Being a Vulnerable Parent

Author: Karen Copeland

I’m just going to put this out there. There are moments where I feel like a complete failure as a parent. Usually they happen in times of frustration, where I feel like I am not being heard or responded to, and I try to remind myself that I have teenagers now but I still wonder what the heck it is that I am doing wrong.

Other times, like tonight, it is the result of an article I have come across that hits me right in the heart, and I come away feeling inadequate. It is ironic that this happened now, considering my post yesterday about pausing and considering. How exciting that I get to put that into practice so soon after sharing! /sarcasm/

I do a LOT of writing about being curious, about taking the time to get to know a person’s story before providing advice or comment. We need to step away from judgment and assumptions and move towards understanding, and the best way to do that is to ASK. I’m trying to recall if I have written before about the multitude of parenting advice we have been presented with over the years (there has been much, believe me!). I don’t think I have, so I will share more here.

When we were first trying to figure out how to support our child, the first course of action offered was parenting classes.  I diligently attended these, trying to immerse myself in knowledge of how could be a better parent and help my son. I read lots of books too.

Here’s where things get confusing. Where one expert would say you need to be more structured and have a routine, another would say you need to offer choices. Yet another would advocate counting up (1-2-3 Magic anyone?) while another would encourage problem solving and open communication. Then you would come across the expert who would provide all the ins and outs of utilizing reward systems to encourage positive behavior, only to discover another perspective that you shouldn’t use rewards. Use cognitive behavior therapy, create a fear ladder, practice belly breathing, identify emotions, punish, extinguish, ignore, script, pattern, model, collaborate, be more structured, be less structured, be firmer, be less firm, be forgiving.

ross greeneWell, guess what? I discovered that using one specific recommended strategy didn’t work for our family. What did work, was pulling bits and pieces from a few different sources, melding them together and running with it. Most importantly, I needed to start to know my children, to explore what their needs were and respond to them each in the ways that worked best for them. There is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting. You figure out what works for your child and your family and you go with it. When it all comes down to it, it is about relationship, trust, connection, security.

There are those moments though, where you just feel like you are not enough. And, as I said earlier, tonight was one of those nights. The article was titled “Parents: You’re not doing your job. Sincerely, expert and Author Leonard Sax”. I read the article, closed my computer, re-opened my computer, and read it again. Pause…consider, rant “I’m a failure” … pause … consider. It didn’t help that my kids were both using technology at the time, further cementing this idea that I was not doing my job. And, unfortunately for my kids, my anxiety took over and I over-reacted.

Yep, that article got right to the heart of my fear that I am failing as a parent. I worry that my kids have too much tech time, and this played right into that fear. As I retreated to my bedroom to mitigate further damage, I felt so much remorse. I calmed myself and then sat with my kids and apologized.

I learn in these moments where things do not go well. I reflect and consider how I can do things better the next time. I take ownership of this and apologize, and I don’t mean just saying “I’m sorry”, I mean I apologize and take ownership of how my own emotions and anxiety got in the way. And I promise to do better. And it sucks and it’s ugly and it’s messy and it’s uncomfortable. My hope, my desperate hope is that when my kids see me doing this, they will realize that we all lose it sometimes, and the most important thing is how we respond and repair afterwards. And you know what, I think they do. I see glimpses of it happening.

My point is, we are bombarded with all kinds of expert advice on how to parent our kids. We are bombarded with all kinds of expert advice on how NOT to parent our kids. But really, maybe our kids are meant to teach us that it is not about being a perfect parent following one expert’s advice, instead, it is about discovering who they are and parenting them the way they need. And through it all, they teach us that we are human, with faults, foibles and missteps; and that is okay. We don’t need to be perfect after all.


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