Learning new key skills can enhance how you really show up as a parent.
In Part One – You Matter, you conducted an honest inventory of your parenting by answering two questions:
- What I am doing which demonstrates “I matter to my child?”
- What do I need to work on?
Even though it is never easy to conduct a self-inventory, being brutally honest with ourselves serves as a strong foundation in our work ahead. You know exactly where you are as you remain open to stretching and growing your parenting. Good job.
You checked in with your children about their levels of “mattering.” Although this can be a sensitive area to explore, how our children feel about their value and importance is a reflection on how well we are doing in our roles and responsibilities as their parents.
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What did you find out as you explored these questions with your children?
- Do you feel important? Do you feel valuable? Do you feel like you matter? Why or why not?
- On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how much do you feel like you matter? Why?
- What can I do or not do as your mom, dad, etc. which would help you to feel more valuable?
Keep your results of both exercises close by, as we go through emphasizing four critical principles in our method for parents. As you compare your self-inventory and your children’s responses to our practices, you will find there will be some areas where you are doing well, some places which need to be strengthened or improved, and some areas which may need quite a bit of attention. Whatever the case, again, don’t beat yourself up or give up. As with any exercise program, move slowly but keep moving.
Showing Up (Being Present)
Working with young people, both as a teacher and as a therapist, the most important practice to effective parenting is showing up or being present for our children. As a researcher and author, the importance of “how parents show up for their children” was a critical finding in analyzing personal narratives obtained from a two year study conducted with Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving From Brokenness To Wholeness. Although most parents or guardians equate this principle to the “degree of time” parents spend with their children, we are speaking specifically to “how we show up for our children or how present we are with our children.” Yes, time is important; however, our capacity to fulfill our roles in healthy ways transcends quantity of time.
Let’s take a look at three essential components as we begin.
- Stability (Wellness)
- Selflessness (Child Focused)
- Stillness (Safe Harbor)
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Let’s get started!
In order to be present for our children, parents must be stable. We must be well, emotionally and psychologically. Parents or guardians who suffer from issues of addiction (substance and behavioral), personality disorders, chronic clinical illnesses, and/or parents who engage in dangerous relationships or destructive patterns are primarily focused on their own survival needs. Children’s needs are often over-looked or severely neglected. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that many parents actively work programs or implement recovering strategies in managing their illnesses, diseases, and disorders so that they can fulfill their commitments to wellness for themselves and fully “show up” for their children.
It’s important to note, when addictions or other unhealthy behaviors take on a life of their own, parents and guardians cannot be present for their children.
In researching Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers, most of the mothers suffered from clinical issues such as addiction, depression, and anxiety. Their capacity to be present for their daughters was additionally compromised by the presence of personality disorders. One daughter painfully described how her bi-polar, narcissistic mother was unable to “mother her” in the ways she needed. She detailed how the roles within her household were reversed, “It was upside down in my home. I had to take care of my mother.”
It is quite common for children to take on parental roles when adults within the home are unwilling to fulfill them or they are incapable of doing so. The ramifications of this are long-lasting and quite complex. For the purposes of our Inner Awareness Pilates For Parents Series, we want to focus on preventing this by helping parents to identify their areas of wellness while acknowledging and addressing areas which need work.
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Exercise – Stability
Although this can be very difficult, answer the following questions:
- Am I stable?
- Am I well, emotionally and psychologically?
- Am I filling my needs at the expense of my children’s?
Make three lists:
- Behaviors which demonstrate my stability and wellness.
- Behaviors I need to improve/change: 3 action steps to take.
- Behaviors I need to eliminate: 3 action steps to take.
Spend as much time on this as needed. Make sure you acknowledge the areas in which you feel you are doing well. In the areas which need improvement or need to be eliminated, write down at least three action steps you are going to take in order to begin making healthy progress. Whenever possible, seek out resources for intervention, treatment, and support. Remember, in order to give our children our best, we must be our best.
