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 (Parenting 101). 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 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 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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A Peek into depression …

I got off the phone with a friend last week, and as I hung up, I felt a wave of sadness sweep over me. See, my friend’s cousin died, a sweet young lady in her mid thirties, at the prime of her life, mother of an adorable 5 year old girl. How did she die? Depression killed her! Yeah, that jolted me too. No, she didn’t commit suicide. She actually died of depression. But depression doesn’t kill, right? I asked her. Well, she replied, she closed herself up, shut down, stopped eating, went into serious dehydration… and the doctors couldn’t do anything for her. She wanted to die. And she did.

My friend was devastated. And stark, raving mad. She was angry at her cousin. And she didn’t mince her words. How could she ‘allow’ things to get this out of hand? Ok, her husband left her, he chose another woman over her… but… she’s not the first to experience that for heaven’s sake! Look at all the other women who have moved on with their lives! Why couldn’t she just snap out of it? She has a 5 year old daughter, wasn’t that reason enough to live? How could she give up on life, ‘because of a man?’

Sigh. I could understand her anger, her grief, her bewilderment, and her genuine regret over such a wasted life. And before you judge my friend, take a moment and think about how you’ve responded to a similar situation. We’ve all been there. We’ve all compared people to others. We’ve all expected more from them. Urged them to move on, to forgive and forget, to get out there, to be strong, to pray more, to have more faith, to try this, try that…the expectations are endless.

We’ve all – unknowingly and knowingly – made people feel like they are inadequate, they are somehow to blame, they are weak. We’ve done it with our words. With our silence. With our actions. Or inaction. Snap out of it? Pull yourself together? Right. In the words of a client, “It’s like telling a cancer patient to snap out of a tumor”.

When we push those around us to snap out of it… that’s exactly what they do.

Snap out. Of it. Literally.

That almost always makes sensational headlines. Man kills wife in a jealous fit of rage. Boy commits suicide after quarrel over homework. Police man goes on shooting rampage after losing his job. And the questions begin…”how did it get there?”. ”who is to blame?”

I have been reflecting a lot about that. Who is to blame? Parents? Media? Victims? And I realize there’s no easy answer. All I know is that it’s unfair to blame someone for lack of information. And therein lies the blame. We’re pretty clueless when it comes to issues regarding mental health. Issues regarding depression. We have no clue that depression is an illness. A mental illness. A serious mental illness that as a society, we have very little information about. And like all humanity the world over, here’s what we do with stuff we have very little information about – we ignore, we reject, we mask, we dismiss.

We judge. Boy, do we judge!

In ignoring, we pretend it doesn’t exist, and like the proverbial ostrich, we bury our heads in the sand, hoping, willing it to go away by …tomorrow, maybe? In rejecting, we detach ourselves from it, and watch things unfold from our ivory tower, once in a while offering the occasional cliché, from waaaaay uuuuuup there. In masking, we redirect focus to something less painful, more acceptable (work, church, hobbies) or unacceptable (alcohol, drugs, addictions). In judging, we self-righteously appoint ourselves the judge, never mind that we have never walked that road.

While it’s true that ignorance is bliss, it’s also true that knowledge is power. So, let’s educate ourselves. What has been your experience with depression? Maybe for you. Or someone you know. Do you mind sharing? I am genuinely interested in getting together real stories about experiences with depression. You don’t have to post here. You can inbox, or email me. Your experience might… will be helpful to someone.

“Wow..Your son is so clever!!” – Vain Parenting 101

“Kids just want to live life next to us; they don’t want to perform for us”

I picked my son from school the other day – and as we drove off, he chatted incessantly about his day – what he learned, his new “best” friend, what game he played. On our way home, we stopped at the supermarket to pick the usuals. At the checkout counter, the friendly attendant, noticing that my son was in his school uniform, asked him casually, “How was school today?” My son stared at him blankly. He tried again, “What did you learn today?” My son looked flustered, stared at him as if trying to find the right words, then looked away. All this time, I was watching him, wondering what was wrong with him…silently willing him to say something – after all, he had given me this long unprovoked discourse about his day, just a few minutes before!

