During a recent episode of “Call Dr. SOS”, our discussion took a turn towards examining the challenges that parents face in their 21st century lifestyles. I found myself inspired to write a quick and dirty parenting guide that I hope speaks to a lot of those struggles we go through as parents.
A guide on parenting encompasses a lot more than a single article could ever address, but I’ve tried to touch on some of the key points that I heard repeated during and after the show. If you haven’t listened to the show you can find it here. “Who has more pressure in parenting, men or women?”.
Doing what we see
One of life’s most difficult challenges can be successfully raising a child from infancy to adulthood. As most of us are well aware, there isn’t a manual for parenting provided by the hospital to you as you head home with your new bundle of joy. We are all left to “wing” it and pray that we get more right than wrong along the way. When you really think about it, it’s a wonder that any of us made it from childhood to adulthood given all of the perils that await us ranging anywhere from predators waiting to snatch us, to antibiotic resistant diseases. We make it through childhood illness, bumps and bruises, adolescent puppy love, broken hearts, teenage hormones raging and thrill seeking behaviors and finally arrive at adulthood. It’s not until we get there that we realize we didn’t know all we thought we knew.
Many people don’t like to talk about the double edge sword of parenting. We’ll talk about how much we love our children and what a blessing they are, and how much they add to our lives. While all of that is true, there’s another side to parenting…a darker side. Parenting is stressful.
We learn how to parent based on what was modeled for us by our parents, good or bad. Children do what they see, not what we say. We end up repeating all of the things our mother’s said to us when we were children that we vowed we’d never say to our children. One day you hear words coming out of your mouth and you know your lips are moving, but you would swear you heard your mother’s voice. With every word sounding every bit as ridiculous now, as it did when you were a kid. When you find yourself in that challenging moment with your child you revert to doing what you saw growing up. We tend to do what we see.
Limiting the damage to our kids
Having a co-parent can ease the load. It can be helpful to have someone to support you with shared decision making and assist with managing household responsibilities. It can be a stress relief to have a partner with whom you can share the day’s burdens, your fears, concerns and you can console and comfort one another. It’s especially helpful to have someone you can turn to when you’ve had a major parenting malfunction and have “gone off” on your child in a way that even you can’t justify and the guilt sets in. When that happens, and believe me it will happen, I talk to parents about what I’ve coined “the jacked-upness factor” of parenting.
The question is not if you will jack-up your children, but rather the degree to which you will jack them up, because inevitably you will jack them up. Because parenting is not an exact science and what works for one child won’t likely work for another, you are going to get some things wrong. I am just waiting for the day when one of my kids will come to me and say, “Mom you really jacked me up when you…” so I can offer my sincere apology and ask for forgiveness. It will be the best that I can do in the aftermath of my best effort of parenting. So when I’m speaking with parents who are experiencing parenting guilt I offer them these sage words of comfort, “You can’t prevent what you can’t predict and some of this you just couldn’t predict. The best you can do is try to minimize the jacked-upness factor, so let’s talk about some ways you can do that given your current situation.
It’s really about the time you give
There are many pressures that come with parenting. Some are inherent with the job, but there are quite a few that we create all on our own. I think it’s important for us to remember the goal of parenting when we find ourselves overwhelmed and stretched too thin. In this society of instant gratification and keeping up with the Jones’, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple things that matter most. Life is about relationships. When I’m working with adults and children alike they aren’t usually coming in because they are upset about the loss of a “thing”, it’s usually related to the loss of “someone”. Children, just like adults, enjoy spending time with those who love them.
If you sit down and talk to your kids about some of the best times they can recall, I’m sure those memories will be rich with events that include people and activities that left a warm imprint on their hearts, as opposed to them sharing how much they love something you gave them. If a child is focused more on the “somethings” than the “someones” in their lives, it may be time for you to take a parental inventory because that is a learned behavior. In some way you, or someone who has significant influence over your child, has taught them that material items are more important than people and that can lead to some pretty major challenges throughout the course of their lives.
Making time & leveraging personal resources
So, you’re a stressed-out, over-worked, under-paid, no-time-for self, exhausted parent, now what? You have to be willing to take a time out in order to be more effective when you put time in. Many of us don’t recognize the signals our bodies send us when we’ve hit our limits. We dismiss or minimize the aches and pains, the heart palpitations and fatigue, the concentration and memory problems, the discomfort in our stomachs and the tightness in our necks until we are barely able to get up and go to work. Then we march into our doctor’s office believing that we have some horrible illness only to be told, “It’s stress related”.
So we go home and beat ourselves up even more for being so “weak” and incapable of “handling our business”. We look around and it seems like everyone else is able to take care of all of their stuff without having a breakdown so what’s wrong with us? What do we ultimately decide to do about the doctor’s diagnoses of “stress” related symptoms? Nothing. And the cycle continues until you end up in my office. That’s when we have a discussion about resources and coping strategies.
Many of us have access to resources we don’t use. Family and friends can provide additional support to give us some much needed relief, even if it’s only for an hour or so to take a walk and just step away from the situation. Sometimes therapy with a licensed mental health provider is suggested and can be a great outlet where you can really have time that is just about you.
Your situation may warrant medication to help provide more immediate symptom relief before you can even begin to address some of the issues that are negatively affecting your mood. Whatever the resource, I strongly encourage you to identify one and be willing to use it. Some people view asking for help as a sign of weakness, but it takes much more courage to reach out to someone and ask for support than it does to deny, suppress and ignore the fact that you are basically white knuckling it through life…any coward can avoid dealing with their problem.
Make the decision not to be a coward, instead choose to be a better you at the most personal level. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, listen to your body, take time to restore yourself and commit to being undistracted during family and personal time. You will feel better that you did and so will the children in your life, especially when they become adults.
“Life is about relationships. Your relationship with God, your relationship with yourself and your relationships with one another.” – Dr. SOS