When we decide to become parents, we might know what we want to incorporate or what we want to distance ourselves from by reflecting on our own childhood. We might start to read about it or exchange thoughts with others about things we feel uncertain about. This might leave us often feeling overwhelmed by expectations. There is no doubt most parents want the best for their children. The question remains: what is the best? What are the skill important to teach right now? This is especially hard for older parents, who have been experiencing different values in their own childhood.
During my work and because of my interest in the older generation, I learned that the change of the socioeconomic situation towards better usually reflected on our way to deal with our children. In earlier times women had to do most of the childcare alone, they had to do the housework and in some countries they had to work on top of it. In any case they had a lot of responsibilities, which often caused a lot of stress. Mothers always felt torn between work and the wish they had to establish an emotional connection with their child. Let’s acknowledge, how many women still feel that they have to decide between these huge and important tasks? As a result children learned that their own needs and emotions have to stand back behind responsibilities and role expectations. Intrinsic beliefs manifest in many different ways. From fighting change and being extremely inflexible towards other beliefs, to forgetting who we are and what we need to feel happiness. Intrinsic beliefs are at the core of all our decisions. The results have a lasting effect in how we as parents perceive our role until today.
Nowadays we have generations of people who suffer from having no conclusive way of connecting emotionally to others nor to themselves. Children often inspire us as grown-ups to change towards better by mirroring our behavior and our beliefs as they are. These situations cause conflicts between the children and their parents but most often within the parents themselves. The result can be anger, desperation and distance. Many parents feel confronted with their need for boundaries and personal growth the first time in their lives. As new parents they suddenly feel vulnerable and judged. This is when they realize the flaws of their own strategie and that is a very sensitive moment to look for guidance.
Implementing skills like self-love, self-reflection, accepting the emotions of oneself and others into your life, will inspire a growth mindset in your environment. This can result in a change, which is necessary to make it common sense. Let’s be honest, most of us do not know these terms from our childhood experience. We have to learn how to do it first for ourselves and then we can set an example to our children. This leaves many if not most overwhelmed with new expectations.
If it is against what we have experienced, we will struggle automatically with our autopilot steered by personal experience and our rational understanding of how we actually want to do it. This creates a lot of tension and stress. What may help is taking it one step at a time including trial and error, including judgement from other parents and including our own inner critic being unforgiving and demanding. This is exactly where we have to start.
Being a parent is always a work in progress, for our child and most of all for ourselves. We have to be patient with the children and with ourselves. This patience will allow us to create time and opportunity for being accepting of shortcomings. It will help us to be compassionate about making mistakes and motivate us to adjust ourselves. It will help us to create a safe atmosphere to grow and experiment for our children and for ourselves..
Arriving at this blog post might indicate your expectation that valuable information often comes in written form. You are right, the market is flooded with good books. What makes a great book though? Where do we start to look? We usually start with books which are topicwise attuned to our own expectations. This may include a direction we feel comfortable changing to in order to become the parents, we want to be.
This is why I want to share some of the concepts which have been meaningful to me. The books I found them in, left me inspired and evoked self-reflection, which is why I decided to share them with you.
This citation comes from a wonderful book written by Jesper Juul. For all who might not know him: He was a famous Danish family therapist. He concluded that we are born cooperating more than we should. According to him there are five parts forming the foundation of a psychological safe environment, which leads to developing a growth mindset. One of the five is Cooperation.
Children tend to cooperate most of the time. This means that they honestly express their needs and as their needs are met, learn to follow the rules of the environment. That means that they accept treatment and information as given facts. What we as parents teach or show them by example, is forming their intrinsic beliefs about themselves and their environment. This forms a dependency which requires cooperation most of the time. They may stop temporarily when they cannot bypass an inner conflict. An inner conflict is often caused by feeling upset, overwhelmed, or frustrated. This usually happens by the pure lack of energy this conflict creates. Once they have rested they will continue to cooperate. However, at an older age they might stop all together, when their integrity is frustrated over a long time and this inner conflict starts to create an unbearable tension.
Grown-ups have the exact same problem. Once they realize that cooperation e.g. in a love relationship, does not automatically lead to getting the personal needs met, they might consider stopping their cooperation. “Acting more self-centred than before” is one way how an often startled partner will know something has changed. Another hint is that they simply start fighting for themselves and their integrity, including individual needs, which can cause bigger conflicts.
