a plan to yell at our kids. Nope. Life just checks in at some point during the day. Our kids push boundaries, they do something daring that scares us, they step on the carpet with muddy shoes, spill strawberry juice on the white shirt, fight with their siblings and talk back at us.

And they pick the perfect time to do that.

When we are running late for work. When the finances are not adding up.  When we are fighting with our spouse. When we haven’t submitted the term paper.  And SNAP! Everything we know about parenting flies out the window. By the time we’re done, we have left a trail of damage somewhat akin to what a tornado does. Doors have been slammed, words have been said and undeserved consequences have been given. All in a record three minutes!

And then it’s over. Now all we have left is the after-taste of self-loathe and guilt in our gut. Like my Mommy client. And we wish we could take it all back.

I checked out the synonyms for the word ‘yell’. This is what I found. Shout. Screech. Bellow. Shriek. Bark. Bawl. Howl. Scream. Blabber. Rant. Sounds familiar, anyone?

When a little girl was asked, “How can a stranger tell if two people are married?” this was her response, “When they are both yelling at the same kids”. Ouch. When it comes to yelling, parents fall roughly into three categories: those that hardly yell, those who sometimes yell and those who yell a lot.  The biggest chunk fall in the middle. Most, if not all, parents yell. It comes with the territory.

So. Let me share a few things I have discovered about yelling, from my work with parents, and as a Recovering Yeller.

One. Yelling actually works. Yup. At least temporarily. I have met many parents who admit that their kids will not listen to them unless they yell. What they do not understand is that if their kids only listen  when they yell, it is because they have trained them to do that. For them, yelling has become the easiest ‘go-to’ tool to get their kids to do something. In the long term, it teaches children that shouting and aggression are part of normal communication.

Two. Yelling is very selective. We usually don’t yell at the boss, colleague or even other adults. We take it out on our softest targets – our kids whom we have taught that they shouldn’t yell back. And that’s just not fair. If we can choose not to yell at other people, we can choose not to yell at our kids.

Three. Yelling is never about what the child has done. Yelling has an underlying trigger, a root cause that almost always has to do with what is going on with the parent than the child.  And that, again, is not fair.

Four. Yelling does not make you a bad parent. You are a good parent who has a really bad habit that you need to work on. Habits can be reversed. They can be changed. Just ask me.

Which brings me to Five. There’s hope. You can stop yelling. How?

First. Identify the trigger. Give yourself time to think about the situation once you’re calm. What pushed your buttons? What’s going on in other areas of  your life? Is there a pattern of  certain things that trigger you to respond by yelling? What is your baggage? The best gift you can give yourself as a parent is the gift of self-awareness.

Second. Be intentional. One of the most effective ways of breaking a bad habit is replacing it with a good habit. Studies on relationships have shown that for every negative moment, we need five positive interactions to keep the relationship healthy and balanced. With time, the habits created in the positive interactions will outweigh the negative ones. Positive interactions need not be BIG. A hug. A kind word. Spending time doing a favorite activity.

Third. When you do slip and yell, apologize. I know this goes against everything you ‘learned’ growing up. After all, adults are always right. Right? However, in most mature democracies, a leader will step up, take responsibility, apologize, even resign to show the extent of their remorse. This is not a weakness. It is a true mark of leadership. Model to your children how to take responsibility without shifting the blame to someone else.

Fourth. Seek support. A trusted friend. A therapist. A parenting class. Admitting that you need help does not make you a bad parent. It’s a sign of strength.  My Mommy client did that and I can confidently report that she has made great strides in working through her struggle with yelling.  Like me, she is now a Recovering Yeller.

And when the occasional relapse happens, do not beat yourself up. Forgive yourself and pick up right where you left off. New habits aren’t formed overnight.

Step by step. Moment by moment.

You can do this.

I leave you with a few quotes to inspire you:

 Your children will not learn anything from you when you’re screaming at them except how to shut you out.

