Five 'Parental Storm' Busters
Confessions of a "Seasoned" Parent
I've had my fair share of occasions to parent within less-than-perfect circumstances. I call these parental storms. When I first became a mom, I was in an unhealthy marriage that was tainted with conflict and unfaithfulness. When our daughter was born, we certainly weren't on the same page about what it takes to be a good parent. The dream of raising my child in a happy, loving home was shattered by divorce. This was a painful season and I was left wondering how I would ever be able to move forward and create a positive future for my daughter.
My season as a single mom was difficult. I spent time grieving my lost dream and missing my daughter when she was at her dad's house. In my loneliness, I turned to unhealthy coping methods and often felt a sense of despair. This effected my ability to parent. I became a permissive parent who allowed guilt, fear and exhaustion to shape my parental decisions. This meant that my daughter wasn't given healthy limits and her poor behaviors were usually overlooked….in other words, she lacked discipline. This was just one area where I struggled as a parent, but we all know that parenting requires a lot more than just disciplining. We are faced with so many decisions every day as parents, both big and small. Our own emotional state and the personal choices we make affect our kids too. I often felt overwhelmed and inadequate as a parent.
After Mike and I married, I slowly moved toward more responsible parenting (thanks to his prompting) and started using a discipline technique that worked for us, called 'Love and Logic'. A year into our marriage, I got pregnant and we had our first 'mutual' child. Our second 'mutual' child quickly followed. This ushered in a new season of challenges and storms. In the midst of step family dynamics and differing ideas on parenting, we struggled. Mike explores the complexities of step-parenting in his post Step parenting 101. But, let's face it…parenting is tough for all of us, regardless of our parental position or the season we're in.
I've come to accept that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Why? Well, one reason is because none of us were raised by perfect people. Our parental examples were flawed…they too made poor decisions, lost their tempers and said the wrong thing. Parenting didn't always go perfectly for them, and we've got to expect that things are going to go wrong with our parenting too. Sure, we can parent differently than our parents did, but the reality is we are all going to make mistakes. So…what can we do to get through difficult seasons and weather parental storms?
Five Storm Busters
- Don't blow missteps out of proportion. There will always be things we look back on and wish we'd handled differently…regrets. But we can choose to learn from our mistakes and focus on the big picture of our parenting journey, rather than getting stuck in regret. Don't forget about the things you've done well and celebrate little victories along the way! And remember…it's okay to apologize to our kids when we mess up (children are so forgiving).
- Unity, Unity, Unity! When parenting disagreements come up (and they will), work together to explore ways to compromise. Get creative and come up with a strategy you can both live with, rather than resorting to power and control. Don't forget to really listen to your partner and empathize! On the stepfamily journey, each person's perspective can be very different.
- Support and encourage each other. Okay…let's just call it out: Parenting is hard! Even under the best circumstances, consistently parenting well is no easy task. Offering your partner a knowing glance or a quick hug can go a long way when parenting becomes stressful. Use affirming words such as: "That was rough, but you stayed calm and handled it well." This is a great way to support your partner and let them know you're with them when the going gets tough! Every parent needs this.
- Get help! Sometimes it can feel like the storms of parenting drag us in over our heads…after all, our kids didn't come with an instruction manual. When you feel overwhelmed, don't get stuck. Instead, choose to do something positive. Read a parenting book, take a class, find a mentor or parent support group. I know that we all do our best, but everyone can learn, grow and discover new ways to parent better (a great start would be reading my post on Emotion Coaching Parents).
- Find healthy ways to cope with painful experiences. Yes…there will be storms! Keep your expectations in line as you navigate through difficult seasons. Our kids are a work-in-progress. They are imperfect little beings that have a lot to learn! We can strive to do everything right and shine as parents, but at some point our kids are going to disappoint us. They'll make poor choices, rebel against us and break our hearts (believe me, I know). But we cannot allow despair or defeat to set in when rough storms hit. Whether it's reaching out to a friend whose been there' or engaging in counseling, do something that keeps you afloat. Choose to move forward and process your emotions in ways that are healthy and productive. Our kids need us to be mentally and emotionally fit and ready for the next storm up ahead!
Don't Lose Hope
Things do go wrong. Those of us that have been parenting for a while know that our kids (and step-kids) have a way of pushing our buttons and turning our lives upside down. There are many blessings and joys with raising kids, but we must also face the storms that will inevitably come our way. But don't lose hope…we can work as a team and embrace healthy ways to cope and grow our parenting skills, while keeping our expectations realistic. And always remember…this storm too will pass!
QUESTION: What have you done to help weather the storms of parenting in your step family? Leave a comment below: