You have probably heard parents admit that parenting is the most demanding work they have ever done, and that nothing in the whole world is as important to them as their young ones. I hear these statements everywhere I go.
But it’s easy to tell what actually matters to people – just find out where they spend their energy and their money. Are they reading parenting books? Do they invest in their own ‘professional development’ as a mom or dad by attending workshops? How much time do they devote to hanging out with their child doing activities the child has chosen?
Our children need us to fully step into the words we speak. If we say they matter more than anything else, then we need to act as if that is true. Young people depend on us. They require the tangible things we provide like shoes and a warm bed, but they also need our words to be congruent with our actions in order to develop a sense of integrity.
Parenting capacity can be built
The capacity to remain calm while under stress can be built. The ability to play attentively with a child or listen at length to a teenager is something we can improve. Mental and emotional bandwidth both function like muscles, so with deliberate practice they can and will expand. It is possible to become MORE relaxed with your teenager, and MORE patient with your toddler, if you do the right kind of work and work your program regularly.
Many of us put a lot of effort into physically conditioning ourselves for the ski season, or diligently practice our fitness and finesse on the bike. We rise to the challenges of goals and growth in our athletic pursuits; should it be any different in the sphere of our life that we proclaim is number one?
There are a few things at play that prevent parents from reaching out for help or even acknowledging they might want to upgrade how they operate. For one thing, we probably didn’t see our parents trying to enhance their skills in this area when we were growing up. For another, we are socialized from a young age to believe that seeking assistance is a sign of weakness. And it’s hard to disclose feelings of discouragement if it seems like every other family has it all together.
Parents helping parents
For almost 22 years I have consistently been a leader of or participant in a parent group. What is a parent group?
- An intentional gathering of parents
- Thoughtful exploration of topics related to parenting
- Time and space for each participant to reflect on their own parenting practice
- Opportunity to use the support of other group members
The first parent group I attended was one I started and led when my son was a baby. I invited a few moms in my neighbourhood to get together without our kids once a week for a couple of months. We took turns to ensure everyone had a chance to share, and we talked about recent parenting highlights, recent parenting struggles, and each time discussed a specific topic. Immediately I felt less alone and less crazy. As the weeks went by I mentally stored the high and low points of my days, looking forward to telling them to the others. I became invested in each of their various narratives and anticipated hearing how things were going in their homes and cheering them on.
The most critical gifts I have received from all my years doing parent groups are the skill of honestly reflecting on my relationship with my kid and greater self-esteem. The cliché is true for me – being a mom is my biggest achievement and greatest happiness. But I’m an ambitious woman, so I believe achievements are worth building on and happiness can be deepened. I don’t want to settle for regular happiness, I’m looking for genuine joy!
Curiosity equals learning
Opening our eyes to how someone else interacts with their teen can widen our perspective about what’s possible. How much is your parenting pointing in the direction you want to go? A little curiosity can guide the way towards a more fulfilling family future.