Selflessness (Child– Focused)
In order to be fully present for our children, we must first be well. As we have discussed, if we are consumed with unhealthiness (in its various forms), we navigate from a very self-centered and self-serving position. Getting our needs met becomes a priority – not our children’s needs. Although the second component selflessness in our series relates to stability, it deserves special attention.
Over the past several years, we have been experiencing a trend where young people and adults alike are becoming more self-absorbed and self-focused. As we have moved into a technologically driven culture to meet our social and relational needs, we have become much more egocentric, constantly self-promoting and seeking self-validation through various social networking platforms. In order to be present with our children, we must acknowledge the energy and resources we spend on obsessive screen distractions such as cell phones, gaming, texting, etc. In researching Power Down & Parent Up, tweens to teens reported that they wished their parents would spend less time on their technology. When we demonstrate our capacity for selflessness and turn away from self-indulgent behaviours, we show our children they are more important than our phones, emails, texts, tweets, posts, games, etc. We show them they matter.
Technology is not the only area of concern. There are other interests, pursuits, or passions which detract from being child focused (i.e. work, sports, hobbies, relationships, etc.). Remember, as we embrace our mind body exercises, we are seeking balance as we improve our parenting.
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Excercise – Selflessness
Answer the following question: Is the attention I give to a device, task, game, etc. exceeding, equal to, or less than the attention I give to my children?
Take your time and then fill in the three lists:
- Ways I give attention to my children.
- Behaviors I can improve or change.
- Behaviors or actions I need to eliminate.
Because we live in a tech-saturated society, consider picking up a copy of Power Down & Parent Up. There are seven practical strategies and four guidelines for managing your technology and maintaining a happy family. It’s not about banning it; it’s about balancing it! And, it’s about showing up for our kids.
In order to show up for our kids or to be present fully for them, parents and guardians must also be still. Being still is not easy, especially in today’s fast-paced culture. More importantly, being still requires that we are stable and selfless.
When we are well and available for our children, we become their safe-harbors.
As families face challenges and children confront theirs, parents have a choice about how they respond. Catastrophizing and dramatizing situations muddies the waters and creates unnecessary currents. Reacting with anger and criticism typically fuels the upheaval. Healthy parents remain still, implementing rational and reasonable processes to move through the turbulence. Healthy parents listen and communicate openly. Stable and selfless parents respond with calm and comfort. When parents and guardians provide a warm loving harbor for their children to tether themselves, children know they are safe and they are more likely to turn to them when facing further challenges.
While interviewing the participants in Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers and uncovering the instability and self-serving behaviors of their mothers, it was no surprise that most of the home environments were filled with chaos and conflict. There were pockets of stillness, sanity, and selflessness which presented themselves sporadically and often from outsiders, but the inconsistencies produced tremendous anxiety and insecurity within the daughters. As is true with most children without a safe harbor in which to dock, the daughters often found themselves alone and adrift.
We, as parents and guardians, often find ourselves in frightening or critical situations because of the choices our children make or because of circumstances beyond our control. During these difficult times, emotions can and will run high. In implementing our new methods as parents, we will continue to stretch ourselves by increasing our inner awareness as to how we react to our children and how we can learn to respond more effectively.
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Exercise – Stillness:
Answer the following questions: Am I a safe harbour for my children? Do I take time to be still? Do I react or do I respond? Spend as much time as you need on this. Be honest with yourself.
Fill in the three areas below:
- Ways I am a safe harbor.
- Behaviors I need to improve or change: 3 action steps.
- Behaviors I need to eliminate: 3 action steps.
As we close for today, it is important to recognize what we have discussed is not easy stuff. It is hard to self-reflect and self-assess, especially when it comes to our parenting.
Remember three things:
- No one is a perfect parent.
- It is never too late to regroup and start again.
- Parents and guardians, you matter.
For now, take a deep breath. Release any guilt or other negative thoughts or feelings. Then, do your homework exercises as you continue to flex and strengthen your parenting skills.
Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bulling, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”
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