Have you ever heard a child’s parents being blamed when the child has “behavior problems?” Even naming something wrong with the parents’ character? Ouch. Maybe you yourself have felt the blunt end of this blame or have worried that others will judge you as "one of those parents" when your child acts out. It’s a message that is communicated by people all throughout our society from high profile leadership to the average American worker. It’s a natural urge for us to look for someone to take responsibility for the misinterpreted shortcomings of our kids. Pointing fingers is so much easier than digging deeper.
I have to admit that I even held these biases before I had a child and before I worked with parents, both as a teacher and as a therapist. The experiences have given me much needed perspective and made me think about what it really takes to be a “Good Parent.”
I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law the other night. We’ll call my sister-in-law Betty for fun and my mother-in-law … we’ll call Janice. I was watching White Christmas with my family the other day, so there you go! Our conversation really made me reflect back on my old biases toward parents and children’s problems. Betty is a middle school teacher, so we were talking about her experiences with her current class. This year the group of kids she has are “a little challenging.” We were talking about the difficulties her students have: ADD, IEPs to follow, refusing to participate, addicted to the phone, etc. My first question was--what type of resources the students are offered?
After working in educational settings and with kids and families in therapeutic settings, I realize that rarely, if ever, is there only one reason for the problems the kids are having. More and more often, I see a lack of resources as an added cause to the kind of challenges kids face. Janice began asking why the parents can’t just discipline their kids properly, “Are they drunks or drug addicts or do they just not care?” I was surprised by her response, but unfortunately, this is not an uncommon bias. Betty and I gently reminded Janice of the many demands of being a parent, discussed the added stress of living a quality life in our society today, and then moved on. I think sometimes my mother-in-law just doesn’t understand how difficult it is to raise children in our world today. Things have changed so much over the past thirty years!
Parenting is not easy and there is never a one-size fits all approach when it comes to raising children.
Of course, there are the basics that help with child development: safety, meeting basic needs, and meeting love and attachment needs. Overall though, the needs of a child can be met more effectively when the parents or primary caregivers are meeting their own needs.
No matter what situation you are in, if you are a parent you need to have recovery time to re-energize and re-coup. Then, you can respond to your kids in a healthy way, and you can model a healthy lifestyle to your children. You can model healthy relationships, and you then have the emotional/physical/and mental energy to be present. And, before you say “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!” (because believe me I’ve been there), let me just reassure you that giving time to yourself and your own recovery will not be easy, but it will lead to an easier and more fulfilling life. It will lead to being the Parent that you want to be. It will lead to being the Parent you’re proud to be.
Often, we view being a parent as something that is innate. It may have been at some point hundreds of thousands of years ago, but our society has advanced rapidly. It’s advanced so quickly that our relational, financial, and social expectations have drastically changed. Because of these major differences in living, even just from thirty years ago, we have to adjust our expectations of/as parents. We are not going to have perfect kids. We are not going to be perfect parents. We can’t control everything! Fortunately, some of what you do have control over can be addressed through simple practices that give you the time to recover and meet the needs of your kids. Taking a risk to discover what needs you have not met for yourself is immeasurably important. Just remember, you’re human and need to have some down time, some alone time, some cuddle time, some ‘you’ time. So, take some time this week to reflect on what YOU need. Then, allow yourself that.
You deserve it.
Stay tuned for more articles delving into the self-care process and focusing more on caregivers--parents, teachers, nurses--you know who you are!
By Seija Zimmerman