By: Cristina Trette
Sometimes everything is as good as it gets. Everyone in the family is rested, balanced, cooperative, and home life feels good. Then we go through periods where the kids struggle, life is rushed, and parenting feels hard. Let's face it, when we have little kids are home, family life can be unpredictable. One minute its all smiles and laughter and the next minute its tears and meltdowns.
When my kids were very young, I was seeking a constant state of serenity. Back then I did not realize that my quest for "good vibes only" was creating dissatisfaction and difficulties in parenting. Eventually I grasped that sometimes my kids and I will be in sync and harmony, and other times we will be, well, the opposite of that.
My friend and colleague, Wendy Snyder, summed this up perfectly in a Facebook post. Wendy wrote about her week with the kids when they were on spring break, "The ebb and flow of spring break. Insanity to complete bliss... multiple times...all in a days work...". Wendy is a fantastic mother to two, parent coach, podcast host, and founder of Fresh Start Family. When I read that she too has her moments of insanity, I took a deep a breath. It is not that misery loves company. It is that when others share vulnerably about their ups and downs, as parents, and as humans, somehow I feel less alone, more connected, more normal, more like I belong.
So given that we will all encounter hard times, what do we aim for in parenting? What is good parenting all about? And what is the purpose? When my kids were very small, I thought that well-behaved kids meant I was a good parent. I had it all wrong.
As a mom with multiple littles, and a therapist that specializes in counseling parents, I can say with certainty that parenting well is not at all about our child's behavior or discipline and techniques. It is all about the relationships we develop with our children, and the ones we develop with ourselves, and the other important people in our kids lives.
This is relationship-centered parenting, and for many, it requires a paradigm shift. It suggests that parents drop their bag of tools and be present with their child (and themselves). It also begs parents to find a way to hold the depth of what they are actually feeling while staying steady enough to show up with strength for their kids.
Where do we begin?
1. Focus on developing secure attachment
Attachment, simply put, is the emotional bond between parent and child (and between adult lovers). The quality of our attachment is known as our attachment style which, when related to children, can be either secure, avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized. We will not go in depth into attachment here. Yet, I want to stress that creating a secure attachment may be one of the most important (if not the most important) tasks of parenting.
Attachment Theory, proposes that attached children exhibit fewer behavior problems, greater emotional regulation, and lowered stress response throughout their life. When kids feel connected, nurtured, and view their parents as a solid and secure base, they behave better. Creating a secure attachment is not something that only happens during the infant and baby years. In fact, current research suggests that parents can focus on creating secure attachment at any point during their child's childhood.
2. Be responsive
Being responsive means giving your child the message that you hear, see, and care about them. It also means that when they reach for you, you are there. Please do not mistake this to mean that you are to drop everything and swoop up your child any time they signal for you. Rather, the idea is, they know they can count on you to be there for them. Being responsive also means that we pay attention to the quality of our responses. Such as, pausing when feeling angry so we do not react harshly. Being responsive means we will do what we need to do to create space so we can respond from a place of respect and care for ourselves and our kids.
3. Tend to stress
If you believe that stress is high in your home, commit to lowering your own stress and support your kids with lowering theirs. Children are often over-scheduled and pressured to excel in academics, athletics, and extracurricular. Low to moderate levels of stress are healthy. Yet high levels of stress carry serious health implications. If you are noticing a lot of acting out behavior at home, it will be helpful to take an inventory of your families overall stress levels. Stress shows up in youngsters in all sorts of ways - tantrums, defiance, troubles in school, conflict in friendships, and difficulties with sleep. There are many ways to manage stress from deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, exercise, seeking support from a therapist, aromatherapy, massage, and various visualization techniques.
4. Be the anchor
I appreciate the anchor analogy. Parents are like anchors of a boat. The child is like the boat. The boat will move all about, perhaps thrash around if a storm comes, but the anchor ultimately keeps the boat safe and prevents the boat from getting lost at sea. Be the anchor - hold solid, stay rooted, be steady, and ensure safety and guidance while also allowing freedom and the child to go through his own journey and experiences.
5. Solidify routines
Routines are so important. This is true with babies, toddlers, school aged kiddos, preteens and adolescents. With behavior repetition, our brains develop neural pathways that predict future behavior. This is how habits form, like brushing teeth, morning exercise programs, daily meditation, or reading before bed.
Sit down and write up what your ideal day with your family. Focus on details around waking up, meals, getting ready, school, work, after school activity, homework, going to sleep. Then take action steps to instill what you think will work best for your family, allowing for changes and adjustments as needed. Use the brains tendency to form habits to your advantage by creating solid routines that will help shape the rhythm of your day towards more peace and less chaos.
What do you do to strengthen the relationship you have with your children? I would love to hear about it in the comments box below!
Hello! I am Cristina Trette. I am a Couple Therapist and Perinatal Mental Health Therapist. I help couples create secure and vibrant relationships. I also guide parents to connect with their children, and themselves. I write, teach, and speak on relationships, parenthood, and integrative mental health.