Archives for April 2016

The Perfect Parent

This week’s post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts by Esther.

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Are you the perfect parent? Chances are, probably not. But possibly, secretly, do you really want to be the perfect parent? I know I do.

Most adults (my children included) can tell you all the things their parents did wrong. Some parents definitely qualified as Toxic Parents (a term coined by therapist and author Susan Forward). Other parents, well, they were somewhere on the scale between tolerable and pretty good—all things considered.

No matter where our own parents fell on that scale, many of us want to do better than them. That’s a good thing. But in wanting to do better, some of us fall into the perils of perfectionism:

  • We have unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others.
  • We focus on what we did wrong—not on what we did right.
  • We self-criticize and may be highly critical of others.
  • Criticism from others (or even helpful suggestions) may increase our feelings of inadequacy. We may respond with defensiveness and hostility. We may be unwilling to admit being wrong.

Full disclosure: I’m a recovering perfectionist. But I’m also an educator. I believe in improvement. I believe people can learn new skills and change their behavior.

As an educator, I also know that learning takes having access to accurate information and getting encouragement from others. It takes time and practice. It takes making mistakes and then learning from those mistakes. For some reason, when it comes to parenting we think we ought to know how to do it just because we want to. After all, we can identify all those things our parents did wrong.

Here are some ideas that have helped me focus on improvement and step back from perfectionism:

Asking myself: is the issue one of health and safety?

Are the goals my goals or those that others think are important? One study found that parents with “self-oriented parenting perfectionism” had higher parenting satisfaction, whereas those with “societal-oriented parenting perfectionism” were more stressed.

Noticing what is working well and what got done. Being specific. Praising myself and others.

Admitting to messing up, apologizing, making amends if possible, thinking about how to do it better next time.

Asking myself, what do I need to do this—information, encouragement, practice?

Perhaps what is most helpful is accurate and honest information about how other people have succeeded in doing what I would like to do. No one is exactly like me, of course, but parents share many things in common. Realizing that others struggle with challenges and hearing how others dealt with similar situations can spur me in problem-solving, even if their solutions are not the same as mine.

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Extra Inning (Family Rules, Part 3)

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I’ve been writing about the process of coming up with Family Rules. Last week I was stuck with the consequences of my family’s Values as they showed up in my actions, whether or not I intended to model them. This time I want to pull back and tell you what I’ve been doing lately.

The genesis of this was in a post I wrote I few weeks ago about how I haven’t introduced my girls to sports. As a consequence, they can’t throw or catch a ball, and I had a bit of an existential Daddy crisis about this. I got over it, sort of. But in preparation for the upcoming Nurturing Fathers training, which uses sports as a metaphor that runs throughout the program, I started thinking about this again. If I’m going to teach this program, I thought, I need to set aside my lifelong lack of interest in sports and, basically, pick one and become interested.

I grew up in a house of football fans, but for a variety of reasons this never clicked with me (to be honest, the game just makes no sense to my brain. Don’t be offended; it’s not you, it’s me). I’ve learned in recent years, in my work with children, how to lob a basketball into a hoop, but again, not much about the sport resonates with me. Soccer is fine, hockey is fun, and I’ve always enjoyed the Winter Olympics. Whatever.

But then there’s baseball. Still the National Pastime, at least in name, and a sport with a long and hallowed place in American history and culture. The rules make sense; the gameplay is elegant and aesthetically pleasing. There’s no clock. It’s a nice way to enjoy an idyllic Summer day. It’s full of unwritten rules, superstitions, traditions, stories and lore, and plus I’ve seen The Sandlot more times than I can count. The more I thought about it the more I realized I was ready to become a baseball fan.

Somehow in the midst of this newfound hobby I volunteered to organize a softball team at work. I just kind of pitched the idea (see what I did there?) and to my surprise was met with overwhelming interest. Suddenly I am occupied with putting together a team roster, ordering t-shirts, commissioning artwork for the mascot, and cramming to learn the rules of the game. I’ll let you know how we do this year.

What does all this have to do with Family Rules? If we accept the premise that a family is a team, we understand that everyone’s contribution is essential. Everyone’s efforts are needed and valued. This is as true in setting up a regimen of chores as it is in the routines of getting ready for school, taking a bath, visiting grandparents, playing with siblings. Everyone has different talents and abilities (especially if they’re all different ages) and we have to figure out, as a team, how best to use them, and how to support each other in areas in which we’re not so proficient.

And just like in baseball (or softball), everyone has to go up to bat eventually.

Values in Action (Family Rules, Part 2)

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Last week I wrote about the process of establishing Family Rules in accordance with the Nurturing Parenting philosophy. As you’ll recall, I fumbled around a bit as I realized that in my household we didn’t really have an established set of rules, and that a lot of the parenting educators I spoke to didn’t have them either.

