We need both, a tall order to be sure. It seems like I’m better at logical (the lessons), and everyone else the emotional.
*my blog posts are very long. I am aware, and working now at knowing the ideal is shortened into easily eatable portions. Part of what I do is show my whole process of talking through the feelings. So if you hang in for the whole ride, rather than dismissing for too overwhelming; you might find some special gifts within. My writing comes out raw. I am working on the process of making it more concise and readable. This one has a lot of personal emotion that isn’t resolved yet, so will likely read that way.
I Hope it makes some parents feel less alone.
I am in the parenting trenches again. No surprise there. Three children 16 yr old boy, and 14 year old twin girls provides this gauntlet for me. I finally learned being hard on myself doesn’t help. So here I am talking through my feelings about this, because that does. Whether it’s hearing myself, being willing to look inside, or someone else validating and jumping in with the ability to ask more questions to open more up: it is certainly better than holding myself hostage with intermittent beatings. That’s what I used to do, because I thought it was the only way. Actually I didn’t think, it was only instinct, the not thinking was the problem. This is how counseling can help. With a skilled professional things can often be seen and understood, that no one could have pointed out before. When it’s done well, it feels like magic taking place.
A favorite quote from The Myth of Sysiphus, “we get into the habit of living before the habit of thinking.” When I first saw these words they hit me like a lightning bolt of truth, and thankfully they stuck.
In our lives we go along with what are most often good intentions, but also a lot of misunderstanding of ourselves and others, assumptions, and a huge ol’ reservoir of pain. Only a courageous few turn their attention inward and are brave enough to weather the storms of self-doubt and shame. These are the people who enter my office.
As no surprise parenting is a big subject of work I do as a counselor. This includes parenting myself along the way, often becoming a parent figure that was needed to the client, etc. So for me to sit down and write my parenting shortcomings, fears, struggles, and hopefully victories too, is part of this beautiful work.
A hot topic today is kids behavior with regard to parents being very scared of providing consequences. We are very scared right now, and hold onto what we can to feel safe, even if that is an illusion. Control does not necessarily provide safety. Yet we try so hard at it, often unconsciously and often not with great results.
To further complicate matters often many people (including myself) are navigating the choppy waters of blending a family, and often lots of pain exists from the divorce that can accidentally be coming into play. A lot of that happens in my particular situation.
A fantastic strength in my family is my wife always educating herself when she feels lost, or more appropriately as an impassioned response to seeing me feel lost. We don’t scratch and bite at one another, she doesn’t point out what a poor job I’m doing. As I’ve stated I was good enough at that in the past.
So last night she found and we both read two articles I found very helpful and I want to post them here.
Why Children aren’t Behaving and What You Can Do About it
Navigating the Complex Emotional Terrain of Teenage Girls (also has helpful info for boys as well)
To not be repetitive I’ll let you read those for the expert advice and I’ll just go into my experience below:
With three children it seems like there is almost always a storm, and you get an occasional respite in between. During this time however you know you must scramble quickly to prepare for the next. That is the objective, not to play and refresh with them, because of course you must care for them. Lately I am thinking the play and refresh is equally as important. So perish at sea because you didn’t practically prepare, but die happy and smiling? Is this the only way.
All or nothing is still a struggle for me. As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) being overwhelmed is such a big part of my life, and all or nothing is the unpasteurized symptom. I have to work really hard at getting calm and feeling capable so I can choose one thing and tackle it, and then the next and then the next.
So I have the semi-typical situation where my children’s father (my ex husband) comes in every other weekend and sometimes mid week and spends time with the kids. I get paid the correct child support, and he is a good father to them in so many ways. My situation is more the exception than the rule. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our struggles. One of the main ones being: being on the same page, especially as the kids get older, about rules, and staying consistent. Particularly if one parent is prone to having it be more important to disagree with the other parents rules, and then the kids pick up on that energy and run with it.
It makes everything the one parent is trying to instill that much harder. Example: 14 year old daughter who has been struggling with controlling her emotions becomes grounded. Now I don’t know how grounding changes with age for you other parents out there, but in our home it used to be for a period of time. I learned it was important this time be realistic. As they are older and so much more is going on, sports, social events, school functions, balancing so much, it gets harder to keep grounding in place. I own my own business and see other families for counseling as well. I am often run down.
What I have learned though is accountability is a key component in anyone’s character. When I was let out of it as a child I became not the best person to others. Also all the pain I had endured helped me give myself a free pass on important ways of behaving and treating people. Enthusiasm for life should not trump attention to how we treat people along the way.
My 14 year old when she gets lost in her emotions (age normative) will mow over anyone else in the name of her intensity. It’s a behavior I recognize as important to address now, while it can be, before it becomes a category 5.
With my discipline I have gotten to the point where the new guidelines are that punishment ends when you show that you fully understand your part in things, and are not blaming others for getting grounded. My daughter is still saying that I did this to her, or I’m ruining her life, versus her realizing her behavior dictates the consequence. This seems one of the hardest lessons.
Because their Father sees them less I think it’s much harder for him to want to spend that limited time going up against them. I can sympathize with him, it must be hard. But the bigger picture of what they also need to learn is important too. And what makes it harder for me also becomes harder for them in the end. When I get support and don’t have to do it (the hard parts of parenting) on my own, I then also have a lot more room to be fun and enjoy my relationship with them.
As a child I could get around any consequence, because I wasn’t really parented, and it did me no favors later in life. I was difficult to say the least and my relationships struggled. I couldn’t empathize very well, because I could just get my way. I didn’t have to sit in my feelings, or be asked to change. So this is a hot button of importance to me as a parent.
So the situation is that my daughter comes to me last night and says: “Mom I’ll be gone these days with my friends in New York. Dad is taking us. Anyone notice the first issue here? She’s telling me, not asking me. I haven’t heard a word about this from their Dad, he didn’t check in with me about those dates or if she had earned that privilege by first really working at how she is speaking to her family, and how she behaves when she is comfortable.
So of course I lost it with stress. It’s exhausting to go up against just teenagers, let alone to have all the ground work I am laying be destroyed in a mere few moments.
Everyone wants to be the fun parent, and see that delight on the kids faces when they are happy. Who doesn’t?! But someone also has to do the work. If one person is working, and the other is playing, it’s grossly unfair. And often this isn’t so much a product of bad parenting as it is of circumstance. Certain circumstances require even more effort if you want kids to learn to hold themselves accountable for their actions. While at a young age they can’t be expected to be able to accomplish this task yet, the groundwork still needs to be laid. In my opinion anyway. It is their job to find their own voice in fighting back, but it is the parents job to provide good boundaries. It truly is how they know they are loved, versus because a parent doesn’t. Which is how a consequence is seen emotionally.
For the purpose of length let’s make this a 2 part blog post. Stay tuned for some more information and the follow up.
I will end with a piece of my personal work that I want to be vulnerable about as a parent. Individual focused attention on each child. Even as I type those words I tremble with fear at how to rearrange my life, and what life throws at you to accommodate this. This is the medicine my children are requesting from me in so many words. And I have only myself to hold accountable to meet that need. If I blame anyone else, or the divorce, or my work schedule, etc etc, then I cannot grow.
I must grow…