We do not raise children to go out into the world and be perfect and build perfect relationships with perfect people. That would be impossible. We raise children to be good enough to build good enough relationships with other good enough people. Therefore, good parents are, by definition, not perfect. It’s our imperfections — deftly handled — that will help our children to grow up and handle other people’s imperfections with compassion, understanding and good boundaries.
With that in mind, these are some of the pervading myths of good parents.
Myth: Good Parents Don’t Get Angry.
Actually good parents do get angry. Sometimes they even yell and stomp around. But good parents work hard to manage their anger appropriately, apologize when they handle it inappropriately and work to get help if their anger feels out of control or truly scary. Good parents need to know that their children are going to deal with people who get angry (otherwise known as: everybody) for their entire lives. They also know that their children are learning how to handle their own anger so they learn to see the everyday challenges of living as learning opportunities for all of us.
Myth: Good Parents Always Enjoy Their Kids.
No. they don’t because the children of good parents are not always enjoyable. ‘Nuff said.
Myth: Good Parents Have it All Figured Out.
Actually good parents get that this parenting thing is a process and it’s changing all the dang time as kids move from one developmental stage to another. Good parents may feel great about parenting a 3-year old and absolutely lousy about parenting a 13-year old or vice versa because those are totally different kinds of parenting, which take a totally different skill set. Good parents get help (books, friends, therapists) when they feel stuck and most good parents will eventually feel stuck because parenting is hard.
Myth: Good Parents are Fair.
Nope, good parents try to be just but they are not always strictly fair. That might mean different bedtimes, different chore expectations or different privileges for different kids. Sure, sometimes good parents take the easy way out and just buy everyone the same pack of gum — no arguing! — and other times they wearily wade into explaining yet again that just because your sister gets to go to a birthday party doesn’t mean that you get to go to Kroger’s to pick out a cupcake. Good parents learn to withstand tears and sorrow with sympathy but without giving in. Sometimes they don’t because, remember, good parents are imperfect.
Myth: Good Parents are Patient.
In fact, sometimes good parents are patient and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes good parents don’t have the energy to be patient or they’re having bad days. Good parents learn to bring this experience to build empathy with their own impatient kids.
Myth: Good Parents Have Clean Houses, Lots of Home-Cooked Meals and Amazing Holiday Traditions.
Ummm, sometimes? Sometimes not. Good parents do some things really well and other things not so great. Good parents may be terrific softball coaches with filthy kitchens. Good parents may know how to make a mean pot roast but can’t make cookies to save their lives. Good parents don’t always remember to buy pumpkins in time for Halloween or advent calendars in time for Christmas. Good parents don’t always have money for the tooth fairy. Good parents sometimes don’t notice their kids have grown out of their tennis shoes until they notice them limping across the playground. Good parents forget to pack the diaper bag.
Myth: Good Parents are Confident.
Sure, sometimes good parents look at a parenting challenge and say smugly to themselves, “Yeah, I got this.” But lots of other times good parents lie in their beds wondering if that decision they made about homework or screen time or dessert was the right one after all. They work hard to model the great grand work of self improvement, understanding and relationships. They live complex lives that sometimes create challenges they hoped their children would never have to face — divorce or death or depression. They struggle and worry and fret. They move forward because they have to, not always because they’re sure.
Myth: Good Parents are Consistent.
This is one of the things every parenting book says: Be Consistent. And it’s true that consistency will save you a lot of trouble in the long run. If you always say no to the candy aisle in the grocery check out line your kid won’t necessarily stop asking (or whining) but they’ll learn that when you say no, you mean it, which will come in handy when they’re teenagers. But sometimes the candy seems like a good idea because you’ve got such a headache that you’ll say yes to anything to get them to shut up. Good parents sometimes make short term decisions just to cope because life is like that.
Myth: Good Parents are Born, Not Made.
No way. Most of us have to work hard — ongoing — to be good parents just like we have to work on our skills to do anything else well (play tennis, bake yeast breads, create killer TED-inspired presentations, etc.). Good parents sometimes get tired of all of the self-growth and effort that being a good parent takes, particularly when they look at the 2-year old wailing on the floor or contemplate the disaster-area of an 11-year old’s room or note that the 16-year old is missing curfew. Then those good parents reach out to friends for a night out or call a therapist for help or reread How to Talk So Kids Will Listenagain. Sheesh, says the good parent to herself, when am I gonna get it? But the good parent keeps trying.
