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 (Parenting 101). That class was a real game changer for me. It opened my eyes in ways that over 10 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 infested 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 modelling 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 baggage 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. It is usually as a result of what someone else did (or is doing) or did not do (or isn’t doing). 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. Remember…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.
That’s how we are getting there.
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 email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Carolyne is a psychologist, lecturer and parenting coach. She is passionate about parenting, emotional wellness and quality education. Her mission is to walk with parents going through different spaces and phases of their parenting journey; by empowering them through coaching and counselling, in order to equip them to parent with purpose and confidence.