I have a confession, I don’t like reading parenting advice. Books, blogs, articles … you name it, I don’t like reading it. Maybe they would make me the perfect parent, but for me, they are a huge shame trigger. I start reading, and it feels like somehow a spotlight turns on me and all I hear is: “You are doing a terrible job raising your kids. You aren’t doing any of these things; you are raising unkind, emotionally stunted, spoiled, out-of-control kids. It is all your fault. You are doing it wrong.” So I stopped.
I stopped reading anything about how to be a better parent, a better communicator, whatever. I barely read the titles of the articles, to be 100 percent honest. This is funny because I’m the first to say, and truly believe, you can be the perfect parent and your kids will still probably need therapy for something in their past. Not because of what you did, but because we assign motivation and intent to people’s actions without actually knowing what their motivations and intents are.
Case in point: My daughter is most likely going to be in a therapist’s office someday, recounting the story that I am about to tell you from a vastly different perspective than what I have. Here is my version of the event.
Last year, I took my daughter and her best friend on a girls’ date. We went to see a movie, just us girls. I got them Wacky Packs so they could have snacks in the theater, and we had a great time. They loved it.
After the movie, our original plan was that we were going to go back to our house and have a playdate until it was time to pick the brothers up from school. Instead, we walked by Dave and Buster’s. My daughter looked at that noisy, expensive paradise and decided that was where we were going to finish our day. I told her no, because: at the best of times, I find Dave and Buster’s way too overstimulating; we did not have that much time; and that place is expensive. I explained we would have a lot of fun playing dress-up back at home, but we could not go to Dave and Buster’s today. That, apparently, was the wrong answer.
She flipped out. It started in the mall, in front of Dave and Buster’s: tears, threats and screams, all while her friend stood quietly to the side. I told her if she did not stop, I would have no choice but to take her friend home, and there would be no playdate.
It didn’t stop.
So now, I’m carrying my screaming, crying, thrashing daughter through the parking lot while trying to hold the hand of her friend and get them safely into the car. We drop off her friend (after I give her a mom a heads-up that the playdate has to end) and head home. As we’re driving back, my daughter starts exclaiming that she is not going to be a part of our family anymore. Now, this is where I may or may not have escalated the situation, because I had had it.
I tell her, “Fine, but if you are not part of our family, then you don’t get to stay in our house,” wrongly thinking I can use logic to calm down an enraged 4-year-old. We get home, and she is still stating that she is not part of our family anymore. (I should note here that it is March, cold and raining outside.) I tell her how sad that makes me and how I will miss having her in our family, but that means she can’t go into the house. (I know.) I go inside, and she gets out of the car and just stands outside in the yard, crying.
At the same time, Matt is writing at home for his Christmas album. He has someone over for a co-write, and I won’t say who it is, but if you’re not familiar with the album (The Advent of Christmas), go look it over and see if you can guess who happened to be there that day. So now, Matt and his co-writer look up and see through the window our daughter cold, shivering and crying in the rain. Matt and his co-writer go outside to ask what’s wrong, and I have to go out and explain how we are learning about having a grateful heart and take her back into our house. Awesome.
Who had the more traumatic experience? Because I think it was me, but my daughter probably thinks it was her. We’re probably both right.
Do I think my children are going to need therapy? Yes, because I think we all do: It makes us healthier and happier human beings, and I won’t feel shame for them being happier, healthier humans. But I still have a hard time reading parenting articles.
I’m all about growth now though, right? So to challenge myself, I made myself read a parenting book: The Explosive Child, by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. You can guess maybe why in the heat of passion I picked that book. When the time cam to actually read it though I struggled at first.
I was pretty turned off from the start — “explosive” seemed pretty negative to me — but one of the first things Dr. Greene addressed was how he doesn’t particularly care for the title, either. That gave me pause and got me to read the rest.
I’m so glad that I did. The main thing I walked away with was an awareness of my assumptions as a parent. Dr. Greene stresses throughout how most of us were raised on the idea that “kids do well if they want to.” I know I parent this way, and I’m pretty sure I was raised this way as well. What Dr. Greene argues is, who would want to constantly be in trouble if they had the option not to? He believes that “kids do well if they can.”
His core belief: “Behaviorally challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills to not be challenging. Challenging behavior occurs when the demands being placed upon a child outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands.”
Some of the lagging skills he highlights are: difficulty handling transitions; considering a range of solutions to a problem; considering past experiences that would guide one’s actions in the present; and considering the likely outcomes or consequences of one’s actions. There are many more, and you can get the full list at his website, www.livesinthebalance.org.
Because of these lagging skills, the child is struggling to adapt well to certain situations, and the result may be an “explosion” — or maybe your child crying in the rain and refusing to be part of your family. Dr. Greene says that if you can discover where there are lagging skills, you can proactively solve problems instead of trying to handle a meltdown in progress.
He strongly recommends a team approach, where the child is involved in creating solutions for learning new skills. Many times, parents assume intents and motives that the child may have, and the child does the same about their parents. By working together and communicating, you can create longstanding solutions that can help your child learn the skills that will help them (and probably you) all their life.
I won’t go through all the steps, because even though they’re simple, they’re all important and I wouldn’t want to mess anything up in translation. I do think all parents would benefit from this book, though, if only to help increase awareness of the biases as parents that we carry into interactions with our kids.
What sealed my love for this book? A quote toward the end: “Parents of behaviorally challenging kids get much more blame than they deserve for their kids’ difficulties, just as parents of well-behaved kids get much more credit than they deserve for their kids’ positive attributes.”
Can I get an “Amen”? Sometimes you luck out and get the instant full-night sleeper or the kid who is super emotionally aware and kind from birth. Sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent if your kid doesn’t fit the ideal, and who really determines the ideal, anyway?
You may have to put a little more work and intention in at the beginning, or maybe you have more work in the middle-school years, or maybe your kid is perfect (but I doubt it). No matter when it is, we all have that moment where it is hard. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong if you’re in a hard season; it means you’re doing it right because you’re putting in the work.
Reading that quote helped alleviate some of the shame I normally get from reading parenting articles and blogs. It let me know someone sees me and the struggles I have with trying to be a good parent. It was kind of the pat on the back that says, “Yeah, your kid may act out sometimes, but most kids do. There are ways you can help them, and just because they need help doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It means you are an awesome parent, because you are trying.”
Do my kids still act out? Yes. Do my kids still try and manipulate me in certain situations? Yes. Do I blame myself for this? Sometimes (being 100 percent honest with y’all here). Then I step back and realize this is a work time, and now is my chance to up my parenting. Sometimes I do it; sometimes I am too tired and I don’t. But tomorrow is a new day, and I know I can try again.