Do you want support in the hard work of parenting? Contact me. I’m a big fan of helping parents (and the kids who love them).
This is the problem with parenting advice even really good parenting advice. Sure you can give pretty safe general advice if you look at a child’s developmental stage and you can give even better general advice if you also take the child’s temperament into account and then if you have some time to sit down and discuss the family culture and the school culture (if the child is in school) and the broader world in which the child exists, then you can give pretty good advice because it’s not general anymore.
Let’s take discussions about Ferguson. In one of my professional groups we’ve been talking about how Ferguson has been coming up in our counseling sessions. Sometimes it’s coming up because parents are wondering what to tell their kids. I don’t have a One Size Fits All piece of advice about talking to your child about Ferguson because there is no way I could do this appropriately. Instead I would need to know a whole bunch of stuff including but not limited to:
How old is your child? What race is your child? What race are you? How does (or doesn’t) your family talk about race? Has your child brought it up? If so, where did he learn about it? How are they discussing it at school or at the babysitter’s or around the family table at Thanksgiving? What is your child’s temperament? What are his questions? What are his concerns? And finally what do you think about Ferguson?
There is simply not one right way to talk about Ferguson.
There is not one right way to handle bedtime.
There is not one right way to deal with tantrums.
I do give advice here on my blog because there is some general advice that I think is generally good. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for you and your child and trust me, if you get in my office and talk to me I will know that.
Like bedtime routines. Generally speaking a predictable bedtime routine contributes to what sleep experts call “sleep hygiene.” Good sleep hygiene is important. However some kids need less predictable bedtime routines. Some kids with anxiety may become too dependent on predictable routines (such as kids who struggle with OCD) and so that general good advice doesn’t work for those families. Those families need something more personalized.
Or tantrums. Some kids tantrum because their parents are too lax. Some kids tantrum because their parents are too strict. Some kids just tantrum because that’s where they are developmentally and it has nothing to do with their parents.
If you come in and see me we’re going to spend at least the first session just talking about you and your child. I’ll have a lot of questions to try to get a picture of what your child is bringing to the problematic situation and I’ll want to know what you tried, what didn’t work, what sometimes worked and what was an unmitigated disaster. And we will revisit that as we go because we are always learning and working towards greater understanding.
We’re not just trying to solve this problem; we’re also trying to give you and your child insight for you both to take into the future. Part of this is building concrete understanding of our selves (parent and child, together and alone) and part of this is learning how to problem solve in a way that works for everyone in the family. That way when you’re looking at One Size Fits All Parenting (or other) advice you’ll know what’s worth considering and what’s not worth the bother.
And I’ll tell you what, the parents who come to see me often feel lost but they know so much more than they may realize when they’re peering into the murky crisis that brought them to my door. Sometimes the very first part of our work is throwing out all that unsolicited One Size Fits All Parenting advice (from friends, family and strangers) because that’s making the crisis even murkier.
“Shouldn’t she be past this by now?” they ask me.
“Why?” I ask back.
“Well, I read it somewhere/my mother told me/all her friends have stopped doing it.”
And yes, sometimes she should be past this by now and we’ll work on it but sometimes she shouldn’t be and that’s fine and once the parents know that they feel a whole lot better about it.
So. No one knows your child better than you do. I know that and if you’re doubting it, I will help you know that, too.
Your tractable kid turns mouthy. You’re outgoing child turns shy. The child who wasn’t afraid of anything is now telling you that she needs a nightlight, a teddy, and someone to sit with her until she falls asleep. You’re left wondering what the heck is going on and how to handle it.
Sometimes children start behaving differently because of a new developmental stage. How can you know if that’s the case?
First of all, look around at your child’s peers. Most 9-year old boys get very silly, even the serious ones. Pratfalls, weird noises and general ridiculousness become the order of the day. If you see every other third grader acting goofy then you can feel pretty confident that your kid has just hit the goofy stage. This too shall pass.
Next talk to other parents whose kids are the same age or older. You might find that bedtime dread is a common issue for previously hearty 5-year olds and then it’ll be easier to accommodate her fears with a handy flashlight and some extra lullabies.
You can also look at a general child development book, talk to your child’s teacher or give a therapist a call. They can help you get perspective and encourage you to get greater help if the personality change sounds like something more than typical kids trying on new ways to be.
