As I replied to Helen’s comment on this post, I don’t like to play with my kids. I like to play with other people’s kids in a structured, time-limited way such as the therapeutic hour because mostly what I’m doing is observing; with my own kids I’m counting down the minutes until I can go read my book. I don’t mind occasional (emphasis on occasional) board games, puzzles, building or other task-oriented play but despite loving to play-pretend as a child, I never really liked to play-pretend with my kids. Oh sure, I’d attend a tea party now and then or “babysit” a doll so they could finish up an adventure but those times were rare, as my kids themselves will tell you.
Their dad is great at it. He’ll get down on the floor and move the little guys around and make the little guys talk to the other little guys but me, I’d rather stay over here with my book, thanks.
I may be lousy at playing but I’m great at talking. Give me a deep discussion or a quick conversation and I’m there. Ask me about sex, drugs, rock and roll and religion and I’m up for it. That’s how I parent — I’m about talking.
Their dad is less great at that. Go ahead, ask him something potentially controversial and watch him change the subject so fast that you’ll be discussing the weather without even realizing how well he’s deflected your question. But he’s got that playing thing down.
My husband is great at some things and I’m great at other things. And you, you’re great at things, too, just not all the things because none of us is great at all the things.
I know a lot of parents feel guilty because they don’t like to play (or paint or cook or whatever) with their kids and I want you to know that I am a licensed expert on this parenting stuff as well as an advocate for less guilt, more joy parenting and I absolve you. You are absolved.
Now your kids still need to play but that doesn’t mean that they need to play with you all of the time. If you like to play then go for it. Do it lots. If not? That’s fine, too.
There are lots of parents who don’t like crafty things (me, I’m raising my hand again) or messy things like fingerpaint or playdough (these I can do). That’s fine. You can farm that stuff out. You can sign them up for a great preschool where they’ll get lots of messy play time or you can look to the library for crafts or you can check out the rec center to see if they offer sewing classes for middle schoolers. You can enlist friends and relatives or ask if anyone knows someone willing to come teach your child archery or Minecraft for cash or barter. You can ask your neighbors if their fourteen year old will come over and talk Pokemon with your obsessed 5-year old while you cook dinner so you can listen to a not-safe-for-children podcast instead.
And you don’t have to play with your kids, or at least not as much as they’d like you to. You will probably have to play some. You will probably have to sip some imaginary coffee they make you or run around the backyard fighting bad guys a little bit but you can say no. You can be not into playing and super into other stuff.
It takes a village, this parenting thing, and the village can cover the things you don’t like to do so that you can really really really enjoy spending time with your child doing the things that you both like.
Because parenting classes are often mandated for parents who are having trouble, some people are turned off by the idea of them. So I wanted to talk about who could benefit from parenting classes because that person might be you.
- Anyone who feels like he or she is parenting at odds with his or her partner. If you’re parenting one way and your child’s other parent is parenting another way and you find yourself knocking heads or arguing about what to do next, going to a parenting class together can help you get on the same page. Parenting for Attunement encourages parents to sit down and map out exactly what their goals are for their kids. Sometimes co-parents are very surprised to find out that what they value is a little lower on their partner’s list. Understanding the other person’s goals and point of view can be a huge help in discussing parenting dilemmas.
- Anyone who feels like they’re having to reinvent this whole parenting thing as they go. Some of us stride forward into each new developmental territory with absolute confidence. And then there’s the rest of us who are periodically baffled by this or that child’s brand new stage. Parenting for Attunement gives parents an overview of the typical stages of development and looks at the different temperamental types, which helps parents get a handle on where their child is now, why she’s there and what she’s likely to do next.
- Anyone who is baffled by any particular child at any particular time. Because we discuss the unique needs of different kids, parents who come to these classes walk away with a better handle on each child in the family and how their interactions are influenced by individual styles and temperaments. We also talk about our own place in the family and how who we are influences our children’s reactions and our own expectations. In other words, sometimes we really are speaking a different language than our children are and that’s nobody’s fault.
- Anyone who is anxious about their child’s future. In the course of the workshop, we examine and challenge the fears that can limit our options in ways that aren’t helpful. We work to understand when we’re being appropriately responsible and when we’re unnecessarily constrained by our worries.
- Anyone who worries that they’re not a good enough parent. There are many, many ways to be a good parent. Parenting for Attunement is not a class that tells parents to put tab A in slot B to build a perfect child; this is a class that understands that every single family is unique and every single parent is unique and every single child is unique. People leave the class with greater confidence in their own abilities as a parent and the resources to learn more.
- Anyone who has ever been frustrated, annoyed or angry at their kid (i.e., all of us).
I hope to see you at the next class!
There’s a common theme for lots of people who come to counseling and that theme is one I like to call The Groucho Marx Syndrome. This is named after Marx’s (perhaps apocryphal) response to a club that invited him to join their ranks:
I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.
