by Chelsea Vibert
There are few jobs on the planet more difficult than parenting. It is an everyday effort and the goalposts for success are always shifting. In any circumstance, this would be a challenge, but add on the last few tumultuous years and, at times, it can be downright defeating. This can leave you feeling frustrated, tired, and annoyed with your experiences as a parent or caregiver.
Parenting is one of the most dynamic and complex relationships a person will ever have, one with incredible highs and challenging lows. A mismatch of expectations and reality can bring on some strong emotions. It can be easy to find yourself in a revolving conflict with your child, feeling stuck on how to move through a particular behavior or argument.
There is rarely a perfect solution in the heat of the moment, but using some of the guidance below may help to create a sound foundation and strategy for success over time, especially when you get into a situation that has you feeling frustrated and defeated.
*Note: journaling or connecting with another adult will be helpful as you work through these prompts.
Sit with your experiences.
What would I tell someone else in this situation?
Would I tell them to respond the way I am about to (or do) respond?
Take a second: Consider how you are thinking, feeling, and behaving in a situation. Do you feel in control of how you are engaging with your child? Soon after a conflict can be a good time to analyze your experiences.
Reflect on your patterns of responses.
What is the rule that says I need to respond this way? Culture plays a fundamental role in our parenting. This may look like the expectations your family, religion, community, etc. have for children. A common phrase may have been that “children are seen and not heard.” Another cultural expectation may be that a good parent always has an agreeable and happy child. Explore the ways your culture informs your parenting and the expectations you have for your family. Consider that just because things have always been a particular way does not mean that is the best or the only way to do them.
Where did it come from? Many times, the way we are engaging with our children was modeled to us by our parents, and from their parents before them. As you sit and reflect on the conflict, can you remember a time when you had similar interactions with your own parents or adults in your life? There are likely pieces of those interactions you feel went well and other parts that you wish could have been handled differently. It is possible you are recreating those same patterns you experienced growing up.
What would I like for this kind of interaction to typically look like? Identify what your ideal scenario would look like. It can be helpful to look at some of those cultural expectations you identified earlier. Are you setting realistic expectations for your child and your relationship with them? Does your ideal scenario involve your child listening and doing exactly what they are told? It likely does! Many cultural expectations have specific expectations for kids and their behaviors and feelings. It is important to ask if your expectations set the two of you up for success when conflict arises. Reassess that ideal scenario with a more realistic expectation for both you and your child.
Needs and expectations
What do I need? What does my child need? Children are often doing the best they can with the resources and knowledge that they have, and so are you! Pause and take a moment to consider your needs in the conflict. What is it you need, not just from your child but from the larger context of your life? Have you eaten enough food to fuel your body? Have you had an opportunity to connect with other adults in a meaningful way? What level of control have you had over your day? Have you had enough opportunities to express yourself and to be seen and heard by others? Have you moved your body intentionally and in a way that felt good more than once?
Ask yourself these same questions from the perspective of your child. If they can, have them talk through these questions with you. Give them an opportunity to speak up for their unmet needs.
Taking time to meet both of your needs may even help avoid the conflict altogether. Most people are more agreeable and flexible on a full stomach and with a solid night’s sleep.
Is there a way for us both to have our needs met? Model sharing your needs and expectations with your child. Observe how you speak with your child when you communicate. Again, are there pieces of how you communicate that mirror your experiences with your own caregivers, such as yelling or not speaking up about the needs you have, that you would like to change?
After looking at and creating more awareness around your reactions, explore with your child if the process you are using has been working for both of you. Involving them in this feedback process can be beneficial not only to their growth but also to strengthening your relationship.
The joys of parenting are wonderful to experience, and at the same time, the realities of everyday life can feel overwhelming. Ultimately, you are the one in control, and the way you interact with your and your child’s emotions has a lasting impact on your relationship together. This dynamic is demanding and can be a lot to manage. These questions and allowing yourself an opportunity to explore how you are interreacting with your child are great first steps in embracing control. Your mental health and needs matter.