So, I went into “Super-Mom/teacher/show-off my boy” mode – and for the next few minutes, I tried to get my son to eloquently and effortlessly narrate the events of the day to a stranger at the supermarket counter – as if my entire life, reputation and worth depended on it! Mid-way through the onslaught, I stopped in my tracks as that ‘ka-voice’ in me asked – what exactly are you doing?

Yeah. At that point, I was looking for my own self-validation. I wanted the attendant to know that I am raising a clever boy. I had an insane moment of desperation to hear those words, “Wow he’s so smart! You’ve done such a great job!” from a complete stranger!!!….Yep… I can be vain like that…

Well… you may not relate with this… but here’s some random thoughts that came to my realization:

Our children are a gift to us – they are not something to show off or shine.

Children thrive more when they are encouraged for their character, not their performance.

In a world abuzz with performance-based measures – Performance contracts, school ranking, and gold-medals – it’s an uphill task to separate the performer from the person. We fall into the trap of getting caught up in performance and forget the ‘person’ behind the act.

As a result, our children have perfected the art of performing – before us, teachers, and coaches – without really internalizing values and integrating them into their character.

My job as a parent is to create an environment of  love, affirmation and acceptance. These three will help them thrive beyond their talents and capabilities.

Granted… am training my son to communicate and respond to others with respect. It is a process, and that evening was a teachable moment – not just for my son, but for me.

And so am learning every day to… Relax. Have a plan. And stay focused…. and flexible..

And the journey continues….

Parenting 101 – BEing Parenting

Last year I attended a parenting class. 10 weeks. 2 hours. Two things motivated me to take this class… First, I have a 6 1/2 year old son, and I wanted to be more equipped as I raise him. Second, I have observed in my practice that over 90% of my clients have a parenting-related issue. As I sit with them in sessions, I have realized that many people carry parent-related wounds from their pasts. The other 10% are parents having difficulties raising their children. These issues affect all other aspects of their lives and they end up in counselling sessions. My thinking was that as I attend these classes, I would gain some insight on where parents have failed, and use this as a basis to help my clients. As a teacher, that’s my default, I am always seeking knowledge so I can use it to influence others.
So I enrolled for the class, pen and note-book in hand, head clear, ready and set to get what I needed to help THEM. And that’s when I got the reality check of my life. Over the 10-week period, I realized one and only one thing. This course was not about THEM, it was about ME. I realized that like any parent, I actually had the skills I needed to raise my child right… but – here’s the catch – first; I had to use them on ME. I realized that everything I desired to see my child DO, I had to work to BE. This class was about parenting me first. Self-Control. Delayed gratification. Personal discipline. Honesty. Kindness. Sharing. Respect. Humility. These are qualities we want to see in our children. I have been forced to step back and take a deeper look at myself.
I have learnt that I have to continuously assess where I am before I expect it of my child. I tell you, it is no easy feat. Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing these lessons with a group of parents at my church. For the two hours we meet every week, the same lesson has been replicated over and over. .. It can NEVER be about the children unless it starts with US. I am not imparting knowledge; I am learning new parenting lessons from this amazing group of parents. I am not gaining new skills and techniques to produce a perfect child, I am in the process of continuously improving myself so that my son, and all the younger ones in my circle of influence can have a point of reference for a role model.

I have come to learn that adults teach children in three important ways. The first is by example, the second is by example and the third is by example.

I have been awakened to the fact that there is no perfect. Just effort … and better.
And the journey continues. As the good African people say….“ALUTA CONTINUA”…….

********** #UpdateAlert********

And three years down the line, I have developed my very own parenting program. BEing Parenting, which focuses on equipping YOU to parent out of the overflow of YOUR heart, out of who YOU are BEing. Check us out at www.beingparenting.com and engage with us.

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