As parents we usually cooperate within our close relationships to our partner, our children and other closer relationships. Doing so, we might often forget to make sure that our needs are important as well. When they are not met over a longer period of time, we will feel frustration. This will lead over time to exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood on a regular basis. This situation usually causes additional tension, which can lead to burnout.
Please make sure you, as a parent, take time for yourself including time to reflect on yourself and your well-being, time to express yourself creatively as well as time you spend with your partner alone to reconnect emotionally. Being focused on the needs of others all day can lead to forgetting about who you are, what you need and how you feel.
Check-in on yourself regularly. How do you feel? What do you need? Remember that by communicating your needs clearly and honestly, you increase your chance to be heard. This is true for yourself and this is true for your children as well. Keep in mind that you are the example by which your children will learn how to communicate their needs to their social environment.
Self-esteem is according to Jesper Juul another cornerstone of a functioning family life. It means to accept ourselves for who we are. It is different from self-confidence, which reflects within one’s own performance and can be strengthened by mastering skills and learning to use different tools. Self-esteem on the other hand involves an understanding and an acceptance for who we are and what we need. The level of self-esteem predicts how responsible we feel for our own thoughts, feelings and actions. This can be very empowering but it can be painful as well because we often are our worst critics. Successful self-regulation requires a working self-esteem. Without it we are unable to accept our own limitations and will feel guilty and inadequate for most of the time.
Self-esteem is often the problem when there is a lack of drive because many have never learned that it is important to first accept themselves before they find their feeling of deep purpose. This often leads to comparing ourselves with others. This can be helpful for inspiration on what to cook for dinner. However, when we talk about what we need to be happy, it is easy to get side tracked. Feeling lost in the social media storm of what makes others happy, we will find no time to reflect on ourselves. Without meaningful experiences, emotional connection and self-love, all these pictures of others being happy, will create pressure and frustration.
Slow down yourself at least once per day. Give your mind the chance to reduce its pace. This can be as simple as taking a break for breathing calmly, drinking a glass of water slowly or getting aware of your senses by using them. Create stimulating experiences, which help your brain to experience your world in a way that includes all your senses at once. Try to be present once a day to feel what matters in this very moment. This will open your eyes for simple things. Things which are beautiful in the moment. Forgetting about all the “should-haves” and trying to find beauty and gratitude towards yourself.
This citation comes from the book “the awakened family” and is written by Shefali Tsabary, who is a clinical psychologist and a mindful parent. She writes about how we try to educate our children by setting boundaries, which are none. When our children test them and they do not hold, we tend to get frustrated. This frustration often fires back at them and creates a conflict. Over time this will weaken our position and we will end up in a “power struggle”.
The surprising twist is, that this is not a power struggle at all. Children are not trying to take over. Children ask for good guidance. Having too fluid rules, which only sometimes apply but do fluctuate more often than that they stand cause uncertainty. This threatens the need for safety, which is a basic need. All what children try to do is to ask us to clarify our rules by questioning them.
So far the advice has been that we need to be stricter with the children when we actually need to be stricter with ourselves. By that I mean that we have to be transparent about the “why” and crystal clear about then “when”. This information can be useful when we are asked. What we need it to understand is why we cannot give in, once we decide on it.
We often lack the experience to know how to be a good leader, simply because we have learned to follow all our life. To be confronted with this right now, is okay. This is the chance to learn how to be a good leader, a good parent and how to grow your self-esteem as well.
Creating a safe environment with clearly defined rules, encourages everyone to share how they feel because they are being heard and accepted for who they are. This atmosphere of trust, respect and transparency helps everyone in it to grow according to their own abilities.
How do we start that? By using the word “no” more consciously, when we feel that our boundaries are violated. By hearing the word “no” more frequently and accepting when others try to protect their boundaries.
By voicing and accepting a “no”, we show the other person that we are both equal and individual. This all sounds contradictory. However, it is possible. Standing by what we need and who we are, we give the other the chance to understand our motivation. This gives them the opportunity to decide whether they want to cooperate or compromise in the given moment. A discussion is enabled and a solution can be found.