For the sake of emphasizing their importance, however, I decided to go through the process as I understand it. I want to make clear that the Nurturing Parenting curriculum is not responsible for any of my fumbling.

The first step is to talk about the Morals and Values that are practiced in my family. There is a distinction to be made between these two things.

Morals are the understanding of what is right and wrong according to our belief system. They come from religion, spirituality, or what they refer to in recovery as our higher power, whatever that might be.

I have a pretty good idea about what these things are. I came up with a list that puts things such as Honesty, Forgiveness, and Loving Words and Acts in the “good” column and such things as Lying, Blaming and Cruel Words and Acts in the “bad” zone. Easy enough, right? These are ideals of behavior that we can all agree on.

They are not Rules, because they don’t describe the behavior that we want to see. They are the blueprint for how we want our family to work. They don’t originate with us, but shape our Values from without (I defer to C.S. Lewis, who in his book Mere Christianity explains this much better than I could hope to do).

Values spring directly from this blueprint. The term “Family Values” has a lot of political and cultural baggage, but for the sake of this exercise we’re using it in its most generic sense: they are the things that we hold as important or sacred in our family. Every family has its own culture, and thus its own set of Values. Ideally, of course, the things that are demonstrably important to us will fall in line with our list of Morals (the “rights” rather than the “wrongs”). So, my list of Values is made up of many of the same things I listed above:

Honesty

Forgiveness

Loving Words and Acts

Other Values I came up with are offshoots of this, such as

Helping (being in Service to others). So far, so good.

The tricky part here is that, while our Morals come from outside the family, our Values are manifested in the things we actually do and say. With this in mind, I can look at a line of children and adults sitting on the sofa with books open on their laps and see that

Literacy

is a Value in our family.

So I wrote that down. And given that when my kids are not reading they are most likely making artwork, learning, or playing, I added those as well:

Creativity

Learning

Play

Good stuff, right?

This is where I stop and take a look at my actions and make some surprising discoveries. Very often in my interactions with others I value

Being Right.

I practice

Judgment, a lot.

And much of the time I obviously value children being

Quiet.

When looking for guidance, I am more likely to value

My Smartphone

over the contributions of people right in front of me.

Jeepers, what happened to my list? This last batch seemed to come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t exactly jibe with my Morals. In fact, it is arguably in conflict with the other things on the list. This is because we pass along our Values through what we do and say. We model them for our children, and reinforce them through consistency and repetition.

And that’s how our children learn, right? So what do I want them to learn? And how am I living those lessons?

Clearly, we’re not done here.

The Count (Family Rules, Part 1)

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I had thought this post would be easier. After attending a Nurturing Parenting training at work last week, I wanted to write about the importance of establishing Family Rules. According to the training, it is valuable for a family to identify their own Morals, Values and Rules, to have them written down and displayed somewhere for reference, and for parents and children alike to understand what they are and be able to recite and follow them.

My family has not done this. In thinking about what our Family Rules might be, I came up empty. Surely we have them, right? But I wasn’t able to say what they were. I looked to some of my coworkers, parenting educators all, and asked if they knew what their Family Rules were. No one was able to tell me. No one had written them down.

I’m an advocate of being transparent about these things in my own work with families. When a parent recites the Count—you know, when your child is not listening and you start that mysterious Count (by “you” I’m including “me,” because I have been known to initiate the Count): “One. Two…”

I ask, “Does your child know what this means? Do they know what they need to do? Do they know what will happen when the Count is over?” Most likely, the parent’s response will be that the child does, in fact, know. So I ask, “What will happen?” And the parent cannot tell me. “I usually don’t have to finish counting.” The answer, of course, is that there is no answer. No rule has been established, no consequence agreed upon.

The answer, in that there is no answer, turns out to be the answer. Don’t worry, I understand that this makes no sense. And that’s the answer. It’s unknown. Fear of the unknown is what gets the child’s attention. And in that sense, it does work, because it is based on fear of the unknown. The child knows instinctively that finishing the Count is not a good thing. And the behavior may change, at least for the short term. At least for right now.

You can probably see what’s wrong here. This is the opposite of establishing a Family Rule, something that the parent and the child understand and have agreed upon. It implies, rather, that if it the Count does not achieve the desired affect (for the child to stop doing what they are doing, or to do what the parent has asked, possibly several times already), then we are going to go outside the Rules. All bets are off. The child does not know what will happen, and possibly neither does the parent. This is scary. And no one is learning from it.

I cannot criticize a parent for breaking out the Count because I understand where it comes from. It stands in for an absence of agreed upon rules. And it is usually a good place to have the conversation: what are the Rules in your family?

I have asked myself that very question. Next time, I hope, I will have an answer.