Parenting...getting the balance right?'
In my coaching and training practice there are often recurring triggers for people including the stress responses we experience at one time or other as a parent/guardian.
Difficulties with dealing with adolescents that don't want to come home, toddlers having tantrums, managing electronics with your child, consistent co-parenting, managing different family units, being able to spend enough time with your child, not having enough time for yourself, managing conflict, dealing with their stresses..the list goes on....
We don't always get it right, the balance between our needs and those of our children, the feeling that we know what we are doing and where we are going as a parent. We don't have a book when we have a child.
The best we can do as in the words of Bruno Bettleheim is to be a 'good enough parent', one who raises their child well and although there are mistakes there are also many ways in which this is compensated for by 'us doing right by our child'.
Bruno Bettleheim wrote his famous book The Good Enough Parent in 1987 and is widely known for his pioneering work as a child psychologist. He talks about the importance of looking at the world through your child's eyes to improve understanding and work towards living as a family as 'equally important partners'. He writes 'when we succeed in understanding how things look to our child when seen from his perspective, we somehow make his experience our own, not in his but in our way, and thus we gain a deeper comprehension of him as a person.' (he refers to 'he' but is referring to a child of either sex).
So how do we reduce the stress and increase our confidence as a parent to cope with some of the issues listed above and ensure that we look after our wellbeing too?
Bettleheim advocates that an increase in understanding and perspective taking helps. The concept of being 'good enough' is also helpful as that seems to reduce the perfectionist tendencies we can fall into as a parent at the expense of our own needs.
We are not given a book when we have a child and even if we did the journey of being a parent is an amazing and complex journey which is unique to each parent and child. Sometimes although it can be the most exciting of times, the most incredible we can do with a little help and support on that journey and coaching can be helpful.
In coaching we can look at how a parent/guardian can enhance their strategies to put routines in place and set manageable boundaries. It can be beneficial to consider conflict resolution skills when disagreements arise and ensuring that as a parent/guardian you have a healthy balance between your own needs and that of the family. A metaphor I like to use is 'put your oxygen mask on first!' If you don't look after you then you are not able to be functioning to your optimum for others/ your family.
So what are some of the ways that we can nurture our offspring? Below I identify a variety of areas that would be helpful to work on. When I say 'work on' I mean that we are always working on our parenting skills, every day is a new challenge I would say. It is a remarkable but confusing journey at times!
1) Trust and respect
If I ask my daughter what makes effective parenting she will say mutual respect and allowing your child to make their own decisions (see 5.) So having a belief in your child/young person is crucial and they have the right to have their own feelings, thoughts, opinions, friends.
Giving choices is important to help them to make their own decisions and providing them with skills. I asked my sister about this recently and she said 'give them the skills to empower themselves', I love this so am unashamedly quoting her , thanks sis.
Trust and respect can cover valuing difference and as a parent/guardian going into that role we often have expectations of what it will be like. Sometimes our offspring can not look anything like this and to keep valuing the difference that is them is a balancing act with what we want as parents, not always easy.
Respect can be there even when we don't like what they do, what other carers might do but we can still have respect even if our opinions differ. Parenting covers many different scenarios including co-parenting and communication skills are so important here.
2) Emotional support and freedom
Dealing with emotional upset, being there, providing a place of psychological safety so that your offspring can express their worries and themselves is another area of importance. Listening and entering into the spirit of curiosity and seeking to explore their world from their perspective can't be emphasised enough. As in the concepts of Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think, if the listening and quality of attention is there then there will be time for the other party to think.
This includes managing your own emotions in order to be there for them and also knowing when it is a good time to share your own feelings and talk things through.
3) Pro-social modelling
Children and young people are learning all the time from the way they see their parents/grandparents/guardians acting. If you model respect for others then they learn this and how to disagree and make up, how to negotiate, how to have open and honest communication.
If you have worked on your own self awareness and know your own motivations then you can draw on this in your role of mentor for your youngsters.
If I ask my son what he found the most helpful growing up then he would reply having a routine. A routine helps to manage expectations of what is going to happen at any given moment which enables the child to feel safe.
Consistency with rules linked to core values is also a key area. If your rules are consistent, and this also includes when co parenting and working with other carers, then it feels consistent and clear for the child. If guidance and feedback focuses on the behaviour rather than the child and is specific this is much more understandable for the receiver if behaviour needs to be addressed. The child knows specifically what the feedback is about and also can be involved in helping set the rules. One of the hardest things as a parent is that we can't change that role and there are times when you want to be more of a friend but there is always this responsibility of care and boundary setting.
5) Support and encouragement
This is one of the key areas to getting that parenting balance right. We ideally want to praise good behaviour and help our offspring to make changes.
This also means allowing them to make their own mistakes which is soooo hard right? We want to wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them from the world.
However supporting their mistakes is a way that they develop and grow as individuals. We have already mentioned teaching skills and being motivational with encouragement is an important factor.
6) Avoiding guilt and self critism
We want to feel good about ourselves as parents/guardians/mentors and actively developing self confidence helps you to keep yourself healthy. We don't always get it right and the reference to 'good enough' parenting is so key here. Give yourself 'me time', friendships, love and support networks wherever possible. Book that babysitter, schedule that work meeting, feed your own needs as well as spending time with your child/ren. Secure attachment is when children feel protected by their caregivers even when they are not there and recognise that they can depend on them.
I also think letting go is important and this is true when your young people flee the nest and learn to fly. This could have a whole other blog!
In the strength based work I carry out with coachees we always define actions that we would like to work on. Here are a list of some of the learning that my coachees/workshop participants have fed back has been beneficial in moving towards getting more of the balance right.
' I avoid harsh self critism when we make mistakes but keep open to self compassion and learning.' 'I am working on effective time management and forward planning'. 'I set things up to ensure that there is more time is available as a family'. 'I am trying to put firm but fair boundaries in place'. 'I have started checking in with all family members to make group decisions'.
I draw on 20 years experience of coaching and facilitating parenting skills with individuals and groups within the criminal justice system, my own experience as a parent and knowledge of psychological strengths based approaches.
If you are interested in coaching in this area then why not contact me for an informal chat and this can be as one parent/guardian or more. Some of the areas we can look at include the principle ingredients of parenting skills , affirming what you bring to the relationship as a parent /guardian and strategies for managing conflicts that arise.
This work is also available as a workshop and beneficial for those considering parenting or who have a parenting type role, are a step parent or who would like to find out more.