The Parenting Forest
There are times for all of us, when we feel like our Parenting Cup is dried up and empty. We don’t have much kindness or energy left. I think it often happens after the Holidays when we’ve given our all to make our extended family, old friends, neighbors, co-workers, and charities feel genuinely appreciated. Our children are at the top of that list, and after weeks of “too much everything”, it’s still always a bit surprising to feel that dark or empty feeling creep into January. Lots of us need a boost of inspiration to get us through to spring!
So what I want to talk about is what we can realistically do to refill our “Parenting Cup of Kindness” any time of year that it’s feeling low—-and no, I’m not going to suggest a trip to Hawaii !
The Parenting Forest
Sometimes you just can’t see the Parenting Forest for the trees. I mean when the pile of laundry and dishes block your view. I mean when you’re doing your best to encourage, be consistent, and give choices, but it’s not working. One step forward, two steps back kind of thing. Some days you feel defeated. I’m sorry, but that’s normal.
Back up. Back way up, so the trees look tiny, and you can see that Forest again. The Parenting Forest is made up of high values. Parents stand for lasting love, respect, kindness, commitment and strength. If we embrace high values like those, we need to find ways to stand in the gap for the long haul, but also be prepared to never actually reach our saintly goals. It’s a worthy way to live.
“This increasingly intelligent, fast-moving civilization needs to be applying some of its intelligence to things that change slowly….If we are constantly tending to the immediate, day-to-day problems, we’ll lose that sense of the long term, and then we could be really sorry.” ~Steward Brand
Thank you, Mr. Brand, that’s all absolutely true, but the day-to-day trees are still in the way for parents…
3 Ways to Replenish Your “Parenting Cup”
We can carve time to get a massage, have a night with friends, schedule regular times to read a novel or exercise, and those are all wonderful ways to take care of ourselves. When we return, however, all of the issues that drain our Parenting Cups so quickly are still going to be there. Unless we can figure out exactly what they are, and make a specific plan for how to address them, history will repeat itself. Just like our children, we should be learning through natural consequences.
Pick just one part of the day that you would like to work on. It could be the morning rush, car behavior, bed time, or dinner. Try to be an objective bystander during your most difficult time of day and actually write down exactly what is said and done. I know parents who have video recorded their interactions, and it became an unflinching and honest learning tool.
- What exactly do you do and say? Listen to your actual wording and tone of voice when you talk to your children. Eye contact, body language and facial expressions count! Are you repeating yourself? Do you follow up and do what you say? Are your expectations realistic?
- What do your children do and say in response? Do they ignore you, argue, melt down, negotiate, or passively resist?
- How are you feeling at this time? Angry, helpless, disengaged, exhausted, disorganized, overwhelmed, annoyed, rushed..
Once you see a problem, you will know better how to set the stage for success. Simple things like getting them to bed earlier so they feel rested, preparing lunches and deciding outfits and breakfasts the night before, placing backpacks by the door, and giving win win choices in a kind tone of voice can really work. Begin there.
One Thing at a Time
A very good daily strategy for a parent’s mental health is to get through “One Thing at a Time.” Be present and relaxed so you can do your very best for the situation you find yourself in. Pick one “battle” at a time and give it an honorable fight. Reestablish ground rules in a kind but firm tone so your child can also relax and stop testing the boundaries. That’s huge.
You Can Choose How You Feel
“Giving Choices” is a big buzz word/phrase for parenting. We know that children are happier when given the freedom to make many choices within clear boundaries. Well, what about us? Our Parenting Cup won’t be overflowing at all times, but we still have a lot to say about how we feel about it. We have to do our best to become determined, gritty, and happy parents. I think happy parents have the happiest children.
Our overall happiness as parents comes when we choose to work with a positive and informed purpose and we feel like we are good at what we do. Happiness comes when we feel like our parenting matters, when we can be creative and flexible, and we do what we do because we want to. If we can also accept that our parenting is an imperfect process, and we feel that we have the freedom to ask for a break to replenish and refocus, our parenting becomes stronger in all ways.
If you do not have many choices within clear boundaries concerning your parenting, look at what changes you can begin to make. Read, talk, and learn about children and parenting techniques. Ask for back up from your spouse, a neighbor, or a fellow parent. Look within. Encourage yourself, and decide to start each day refreshed and positive with clear goals. Your energy and actions will follow your thinking.
Can a parent ever really declare victory, once and for all? Will a parent ever be able to lay their head down at the end of the day and feel sincerely satisfied and at peace? I don’t really think so, but that’s the challenge we signed up for.
Parenting is fluid and uncertain, just like life. Keep that in the back of your mind when you are feeling empty, because it is a temporary state. It’s like a storm that’s going to pass, but it will pass a lot more quickly if you keep the windshield wipers constantly moving and your foot on the gas!
Refill your Parenting Cup with new skills, purposeful choices, positive intent, and a clear vision of that sparkling Parenting Forest up on a sunny hill…