by Tracey Lipsig Kite, LCSW
No one realizes before they have kids, how many “what do I do now?” moments are involved in being a parent. There are so many parenting books that it’s impossible to know what to read (if you have the time and energy to read) and too many people are eager to tell you what your family should be doing.
It seems easier to look to the community to figure out how to raise your kids, yet in the “community” of social media (for most parents, read: Facebook) you can see only the perfect moments your friends choose to post – which leaves you feeling even worse about what you are or are not doing. Your friend’s cousin only feeds their kids homemade organic food? What’s wrong with you that your kid lives on chicken nuggets? Another family sends their kids to private schools where they are learning to code in first grade. Just getting your kids dressed and out the door feels impossible some days! Do you still use time outs? Don’t you know that they are now considered harmful? ARRGGG!! With so many books, articles and posts about what not to do, or about things that you aren’t doing, how do parents figure out a plan that fits their family, will grow as their kids grow and that will help them feel more competent?
JCFS counseling professionals have identified five competencies[i] that will carry parents through any situation. One of those competencies is to know what your goal is; what you are aiming for. The session “Parenting with a Plan: Boundaries, Discipline & Family Values” helps parents identify their own values and connect those values to solutions for parenting dilemmas (or any daily childrearing challenge). The program starts with one parent sharing a challenging story with a partner who listens without judgement (a perspective that allows the parent to step away from the harsh self-judging we so often do).
Parents then work to identify 2 – 3 times in the recent past when they “lost it” with a child. What was behind their reaction? Were they afraid? Hungry? Angry? Lonely or tired?
Rachel refused to take a nap after staying up late the night before. She was clearly testing the boundaries. Rachel’s Mom was afraid she would be unable to sleep at night from being so overtired and found herself engaged in a control battle.
The next step in Parenting with a Plan is to define their top values. Parents review a long list of values and choose 3 – 5 that are the most important to them. They learn that it can be hard to select only a few yet there are only so many things that can reasonably be focused on. Again, we are forced to stop thinking about the things that are priorities for others and take a hard look at ourselves and our own values. This can help: Imagine that your child is 20 years old. Someone who has never met the child asks you to describe him. What are the qualities you hope you will be able to list? Those qualities are likely to be on your short list of values.
Rachel’s parent’s values: caring, healthy (eats well, exercises, gets sleep), true to self, gives back
Once parents have identified the values they most want to focus on, they return to the examples of times when they “lost it” and look at those situations through the lenses of their values. How important was the situation vis-à-vis their values? What else could they have done? What might they do differently in the future? Every “mistake” we make as parents provides an opportunity to apologize and learn from the experience.
Rachel’s parents could have set the expectation earlier by sharing their value of health and sleep. Perhaps a compromise could have been reached, such as a rest time instead of “nap time.” This might have avoided both child and parent having meltdowns and allowed each to feel heard and understood.
Children come out of the womb with their own personalities, strengths and weaknesses. Parents have opportunities to guide children (not mold them). Clarifying our own values helps us decide how we use our energy and time and when to stand firm (and why). Being clear is helpful for kids as they become teens and need to start making choices based on their own values.
This article and the Parenting with a Plan: Boundaries, Discipline & Family Values was informed by:
[i] Parenting is a Journey: What do you need to have? Boundaries; Goal of raising competent, resilient kids; Good Enough Parenting; Understanding Normal Development; Listening Skills.