Many of my clients do not want the kinds of partners who would have them as partners or the type of friends who would have them as friends.
They think like this:
- If people like this sweater, they must have bad taste because I do not have good taste in clothes.
- If people hire me for a job, they must not be thinking because people who are thinking would not hire me for a job.
- If people invite me for tea, I must have them fooled because they seem like nice people and nice people would not have someone like me over for tea.
And so on and so on.
It feels scary to think, “I do have good taste and this is a great looking sweater. I do deserve this job because I’m good at what I do. Nice people invite me for tea because I am lovely.” What will happen when they find out the truth? What if we’re imposters? What if we’re just fooling or our sweater-picking skills are a one-time fluke?
But what if it’s not? What if you really are a lovely person with good taste and talent?
I mean, stranger things have happened.
The first step in overcoming Groucho Marx Syndrome is admitting that you’ve got it. The next step is recognizing when you’re succumbing to Groucho Marx Syndrome and confronting it. An invitation to the club doesn’t mean that you are lousy or that the club is lousy; try believing you’re getting invited because you deserve the invitation. Just try it for ten minutes and see if you can stand it and then try it for an hour and then try it for a whole day. See if you can make it a habit.
But if you can’t, if it’s too scary, really sit with that scariness and figure out where it’s coming from. Where did you get the message that you’re not good enough? Couldn’t it be that the long ago person who told you that particular story had the story wrong? Because now, right now, you can rewrite it. You get to tell a new story and this time, you get to tell one that’s really really good to you.
Now registering for Parenting for Attunement, a class that helps you become the parent that your child needs and that you are meant to be. Learn more by clicking here
Do you ever get stuck explaining something to your child? Why he needs to put his dirty socks in the laundry. Why you can’t buy the cookies she wanted for her lunch this week.
“I’m not making you put your socks away because I like bossing you around; I can’t wash them if they aren’t there to wash,” you might say. “Listen, the cookies just aren’t in our budget; I don’t like saying no.”
We explain and we explain and we explain because we want them to not only understand but to believe us. We want them to see our point and quit whining about laundry and lunches. We want them to both do the thing we want them to do (put away socks, quit whining about cookies) AND be happy about doing it.
That’s not really fair, is it?
We need to keep our eyes on the prize. The goal isn’t cheerful understanding, it’s understanding period. Weirdly, kids — like the rest of us — are more likely to come to understanding when no one is desperately trying to make them understand.
Remember this: nobody — and I mean nobody — likes to be lectured.
So explain it once, that’s it. Don’t get trapped thinking that if you can only explain it exactly right your child will light up and say, “You know, now that you’ve explained it so well I really understand the value of picking up my Lincoln Logs.” Because that’s extremely unlikely to happen. In fact, I can say with certainty that it has never ever happened in the history of parent-child relationships. (On the bright side, older kids have been known to say to their parents, “NOW I see the point!” but that’s years in the making.)
Fortunately most children will figure out the value of clean underwear and clear floors on their own eventually. It may take a very very long time. Until then we need to appreciate that what makes sense to us doesn’t make sense to them even when we spend a lot of time and effort trying to talk them into coming over to our way of seeing things.
And we need to give up on the idea that if we are very reasonable and very clear in our explanations that our children won’t be disappointed about the lack of cookies in the house or be thrilled about doing laundry.
The good news is one of the best things you can do as a parent is really simple: Listen.
The bad news is that it’s also really hard because listening doesn’t mean:
- Giving unasked for advice
- Sharing unasked for parental wisdom
- “At leasting“
Parenting is pretty goal oriented. We spend a lot of time trying to help these kids grow up by teaching them, directing them and moving them forward. But sometimes when we do that, we’re stepping on their own trajectory. Sometimes we need to leave them alone to figure things out themselves.
That doesn’t mean we have to sit there doing nothing; it means sometimes we have to sit there and listen.
No advice. No fixing. No rushing to judgment. Instead say, “Uh-huh.” Or, “Really?” Or, “Tell me more.”
Use your words to join with them. Say, “That sounds hard.” Or, “How frustrating!” Or, “No wonder you came home so excited!”
If they try to get you to fix it for them, try handing it back. “I don’t know, what do you think?” Or, “It reminds me of that time you had that other thing happen. What did you do then?”
You may have to sit on your hands or do your Yoga breathing to keep yourself from jumping in. You may need to run a mantra through your head, “Don’t Talk Don’t Talk Don’t Talk Don’t Talk.” If you’re used to being a more active participant in the conversations, it’ll take some getting used to (for both of you).
I’m not saying that you should never ever ever give your child advice or help them more directly, but if you feel like you’re in the habit of leaping in during conversations, try hanging back and see what happens. It’s a simple (if hard) way to say, “I love you” without saying a word.