Parenting with Courage
Parenting with Courage
This month’s article is the first in a series of articles on different topics all centered on a central theme: It takes courage to parent. There are so many books available today describing what you can expect your baby to do each year, what the developmental milestones are, how best to parent, etc. There are even books on what you might be feeling as you go through the different stages of infant to toddler to preschooler mostly centered on the “baby blues” and what to do about it. No one however really addresses succinctly the internal struggles we all face about gaining confidence with our ability to parent. And no one really talks about how providing boundaries and positive discipline for our children, while we know we need to do it, may leave us to feel pangs of guilt, fear, and anxiety about our children’s feelings towards us.
As an individual and family therapist, I am struck by how many parents bring their kids in for therapy reporting problems regarding their children’s behaviors. How it is so bad that it is now affecting their marriage and their satisfaction and happiness with their own lives, etc. And there are pretty much always the same underlying issues. The issues are that there is usually no real parental strength, conviction, or parental unity regarding how to discipline and how to guide children toward adulthood. And the reason this is so, usually hinges on something parents don’t even realize they are doing. Parents can unknowingly fail to parent effectively because of their desire to have their kids “like” them. This is not to say that of course our children should not only like but love us, but there is a healthy way to create this important bond and a not so healthy way.
Whenever a parent comes in with their child and starts off the conversation with “Johnny and I are best friends, right Johnny?” (and Johnny is 8 ) I know right away that there are going to be parenting and relationship issues that have been shaped by poor parental boundaries and the displacement of emotional attachments on to children instead of with their spouse or close adult friends. The fact of the matter is you probably won’t really be friends with your children until they are at least in college and probably not even until they have their own children. This is when you should be friends. In this scenario, the friendship will be based on a deep respect and love for all of the ways you supported them and were there for them throughout their lives and not because they remember that you bought them the newest video game or the new latest and greatest pair of jeans, sneakers…fill in the blank.
Some people actually may even feel a tinge of anger to hear me say that you won’t really be friends with your kids until then. They may say, “I have a great relationship with my daughter/son, how can you say that?” Having a great relationship is different than trying to be your child’s friend or buddy. So yes, you can have a great relationship with your child at any age, but what I am saying is that you can’t set clear roles and boundaries with children unless you allow them to see you as a parent first and foremost. Children need us to parent, not be their friend. This is the great foundation for your children that you can achieve by developing courage and strength in your parenting skills.
One other thing that I have noticed is that no one ever really talks about how much we want our kids to like us. That a look of disdain on their face, or anger, can feel like a direct wound to the heart. How we will play that look or their words to us over and over again in our minds until we see their smiling face looking up at us again. I have observed in the parents I work with the intense struggle of trying to avoid their own child’s disapproval. I have felt in myself the panic that begins to set in when my son shows anger when I take a toy away, or won’t let him have something that I deem is dangerous. I too have struggled with that feeling and have to remind myself, “Erica, what are you doing?”. This leads us back to what we are going to explore in this coming series that it takes courage to parent. It takes courage to risk our children’s rejection and disdain in order to help them achieve healthy self concepts and happy lives. This starts right now in early childhood.
Over the next few months we will be discussing different parenting skills that take courage to implement. By learning these skills and developing a strong parental structure and/or unit while your child is young, you will ensure that your child will have all of the skills necessary to navigate their way through life successfully. Patterns of interactions that we get in to while our children are young already set the stage for what we will likely face when they become teenagers and young adults. Temper tantrums at 2 are manageable, but at 10 or 12? Yikes! The younger we start setting boundaries and implementing positive discipline strategies with our kids the better and the easier it will be later on.
The topics we will be covering over the next few articles will include:
Transitions for a happy home
How to handle tantrums in public without losing your mind
Setting up family rules to live by
Time-outs in the real world
Behavior as Communication- what your child is telling you
How to teach problem solving skills to your child
Putting emotions into their proper perspective: Helping your child learn to not be ruled by their emotions
How providing positive discipline shows your child that you believe in them
I hope that in each article you will find small bits of information and insight that will help you to gain more confidence in your parenting skills and in your ability to help your child lead a happy life.
*If there are any other topics you would like to see covered, please send me your suggestions and feedback!
Dr. Erica Holding, BCBA-D