Monthly Archives: December 2012

17Dec/12

The Best Parenting Tool Ever?

I imagine many of you, like me, are continuously searching for the holy grail of parenting, that one fail-safe technique that will solve the majority of your parenting troubles in one hit.  Even though rationally I realise this is unlikely, even impossible, a not-so-small part of me still hopes to stumble across a priceless gem of insight in a book, article or blog that will create such a massive ‘a-ha’ moment that it instantly changes my life.

Alas, this has never happened.  But I’ve had many near misses.  And the main reason that they are near-misses, rather than hitting the jackpot, is that they all involve me changing my behaviour, rather than focussing on my children changing theirs.  I know, how annoying is that?!  When you’ve got 40 years of habit and experience of thinking the way you think, and 10 years or so hard practice of mainstream (generally inefficient and counter-productive) parenting tools in the bag, you don’t really feel like changing the script, do you?  We’ve all invested so much in doing it the way we do it for so long that we don’t much feel like jumping ship now.  Not to mention the fact that it’s a very hard, long and frustrating journey changing our own ingrained behavioural habits.  And besides people might think we’ve gone soft on our kids. God forbid.

But the trouble is these near misses are the real deal, the treasure that we have been searching for. It is simply because we find it so hard to change our own behaviour that we discover our treasure is locked behind very thick iron bars.  Tantalisingly we can see the prize but can’t get to it. The only way to unlock it is to go on the long and arduous hero’s journey of personal change.

I’m sorry folks, but that’s the way it is.

The best parenting tool is changing how we think and act in order to change the way your children think and act.  This is a long term, investment-heavy journey which takes a lot of focus, practice and commitment.  But the prize is there; can’t you see it, glimmering in the twilight, waiting for us?

10Dec/12

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’.  I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean.  But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.

When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent.  So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most.  They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.

While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice.  I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it.  This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.

This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!)  Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too.  It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way.  Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it.  At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth.  I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.

So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family.  It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.

04Dec/12

What We Love About You

As I mentioned in my last post, my youngest son frequently thinks that the rest of the family hate him.  Somehow he has come to believe that whenever someone is mean to him, tells him off or even disagrees with him, then that must mean they hate him. And not just hate him in that moment, but pretty much forever.

To combat this I talked to my eldest children (aged 8 and 1o) about showing more love to Zach, especially when he is being grumpy and mean, and to spend the next 4 to 6 weeks trying to change this belief of his.  My daughter suggested we make a poster for him telling him how much we love him and making him feel more part of the family.  So we did, and below is our creation. It has lots of photos of Zach with us and some of his friends, and a letter from each of us telling him what we love about him.

It was a lovely moment when Harvey and Jasmine presented Zach with his poster, going through all the letters and photos and explaining what we had done.  The look of pride and amazement on his face was wonderful to see.  It really touched him.

The next morning he came into my bed at about 6.40 asking to go downstairs. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to go and look at his poster.  So I got up with him and we spent a good ten minutes looking at the poster, reading the letters and choosing our favourite photos.  It was clear how much this meant to him, and how much better it made him feel.  Later that day we put it in a picture frame and put it on his bedroom wall.  He is very happy with it, and maybe one step closer to believing we love him all the time, no matter what, with no conditions attached.