If you’re yelling, you’re the one who has lost control of the conversation

Yelling silences your message. Speak quietly so your children can hear your words instead of just your voice.  – LR Knost.

Words that soak into our ears are whispered, not yelled.

Don’t yell at your kids. Lean in and whisper. It’s much scarier…

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Dr. Carol is a mom, psychotherapist and parenting coach. Check out her work at www.beingparenting.com

 

 

 

WHO’S IN CHARGE? – Project X edition

Project X has been cancelled.

Now we can heave a huge and collective sigh of relief. And go back to business as usual.

Or maybe not.

So, what’s business as usual for you?

My business as usual is to mull over matters parenting. I can’t help it. I just have to find a parenting angle to every social issue. And believe me, with Project X; it was a piece of cake.

As I went over the posts and images that were doing rounds on the impending ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ that was going down this weekend, my over-analytic brain engaged full gear. And I read many things into the reaction and responses.

I read genuine concern from parents. Concern for their children being lured and exposed to sex, drugs and pornography right under their noses. I read outrage from a society that is shocked by the blatant audacity in the adverts (no-one goes back a virgin! @#*!).  I saw a law enforcement body that got it right this time around. But I also read panic – that knee-jerk, reactive kind of panic that, to me speaks volumes. Underlying that type of reaction is a question that every parent has, a question that most parents do not really know they have. It’s the type of reaction that Psychologists love to poke at when they ask- ‘what is the underlying motive?’

For me, the underlying question behind the knee-jerk reaction was this, ‘If my teen/young adult comes across this poster… if his/her crowd of friends decided they want to go, would my teen/young adult be able to say no?

So, here’s the ultimate question. To YOU.

What is it about your child that would make them decide to NOT attend a Project X type of party? And I am not talking about the curfews, the threats, locking them up, or denying them an allowance to prevent them from going. All those things are external, they come from YOU.

Let me rephrase my question. What do you know about YOUR CHILD that gives you the confidence that they would be able to say NO?

I have observed teen/parent relationships for a good while now. And my observation is this. For the most part, parents are (how can I put this delicately?) – CLUELESS – about what their children are capable of doing.

And before you get all defensive, here’s an excerpt from a great book I am reading by Leonard Sax.

A research was conducted to find out just how much parents knew what their children are really doing. They asked 140 school children between 11 to 14 years (Class 6 to 8) and their parents about smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana, drinking alcoholic beverages and having sexual intercourse.

Question for parents: Does your child smoke cigarettes? 12% of parents said yes.

Question for kids: Do you smoke cigarettes? 43% of students said yes.

Question for parents: Has your child smoked marijuana? 3% of parents said yes

 Question for kids: Have you smoked marijuana? 34% of students said yes.

Question for parents: Does your child drink alcoholic beverages? 5% of parents said yes.

Question for kids: Do you drink alcoholic beverages? 49% of students said yes.

Question for parents: Has your child had sexual intercourse? 2% of parents said yes.

Question for kids: Have you had sexual intercourse? 52% of students said yes.

These are kids between 11-14 years. We haven’t even looked at the figures for teenagers yet.

For me, what the kids are up to is not really the shocker. It’s our cluelessness that has me reeling. Trust me, as a parent; you are better off being in the 2% group, the group that knows that their children are doing sex and drugs than with the clueless majority. At least you have a reason, a place to start.

So, back to my musings.

Why shouldn’t your 17 year old go for Project X? What alternatives to FUN do your children have? What discussions are you having with them about sex, drugs and lifestyle choices? Are you having any discussions in the first place? Remember, whether you are being intentional or not, you are always passing on something to your children. Project X is one of the hundreds of events happening in the city and beyond. The organizers of Project X were just doing their thing – marketing a product. As parents, our thing is this – to stay in charge, to stay connected and to be proactive.

Project X has presented you with a great opportunity to start a conversation with your child.  About sex. About drugs. About lifestyle choices.

If you are clueless on where to start, check us out at www.beingparenting.com

Let’s start this conversation.

 

 

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