I write a lot about self regulation…
Self regulation can only occur when we are able to turn inward to the internal experience we are having during a stressful and challenging situation.
I have had the great pleasure of participating in many parenting forums that are dedicated to peaceful, connected, yell-free parenting. I have read the challenges of many parents, dedicated to a different approach to raising kids. My heart breaks a little bit each time one “confesses” that after a dedicated few weeks, that they “lost it” with their child and are feeling as though they have failed.
I am all for taking the yelling out of parenting. Blaming, shaming and humiliating our kids in no way teaches them the characteristics and life skills we want them to embody as adults. This is what initially drew me to teach Positive Discipline. But believing we have to be perfect, to be calm and loving, to be connected every moment of our parenting journey or we are failures, makes me so sad.
Don’t get me wrong – we should all strive for this goal. This should ABSOLUTELY be the direction all of us parents are moving in, as much as possible.
However, while improvement is attainable, perfection is not.
And if you can show up as a calm, loving and connected parent 100% of the time, please write a book, because I will buy it.
Here’s the deal, WE ARE HUMANS. We are emotional beings with layers of stuff that becomes triggered with no warning by these little people we love with our whole hearts. We are sleep deprived, fearful, distracted or just trying to get out of the damn grocery store and shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we slip into our not best parenting selves.
Our children are humans too.
They are watching and learning. They are noticing that things overwhelm mom and dad. They are taking in our strategies for getting it together and self care. They are forming beliefs about what it means to be in relationship and how to handle making mistakes (and falling apart on your kid is just that, a mistake).
I don’t ever claim to be perfect. Ever. I make plenty of mistakes, especially in my parenting practice. And I let my kids know that I am not perfect, that I am continuously working towards being a better person. I let them know that this is what life is all about.
My kids aren’t perfect either – they are KIDS. They get mad, sad, embarrassed, afraid, and their emotions take over, leading them to crazy town. I expect this, I understand this. They have limited life experience and few skills to turn away from emotional overload, and turn towards logic and reason.
We talk about their brains and how they work (please read Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel, it will change your life), we make lists of alternatives for when they are falling apart. We let them know that they are welcome to have their emotions, but if they are going to drag us down into their blackhole, they need to find a place to calm down (this is when it is clear the meltdown is more about us then them).
And, I model what this looks like. I take time for myself to cool off. I change my posture when I feel overwhelmed and triggered, I meditate and talk to them about how I am trying to show up as my best, even when its hard to do. I make it right after I treat them poorly…
And again, they are watching, listening, learning…
Last night my husband asked if either of the kids wanted to mow the grass (this is the only chore we pay them to do). My eight year old son responded with a a quick “no.” My eleven year old daughter popped up and said, “yeah, sure.” And my son then sat up and said, “no, I want to!”
When met with, “well, your sister is going to do it this time,” he freaked out.
“Its not FAIR! Its my turn to mow the grass!!” and on and on he went.
At first I started with a “hey buddy, you didn’t even want to do it until she volunteered…” Which, if you are a parent, as logical as this response seemed to me, you can imagine was not really helpful to him.
His emotions continued to rise to the surface and he left the room in a huff. I let him be, because after many conversations about what he needs when he is feeling mad like this, the agreement is that I leave him alone. So I did.
About ten minutes later, my son came back into the room and said, “Sorry mom… I cleared my head, I meditated, and now I feel better.” And he went outside to kick the ball around with his dad.
Yes, it was a golden moment.
No, it doesn’t always happen like this, but it is getting more frequent.
They are watching, listening, learning…
When I asked my son about this experience the next day, he described how his heart beat "loud and fast" and his body felt tense when he was mad. He thought about how he wanted to hurt others. When he finds a quiet place to "clear his mind" his heart beats slower and his muscles relax. He said, "After a while (the situation) didn't matter anymore, I knew I could just mow the lawn next time."
So please don’t believe that you are only a good parent if you never make mistakes. If you are making a practice of being your best, of modeling the messy, emotional journey of life, and making a point to reconnect and recover after your not so great parenting moments, then you are a GREAT parent. And after a while, you will see your children begin to strive to be their best, or make it right when they aren’t…
Commit to showing up, being aware, owning your sh*t, and practicing self regulation. This is the best gift you can give to your children.
Casey O'Roarty is a former elementary school teacher with her Master's in Education, a Certified Positive Discipline Trainer and Life Coach. She lives with her husband and two kids in Monroe, Washington and has a passion for working with parents and families from around the world.
Check out the Intentional Parent Project - a 10 week program that supports parents with their personal mindfulness practice, as well as their practice of Positive Discipline parenting.