Week Four / Day Two – The Reality of being a parent

Click here for the audio version of the lesson

Today we learn how to expand your thinking to the bigger picture of what a stressful situation means in the context of being a parent.

To do this, we need to have an accurate expectation of what will be experienced and what it means. Here are a few points to note about life as a parent:

Think of parenting as a job

Like any job there are skills to be learnt. There are days where you want to go to work and there are days where you would like to stay in your bed with a good book and not talk to anyone.  In a job there are times where you seem to be on top of everything you need to do and feel relaxed and there are times where you are under the pump and need to do lots of different things all at once.  There are times when our work colleagues are unco-operative or are in bad moods.

In a job you advance and get better at things with practice, you learn and you apply this new learning with trial and error.  In order to improve your working ability you would also receive on-the-job training, learn theory and speak to other, more experienced people about the best ways to do things.

How is this dissimilar to being a parent?  It’s not.  Yet, somehow we often believe we should have parenting all figured out, just because we’ve had a baby.  Did you know everything you needed to know about your job when you first started work?

The reality is you have never been a parent before, or at least never been one to this particular child. There will be things to learn, knowledge to gain, skills to practice and over time you will get better at.  You will need to figure out the best ways to help your child develop through those difficult stages.  You will need to deal with days where they are unco-operative or moody.  You will have days when you will feel like everything is organised and running smoothly and other days where you are in a complete mess and get nothing done all day.

None of this is reflective of you being a good or bad parent.  What it is reflective of though, is the reality of how life is.  There are constantly ups and downs and with both of these ends of the spectrum, there is learning and experience – something to be gained and to grow from.

When we can view our challenges as just a part of the ups and downs of the experiences of life, then you will cease rating yourself on whether you are doing a good job or not. You will simply see that these times are the reality of being a parent (and of life).

Get rid of your attachment to having ‘instinct’

Many parents believe they should carry a ‘parent’s instinct’.  Although I believe in instinct, I think there is way too much pressure and expectation that comes with this label.  We often hold an incorrect definition of what instinct is when it comes to what it means to be an instinctive parent.

Here is the actual definition of instinct:

  1. a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned : a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way.
  2. something you know without learning it or thinking about it.
  3. a natural ability

Miriam Webster dictionary

The connotation with parenting and instinct is that we should ‘instinctively’ know what we are doing.  That somewhere hidden inside us we have knowledge about how to raise children locked inside of us just waiting to be accessed.

However, what have we learnt about the brain?  We are born with limited thinking abilities and most of what we know is taught to us through our experience of life.  We do not have some hidden abilities hiding in our minds waiting to be accessed.

If we don’t know something, then we don’t know something and the only way that we will know, is to learn.  That is, to feed our minds with information that eventually becomes knowledge.

Even if we do have some instinctual tendencies that may have been handed down from generations and genes that could help us along our parenting journey, it is near impossible to be tuned into this instinct if your predominant thinking is associated with self-doubt, self-criticism, judgements, fear or the myriad of other beliefs that consume our repetitive thoughts.

The reality of parenting is that you need to learn things all the time.  You do this by seeking new information about situations you are facing and practice new ways of doing things. If you don’t know something, it is not because you don’t hold that ‘instinct’ you are meant to have, it just means you don’t have that information in your brain, and you need to learn it.  That’s it.

You aren’t stupid, incompetent or failing as a parent.  You just have to learn what to do which is what I teach you to resource in this Mind TRACK to Happiness process.   If you are struggling with any developmental or challenging behaviour with your child, then seek out the answers for how to deal with it, create a plan from this information and then action it.

This will, of course come with its own trial and errors, but that is what parenting is all about.

You will never get parenting right

Who decides whether you are getting it right or not?  You may believe something is right where another parent may believe it’s wrong.  Whether you are a good or bad parent is in the eyes of whoever is judging you and it is reliant on whether their beliefs deem you got it right or not.  Furthermore their beliefs are only a result of what they have experienced and learnt from their life.

In this day and age, there are so many things we are told to do so that we have children who are smart, healthy, beautiful, happy, fulfilled, individual, independent, not naughty, well-behaved and so on.  The list is endless.  The search for the perfect way to bring up our children and the right way for them (and us as parents) to behave is a pressure among many parents.

If you are trying to be a great parent in the eyes of everyone else, then you will never win.  Your views and their views are neither right nor wrong they are simply different and are a result of life experience.  It is all we ever know.

