Have you ever felt completely confused because you think you should know more about something but realize you're totally lost and overwhelmed?
Yeah. I had that feeling about 2 years ago.
I was trying to bribe my, then, 4 year old to listen to something I was saying and he wasn't having any of it. He continued on doing what he was doing and then I got super angry and annoyed. And I began raising my voice and then starting telling him I was taking away his trains and that he wouldn't get any sweet treat after dinner that night. He still didn't listen and, now, he was telling me I was so mean. Well, that did it. I walked away and thought, "I'll just ignore him until he does what I've asked him to do. I'll give him the attention he's asking for when I see the positive behavior."
Cue the 20 minute stand-off and the cries from my son and then the increasing frustration in me that ended in me just yelling at him "Why can't you just listen! It's not that hard!"
Eventually we both conceded to each other, out of fatigue and sadness, but we definitely weren't "alright." I rushed through bedtime that night and he turned away from me and didn't ask me to come back in, like he normally did.
And I sat downstairs ashamed and confused and just exhausted.
I'm a school psychologist, for goodness sakes. At that point, I'd been practicing for a decade. And I prided myself on being objective and keeping my cool with the "tough kids" at school. I knew every behavior strategy in the book and tried to analyze each behavior from a "function view." I really thought my years of experience and my knowledge would help me when I became a parent. That I'd be able to do what I do with the students and it would just work (most of the time).
That is so not what happened.
Two years ago I had 2 children. One was 4 and one was just a year old. My youngest was my "pandemic baby" and it had been an incredibly tough first year. My stress had been through the roof and my family's usual outlets for our energy were mostly closed off to us. My sleep was terrible and my fears and anxieties about not getting it right with my youngest kept me on edge all the time. I felt so incredibly split. I couldn't give 100% to either child and I felt defeated and guilty all the time. I operated pretty close to empty every day.
This made for a very disconnected and tension-filled home life.
And I thought that if I just used my behavior strategies and used enough rewards and punishments, that my older son would eventually just do what I asked. But I began to feel really bad about what I was doing. I could feel him moving further and further away from me. And I felt myself becoming angrier and more frustrated.
I thought to myself, I want to parent in a different way. I don't want to put him in time out. I don't want to yell so much. I really want to be able to let more go and maybe feel better about being a parent. To feel, maybe, like I'm actually a good mom.
And so, as I have been known to do, I dove down the research rabbithole of "gentle, peaceful, conscious" parenting. I read so much and tooks weeks to analyze what I read. To really think about it. I felt like there was a whole other way of parenting that I hadn't realized existed. That I didn't know I could do. And it felt good to read about. It felt...right. Like maybe what I'd been taught in my journey towards becoming a school psychologist...and all the trainings I'd had professionally...maybe it was all wrong.
Something about this approach to parenting felt like me. Or the me I wanted to be. It encouraged me and interested me. And I wanted to learn much much more.
So I enrolled in the Jai Institute for Parenting Coach Program. And I began my 8 month journey towards completely redefining my parenting and the feeling in my home.
And realizing that I couldn't keep this information to myself. I couldn't continue to promote behaviorism, isolation, planned ignoring, and classroom management systems with what I was learning.
And what was I learning? Everything that I knew deep down had to be true but that had never been taught or explained to me.
That children are wired for connection and they are seeking that through their behavior.
They are inherently good and are not masters of manipulation.
That their behaviors are so often communicating a stress response or an emotional experience that is beyond what they are capable of processing alone.
That traditional parenting strategies actually make things worse.
That asserting our power and control tears at the thread of connection with our children until we're all just barely hanging on.
That all emotions are okay and there's a way to safely experience and hold space for them that doesn't make anyone feel bad or guilty for having them.
That children are actually so much more inclined to work with us when we meet their basic human needs.
That I could form the deep connection I wanted to have with my children by apologizing more and demanding less.
And that ultimately, the way I was parenting was not about them. It was about me.
It was about my experiences being parented and it was about my challenges with certain emotions or situations that I didn't even know were a challenge. Those kids at school? They didn't bring it up in me. But my own children? Heck yes they did.
And I realized, the way I felt, the way I had felt growing up, was in no way the way I wanted my boys to feel. And I cried a lot and felt so ashamed when I realized that I had - in fact - shamed them or ignored them or yelled to get my point across. I had chipped away at, not only our connection, but their sense of safety and sense of self.
I vowed that I would not continue down that pathway. And that the best thing I could offer to other parents were not some recommendations in an evaluation report. Or a quick phone conversation as they rushed between meetings. It wasn't a quick chat at car line or a once per year presentation at school.
It was pursuing a parent coaching practice that would allow me to reach parents all over who were also looking to yell less, shame less, be happier as a parent, and figure out their own stuff so they didn't pass it on to their kids.
And ultimately, I felt compelled to help change the world, by changing the way parents, parent.
But, has it alll been sunshine and roses and rainbows? Nope. Not at all. Parenting in this way takes a lot of energy. To get myself in a regulated enough state to be there for my kids. To get curious about what's going in inside of them before I just react without knowing the full picture. To find ways to collaborate and help them feel seen and heard so that we can do the things we need and want to.
Some days I have to go in my room and close the door so I don't yell. Some days I threaten to take away a toy or screentime because they're not listening. And some days I feel annoyed by their need for all of my energy.
But those days? Those days happen much less often. And I am 100% able to apologize and repair with them for the pain or fear I caused by using a controlling type of approach.
I have been able to get to a place where I feel comfortable, and confident, that I'm doing the best I can. And on the days when my best isn't super soothing and regulated I know that I am ultimately going to try again the next day and the day after that. I feel guilty sometimes, and it's tough not to project that onto my kids, but I am now able to do what I need to do for myself so that I can show up in the ways that don't make me feel guilty.
I'm a work in progress.
I'm still honing and evolving my parenting because my kids are still growing and evolving themselves.
If you feel compelled to begin your growth towards becoming a more regulated and confident parent, reach out to me and we can chat about how I can help you!