Sometimes it’s easier to live with that goofy stage or the longer bedtimes if you know that these stages are part of the long journey towards growing up. And certainly it’s easier to come up with coping plans (whether it means turning a blind eye or setting down limits) when you understand what’s driving the behavior.
Do you need more help understanding what personality changes may be atypical?
First of all, I want to apologize in advance if this post doesn’t make much sense. I’m writing it late Monday night and I seem to be heading into a lousy autumn cold (as if there’s any other kind of autumn cold) so I’m a little woozy. Plus side: It’s not a summer cold. Summer colds are way worse than autumn colds.
If you’ve got kids, I bet there have been times when you don’t like them very much. Maybe you feel guilty about that but you know I’m an anti-guilt crusader so I’m here to tell you that I haven’t met a parent yet (and I’ve met a lot of parents) who likes their children 100% of the time. This is because kids — like most people — sometimes get on our nerves and just as we don’t always like our partners, our parents, our best friends or anyone else we normally adore, we aren’t always going to like our kids.
That’s OK. Usually not liking your children is a sign that something needs to be shaken up; either your kids are in a stuck mode or you’re in a stuck mode. It’s painful to be at odds with your children and since we’re the grown ups and better at this whole relationship thing (theoretically), we’re going to need to be the ones who change even if they’re the ones behaving in ways that are really not likeable.
I know, it’s not fair but parenting rarely is.
So if your kids is being thoroughly awful and you’re really not enjoying them, you have some things to consider.
Is this a developmental stage? Do you need to adjust your expectations or parenting tools?
Is this one bad mood (yours or your child’s) and you can hug or laugh your way through it? Can you take a breather or hit do-over? Pop in a movie, have peanut butter toast for dinner and take the heat off of all of you?
Is this a serious problem that needs serious help? Is this more than a bad day or a bad week? Is your child also making it hard for other loving people in his or her life? Is your child making it hard for him or herself?
Is this your developmental stage? Do you need to look at your life beyond parenting? Are you needing a break from your kids or a change in some other part of your life that’s eating you up?
Like I said, it’s normal to dislike your kids sometimes and you don’t need to feel badly about it especially if you use it to inspire change. Find a trusted friend (or therapist) who can help you figure out what’s really going on and can maybe help you discover some solutions. Dust off your favorite old parenting book or see if there’s a sequel if your child has grown out of that stage. Or come check out my parenting classes next time I teach them (you can sign up for my newsletter to get a heads up) because this is just the kind of thing we talk about.
When I was a preschool teacher I noticed that the kids seemed to be extra rambunctious on those days when I was feeling lousy. On the mornings that I dragged myself into work with a bad headache, the kids were way more apt to be climbing the walls (and me). The more I needed them to be quiet, the louder they got. They were picking up on my distraction and found it scary; they were trying to drag my attention back.
Those of you who have kids have likely noticed the same thing. You come home from work dragging and everyone seems whinier. Or you wake up with that sore throat that’s going around and that’s the day your toddler decides that every little thing frustrates her and she can’t manage without your help.
And I don’t know about you, but my children are psychic and can sense when I get on the phone to have a nice long chat with a friend. Nothing brings them underfoot faster, right?
It’s not your imagination; your children are trying to reestablish the balance that feels safe to them. They want your eyes back on them. For children who have experienced loss or trauma, these reactions might be stepped up.
Teens do this, too, sometimes on a much larger scale. The teen years aren’t just about hormonal upheaval. Families have developmental stages just like individuals do and the developmental stage of preparing children to move up and away is hard on the system. Everyone is doing that weaning dance — stepping towards each other, stepping away — and sometimes the steps aren’t in sync. Parents may embrace the relative freedom of having a teen a little too forcefully, relaxing the rules and the supervision too much or too fast. Teens react by revving up unsafe behavior both because they can and because they may be unconsciously asking the parents to come close again.
When you recognize that your children are working to bring back balance and aren’t just trying to drive you crazy, you can figure out ways to do that while still taking care of yourself. On the days you need some quiet, you may find that if you can give some concentrated time to your child that she’ll be more willing to let you pull away later. Same goes for a teen who seems to be wanting — however much he says he doesn’t — more of you. Building in some focused family time may help reassure him that you’re not expecting him to leave the nest just quite yet.
And for fun, here’s a song that’s about trying to talk to someone on the phone while you’ve got kids. Whether you’ve been the one trying to talk or the one trying to listen, I think you’ll find it very familiar.