Why is it often so hard? This process is often disturbed by the way we analyse the situation. Some think the other wants to manipulate them, others think about gain and loss, often it is about who is right and wrong. This black and white thinking requires a winner and a loser, which is a very frustrating thought for the weaker side. With children it means that they have often no way of phrasing what they need simply because they do not know how. When a simple “no” is followed by a cascade of criticism which leads to a guilt trip through “Why not, this was expensive, which is why your feelings do not count.”-country, instead of sitting down and trying to establish an understanding of the situation, we have lost already. From my own experience I can say, often the reason behind a “no” is far less selfish than most parents are prepared to hear. Often it is an underlying fear.
This is not much different from grown-ups, who are quite creative to avoid situations, which cause them discomfort. Most of us have had at least once in our life the need to say “no” but said “yes” or “okay” instead. If the result of this was negative, we will carry that guilt for a long time. Not only because we did not have the energy or power to resist but because we felt that we were betraying ourselves by deciding against our personal conviction. Violating boundaries, no matter whether they are our own or the ones of our partner and children, will reduce the trust in ourselves and the relationship with others. This will create frustration as well as anxiety and as a result we might try to avoid conflicts all together. This strategy to create “harmony” will create more inner tension because feelings cannot be exchanged. This is a very problematic strategy because frustration builds up over a long time and can lead to irreconcilable differences between family members.
Try to be open about how you feel towards your loved ones. If you feel this is hard because you feel uncertain how they react, please start with one simple thing. (e.g. I feel tired and I need to rest. I will lay down for a moment. Please do not disturb me for the next 30 minutes. After 30 Minutes I will rejoin and we can play/talk together.) If you feel that this is impossible because there is already toxicity present by open verbal or physical aggression, please get help. Boundaries are important but this only works as a two way street. There is empathy needed from both sides. If we have lost the sense for hearing the fine notes or we have never experienced being attuned to ourselves, then now is the time to start!
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of another person in their context and experience them in the moment they are shared without hesitation. Sharing in this context is free from judgement. The knowledge that an emotion is not good or bad is important for allowing it to be present. In that moment when we allow it to be present in a safe and controlled way, we can confront it and learn to accept it as it is. This is very easy when we talk about joy or excitement, feelings we are used to sharing. It gets harder when we talk about anger or sadness but it starts to be complicated when we talk about fear.
In this moment we allow ourselves to leave our position and follow the other into their world. We see what they see and feel what they feel. We acknowledge all what we experience and connect in doing so deeply with the other person. After we were allowed to share, we can reflect on it and see what it does to us and what our own strategies for this might be. Giving Feedback about how this makes us feel, might help to encourage the other that their feelings have been valid and worth reflecting on.
This is something that can be learned. There are many ways to approach it. The first obstacle is always the will and motivation to accept that our own position is as right as the other one’s and can be at the same time as wrong. Accepting this is very hard.
However, this experience will change your perspective. Maybe not completely but it will enrich your world.
The next obstacle is that feelings negative or positive should never be judged by being right or wrong. Instead we can try to understand their purpose. Accepting fear without avoiding it, by letting it be present, is against all we know. Please understand, I mean the presence of fear not threat. Fear is an emotion which tends to warn us of an approaching threat. There is a difference. Fear is present in our lives every day. We are worried about being bad parents, we are worried about the safety of our loved ones, and we are worried about failing. These are just a couple of clear examples but there are subtle ones like worrying about not living up to expectations, making loved ones unhappy or creating additional tension by asking for something from others.
In short we are often worried to verbalize our needs. We are worried that others will treat us as we treat ourselves by simply ignoring our needs and refusing to cooperate. This is the point where we need to take a deep breath, because yes, this is often the way people treat themselves and this is the way we expect others to treat us in return. When we allow others to choose how they want to react to our needs, by sharing them with them, we will benefit from that. One benefit will be that there is a chance the other loves us and wants to support us. The other benefit will be that by seeing and sharing each other’s needs and emotions we will get a more realistic self-image. Another benefit will be that these experiences help us to establish a deeper emotional bound to others and to ourselves, which increases our self-esteem and thus our well-being.
Trying to let the inner critic rest for a certain time, will give you a better picture about what you really need. Including a Self-compassion practice in your daily routine will be a time for reflecting positively on experiences. Instead of the usual guilt you can empower yourself and learn from mistakes. This mindshift will create a framework for children and parents to thrive, to connect, to develop self-esteem and resilience. Let’s be kinder to one another and to ourselves.