We often cannot control how our child’s life unfolds either.  However, your children are always getting life experiences.  They are always living, learning and growing through what’s happening for them and how they perceive it (which we also cannot control).  Sometimes, even though we have installed the appropriate morals in our children, they still have an experience that is not enjoyable.

Parenting, or life in general is not about getting it right.  It is about having experiences that we are continually learning from and growing from as we continue through our journey. This is what is happening for you and your child, regardless of your opinion of it.

Whether you get parenting right or not will only be determined by how you or others are rating the job you are doing.  And how true are these ratings?  Where do they come from?  What makes you believe that one way to parent is right and another isn’t?  The beliefs you created from the minds of others.  Does that make them right then?

The reality is that your children are changing all of the time.  With these changes come new challenges, both for them and for you personally. We are all experiencing ups and downs in life.  That is not something that you will ever change.  A perceivably good thing may end in something perceivably bad and vice versa.  But we learn from these times and set different goals, or reassess our lives because of these times and consequently continue the journeys of our lives.

Dealing with tantrums, backchat and other developmental challenges

Take note of what your opinions are about these times.  ‘I’ve had enough’.  ‘She’s not respecting me’.  ‘I don’t want to deal with this anymore.’ ‘I hate it when he behaves that way’

The reality is that you will experience behavioural challenges throughout the years of your child growing up. This is how kids learn.  How do you know what to do unless you’ve experienced what not to do?  You would have behaved that way at some point in your childhood.  That ‘perfect’ parent (in your eyes) down the road has to deal with this learning behaviour too and every parent under the sun has to deal with behavioural challenges.

It is a reality of being a parent.  These times do not reflect the whole parenting experience though.  There are good times too.  The times where your child did remember the appropriate way to behave, the times where you and they are smiling and laughing, the times where things are running smoothly, time where they are playing quietly or sleeping well.  We just need to start looking for those times and recognising that they too form part of your life as a parent.

It’s not all challenges and problems.  There are easy times too.  It’s just that your mind has been taught to see what’s ‘wrong’ in your life, so now you need to teach it to keep every experience in perspective – it is all just part of the journey in life both full of ups and downs.

Remember this statement – EVERYTHING rises and passes away.  Nothing lasts forever.

The reality of parenting is that our children are growing and learning and they won’t behave the way that our adult, mature minds think they ‘should’.  They need to learn this way of thinking.  Often their priorities just don’t match ours because they don’t yet have the ability to think about consequences. Reasoning is actually the final part of the brain’s development.

We need to become aware of how we interpret the challenges with our children and all these unrealistic judgements and expectations of how we think this experience ‘should’ be, or what we think our children ‘should’ be doing.  All we can do is keep teaching them appropriate behaviour and know that slowly but surely we are reinforcing these lessons through all of the repetition we use.

How to expand your thinking to The reality of parenting

Whenever you feel yourself getting stressed by a situation with your child, recognise and stop those thoughts that are causing your stress and are in conflict with the reality.

Accept the current situation for what it is by reminding yourself that you cannot change what has happened in the past and that this situation has occurred as a result of what has happened in the past. (The reality of the situation).

Then expand your mind further by acknowledging that this situation is only part of the ups and downs you face as a parent.  It does not represent your entire reality.

Remind yourself that there are enjoyable moments and there are unenjoyable moments.  There are times when they are learning and times when they are showing you what they’ve learnt by behaving in the appropriate way.

Let go of your expectations of how things ‘should’ be and just go with the flow of how things are, continuously reminding yourself of the reality of your child’s growth and the learning you are going through with every developmental stage they enter.

The reality is that babies cry, toddlers tantrum, pre-school and school age children backchat and push boundaries, and siblings will argue and fight.  However babies also smile, giggle, love you unconditionally.  Toddlers laugh at nothing and do cute things.  Pre-school and school age children say cute things and have an endless energy and enthusiasm for life to be admired.

Teach yourself to acknowledge these enjoyable times too.  Keep them firmly entrenched in your mind, as they are also part of your reality as a parent.

If you can expand your mind to look at a particularly challenging experience in the context of the entire parenting reality, then you will not get so bogged down with that particular moment.  You will be able to see that this is just a drop of water in a big pond of what you are experiencing as a parent, and whatever is happening, does not dictate whether you are a good or bad parent.  It only reflects another experience in your life that is providing you with learning and growth.