"How do I know when I've give my girl enough? Casey's been 'on my case' to get her an iphone. I swore I wouldn't. But, I couldn't stand the pestering any more, and broke down and did it. A half-hour later, she's tugging at me for an i-pad. I don't even know what ipads even do!"
Thirty-six-year-old attorney, Lisa, slumps into the chair next to my hearth in the consulting room. She's haggard, upset, self-accusatory.
Casey's nine. An iphone? Please! Her mother protests: "All her best friends have them..." (Casey's friends range from six to nine years old.) Something's wrong with this picture. Alas, despite the economy, this malady's going around. It's called the Excess Flu, a virus that interrupts love.
Similarly, parents Tom and Katherine tell me they've bought Derrick, their eight-year-old, a full set of drums. The next morning, he begs them for an electric guitar and microphone. Believe it or not, they ordered that, too, now complaining: "Derrick doesn't even say 'thank you!" Who, I ask, is feeding this starving little mouth?
When you find yourself overdoing it, giving children choices for which they are unprepared, trouble follows. Why do we do this? The reason lives within. The internal Parent Bully, which too many caregivers house, wreaks havoc in child-raising, leaving parents, and wallets, alike, spent. When you believe that you are not giving your child what they need, (your attention when they need it), Parent Bully goes to town. It badgers, heaping self-recriminations on parents trying to do too much, yet left feeling they are not doing 'a good enough job.'
The Parent Bully at Work: Lisa comes from a home where her poor, uneducated parents were often gone, striving to keep food on the table. Guilty, they plied her with candy bars, as substitute for their presence. Love meant sweet things that could be consumed. Now, gone much of the time, herself, as a single mom, Lisa feels guilty, and gives Casey a 'candy bar' in the form of gadgets. Meanwhile, Tom and Katherine silently 'apologize' for their marital arguments by getting Derrick whatever he wants, especially after he complains of ear-aches following domestic turbulence. These, and many parents, are trying to atone for their sense of their own flawed parenting.
Indicators that Your Kids are in Trouble:
1. When your child fails to say 'thank you,' not in a perfunctory way, but with genuine feeling.
2. No attitude of gratitude.
3. Lack of respect for gifts, as witnessed by disregard of caring for them.
4. You find yourself 'over-explaining' why you've said 'no.'
5. Fast loss of interest: 'on to the next'.
6. Lack of mutual exchange: one way traffic in the giving department.
If you recognize any of these behaviors, remember one thing. You are doing your best. This is not about blame and shame. But, too often, you forget that nothing can replace you as the primo gift to your child. So, give your child, and you, a break!
An Effective Step. I encourage parents like Lisa, Tom, and Katherine to 'fess up' and speak their truth to their children. Meeting with their children, away from home, and in a place without watch, cell phone and other distractions, they share their sadness: that they've missed the time they want to be spending with their child. They pledge to do better, get out their calendars, and arrange a regular time when they will bring their full focus to that child, and only to that child. Once they do this, they ask the child for forgiveness and patience. They ask for forgiveness that they've substituted things for time and love -- and patience in building a new habit together that does not rely upon buying trips as a substitute for good times together building memories.
The Result: For brave parents willing to practice this approach, and deliver, I'm happy to say that good things are happening. Sure, the kids test and plead for the next goodie, but over time the time and attention replaces the unending hunger for stuff in lieu of love. Children of all ages express nonverbal appreciation for being seen, valued, addressed. Our kids meet us with their hearts, when we meet them with our own.
Regardless the age of your kids, it's possible to create a more useful way of parenting. And, hey: let's not get too picky about the identity of these 'kids.' Maybe they are yours biologically. Maybe not. Maybe 'yours' live next door. Maybe they are the ones you have in a classroom, or consulting room, the nearby playground or grocery store. Maybe your kids are grown. Perhaps they are estranged, or indifferent, feeling hopeless, or think you've got absolutely nothing of value to impart. Maybe they are in prison, or across the sea. Maybe they are ill, or suffer addiction, eating disorders, depression, rebellion. Maybe today they love you, or hate you. "Our" kids might live under any roof, at all, and carry any attitude. But, wherever they live, remember one thing:
It's never too late to grow into a good-enough parent you can enjoy, too! So, how you are treating yourself! Are you, like Lisa, being a mean parent to yourself?
The fact is that if you weren't willing to grow in your parenting role, you wouldn't be taking your already-too-little-precious time to read this! So, get a grip! How about a little Parent Appreciation Day for little ole' you? It's time.
Parenting is neither about perfection, nor how the neighbors do it. Melanie Klein 'nailed it' when she spoke about the importance of becoming simply a 'good enough' parent. Perfection is not only highly over-rated, but leaves no room for growth. Worse yet, it's a pain! Striving for perfection saps the juice out of your system, ends up leaving you pooped, and is down-right boring to endure. Recall Leonard Cohen's lyrics? When you fall into the trap of trying to parent perfectly:
"Ring the bells that still will ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
The cracks are how the Light gets in..."
Prescription For What's Ailing Our Kids, and Us, at Any Age:
1. Name the main excess you shower on your child.
2. Identify the nature of your apology. Ask yourself: for what are you compensating?
3. Forgive yourself.
4. Parenting has nothing do to with perfection. Look for the Beauty of Imperfect Parenting, and sing its praises. One day, your child will become a parent, if it hasn't happened already. Best they see you model self-forgiveness, now!
5. Validate the Presence you bring through being your most natural Best, and Beautiful Self. Your child is fortunate, indeed!
6. Act as if your child chose you. Act as if you chose one another. Discover what's really important. What would shift if you played with the possibility that your Souls chose one another to awaken, even if you don't believe in souls?
7. Celebrate your child in ways that endure the test of time.
8. Celebrate your child's parent: YOU!
9. Don't take parenting personally! Parenting is a bit of a roller coaster. Fasten your seatbelt. Remember that 'what goes up, must come down.' Some days are better than others. Heck, some seconds are better than others.
10. Remind yourself daily: "No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."
11. Get better at 'lighting up' when your child comes into the room.
12. Join the 21 Day Challenge to stop bullying yourself!
What words of Wisdom can you offer sincere parents who want to 'do better?" Or, their kids who want to grow? We are listening!
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Coming Soon! Life Long Learning Materials: "Coming Home to Yourself," "The Next Step," and others.