Even though I’ve had a wonderful mother and father who taught me how to parent, the hardest thing I’ve found since becoming a mother has been learning to parent myself.
It’s always much easier to let my personality out in full force, sometimes unleashing harmful anger, toxic barbs and biting criticism. I have a tendency to be unafraid to show my true self when with my nearest and dearest, especially to my kids.
Perhaps, like me, you struggle to have a good relationship with your kids and wish to cultivate better emotional skills. Staying humble and being willing to learn and grow is a good starting point.
We should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying.
1.Listen well and think before we speak
So many times have I been tempted to shoot my mouth off before my child is done asking a question or telling me a story on their day in school. Sometimes I’m only half listening as they regale their tales when I’m in the middle of a bath, cooking lunch or (tsk!) texting on my phone. I find myself completing their sentences or assuming facts before I’ve even heard them.
The book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk promotes using affirming language to show active and supportive listening. When a child returns home and says he got into trouble with the teacher for hitting a child, for example, we can approach from a point of curiosity.
Instead of shouting, “What did you do? How can you hit someone else?” perhaps we could say, “What did your classmate do before you hit him?” and then respond, “That must have made you so mad!” Children want to know they have their parents on their side advocating for them, even in moments when they mess up.
When listening, we should put away all other distractions. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something, I would inform my child to give me a moment to complete the task so I can give them my undivided attention.
Although listening is performed mainly by the ears, we should listen with our whole being. Maintaining eye contact helps us take in the body language of the other person. Our own posture, when we face the other person and mirror their body language, also speaks volumes.
In addition, we should listen with our hearts and minds to hear the emotions and thoughts beyond the words our child is saying. Is my child seeking advice or comfort? What does he or she really want from me?
There are times, however, when listening and conversing is better when done side by side or without eye contact. A car ride, a fishing trip or a walk in the park may be a good opportunity to have difficult or awkward conversations.
Reading parenting books and knowing the theories makes me none the wiser as I am still learning daily to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”.
I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense and come back again when I’ve calmed down.
2. Manage our own emotions
An important thing for parents is to understand their own triggers in their relationship with their kids. For myself, a person who likes things to be neat and tidy, huge messes are a big no and the youngest always manages to pull out all the stops, literally.
I find myself uncontrollably playing the blame game, ordering everyone around and going into a cleaning rage. Other times, what triggers me is my child’s insistence and blatant defiance
After knowing what makes you mad, the next step is to manage yourself. I’ve found it helpful to walk away from a situation that is getting tense, or when I myself am getting worked up, and come back again when I’ve calmed down. This is especially when my child gets sassy, sarcastic and stubborn. No point getting into a heated argument over that math question when both sides think they are correct. Better to return later.
It’s only when we learn to manage our own emotions
that we can model emotional regulation to our children. We should “respond” and not “react”. If a glass has been shattered into smithereens on the floor, for example, focus on getting it cleaned up and keeping everyone safe, instead of yelling at the person at fault for being so careless. In a state of calm, we are better able to process, and consequently, our children are better able to learn from the experience.
This year, my daughter lost three items in a single week. The first was her wallet, which I helped her retrieve by driving her back to school, followed by her water bottle. When she told me she had lost her homework file (again?!), I was tempted to rage. However, the other part of me was concerned. Is it a lack of sleep that’s making her become absent-minded? Is this a symptom of a bigger problem?
Thankfully, I managed to set aside my own frustration and slowly processed with her the steps for search and recovery. That night, my daughter was weepy and distressed. I had to repeatedly reassure her that the world would not end if she had
lost her homework. She would have to bear the consequence by waking earlier to find the item in school, but this was not serious. Had I been harsh, it would have worsened the situation.
I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day.
3. Give grace to all
Oftentimes, it is hard for those who have grown up in environments with high expectations to learn to let go.
One of the things I’ve found myself having to set aside is the expectation that my children have to obey me every single time and be perfect. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t have to look very far to understand where their strong wills and deviance came from.
It is helpful to understand that we sometimes adopt our own parents’ style of parenting. Recently, there has been a number of memes on “breaking the generational trauma
”. While parents may inflict wounds on their children, I believe most families also pass down love and affirmation. We should be more intentional in deciphering the good parts to keep versus those to abandon.
Many articles prescribe methods to parent better and I find myself getting all introspective and badgering myself over it. “I’m not a good enough parent, I could always do better,” is often my takeaway. This is probably a symptom of growing up with critical parenting and I struggle daily not to channel it down to my children.
I’ve learnt over the years to love and accept myself, and give myself room for failure. I remind myself: I am not a perfect parent, but I am growing and learning each day.
When we give ourselves grace, we are more able to give our children that same grace – My children are not expected to be perfect, they are growing and learning each day.
Children must be given room to make mistakes and misbehave in order for them to mature into teenagers, young adults and then adults. We are all works-in-progress.
Becoming a parent is one of the fastest routes to maturity as we are forced to put someone else’s needs before our own, to be bigger-hearted, wiser and kinder than our kids, leading not by our words, but by example. And it makes us all the better for it.
Our kids mould us as much as we mould them. We, too, are growing and learning along with our children. And that’s okay.
© 2023 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Sophia Huang is a part-time children’s author, copy editor and full-time parent. She is a life-long learner on how to mother her three kids. She believes half the battle is won when children are well fed, have a good nap and have fun.
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