Written by Teri Effle
I sometimes get to feeling pretty savvy with social media- and then I run across something like “it’s complicated” as a Facebook status option. I am reminded that I am definitely in my forties and have decidedly analogue roots.
But there is a lot of truth to the idea that our relationships are complicated- or maybe a better word would be complex. Anyone who has ever been involved in parenting a child can attest to that! The anatomy of any interaction between a parent and a child has a lot of moving parts. Sometimes we experience rewarding moments that are perfect and affirming and sometimes….not.
Sometimes I just want my son to do what I say without arguing and please, for once, without dawdling and dragging a ten-minute activity on for an hour. Sometimes I worry about his choices or habits and I want to stuff everything I know about wisdom and life into his head in the five minutes before we leave for practice when he can’t find his shoes and I can’t find my keys and did someone let the dog out??? Sometimes these things compete and the day ends in shambles with angry words, rolled eyes, and slammed doors (and exhaustion…. don’t forget the exhaustion!)
I don’t have a silver bullet to solve this kind of dilemma. Some parent coach I am, right!? Here is what I can tell you, standing just on the other side of having raised a young man to adulthood– there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently. Yet, I think that’s life, and that is the price of gaining wisdom. But I also learned (the hard way and in many cases imperfectly) to be mindful about how I engaged with my son. Here are three things I invite you to consider in all your loads of free time:
- Sometimes (and by that, I mean probably half the time) I am the problem. I may not know what it is I really want in the long term and issue a lot of competing messages in the short term. For example, wanting him to think independently while having my own expectation for the morning routine and then being frustrated when he is self-sufficient and does things differently from how I want them done. Sometimes, as parents, we need them to obey right away because we just do. However, I found when I was honest with myself that most of the time, particularly as he left toddlerhood, there was room for discussion. There were countless times Derek and I looked at each other and asked ourselves why we just said no- and would go back and recant and rethink the situation. There were lots of times that I was tired, hungry, grouchy or selfish and that spilled over into my interactions with him and made things needlessly difficult or emotionally intense. If I am the problem, then as the adult, it is on me to get ahold of myself; that might mean some self-care in whatever form that takes– a talk with someone wiser than I to help level out whatever I am stuck on or, for deep seated things, perhaps a visit with a counselor or therapist. It was universally true for me that if I was sideways with everyone in life then it was something going on with me and not hinged on the behaviors of my kid (those things were symptoms, not causes).
- Engagement looks different throughout the parenting lifespan, but it is always critically important. We are a culture which is in love with immediacy. If you don’t believe me, then say something about whatever hot topic is bubbling away in your sphere and monitor how long it takes for people to pull out their phones to start googling things. The fact that googling is a THING is an indicator that we have internalized the need and expectation for instantaneous answers and information. Engaging with our kids does not work like that. Regardless of how we attain external information and the power of Google, sometimes I need to wait to share my wisdom until things cool down. It may be a day. Or three. Sometimes I need to watch a behavior carefully and figure out the cause- the driver- before I try to intervene, because sometimes it isn’t about handing out a consequence, it is about giving some help (wanted or otherwise) as they strive to figure out life.
- And I need to spend TIME. Time playing dinosaurs, time listening to them talk about Fortnite (heaven help you- in our day it was Minecraft), and time sitting with them or maybe holding them while they cry over a hurt we can’t fix. Time is essential in building relationships, and building relationships doesn’t happen in the fast lane. Parents are the keepers of the family schedules, and we have in many cases packed them so tightly that things like deep conversations or silly spontaneity are relegated to the margins. The stuff of life is crammed into the margins between activities. I think that bears some thinking about. It creeps up, or it does for us at least, and we find ourselves looking at our schedules wondering, “How did we get here??”
So, parenting isn’t rocket science. And there really are no silver bullets when it comes to relationships. Nonetheless, I would argue that while they aren’t easy, they don’t have to be complicated. Maybe we can be the impetus to make relationships with our children “simple”.
A quick note: PrairieFire Consulting is offering a parenting seminar next week. Teri and Derek Effle will be leading four sessions on making what is complex about parenting.. simple. If you would like more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or to register click here.