Parenting Lessons You Learn Along the Way
by David J. Saker Ph.D., ILCT
Another year has passed. It’s a time to look back over what has happened, what we’ve done and what we’ve learned….and to look forward to the future.
During the past year, my family, like many families, has had our share of struggles. I have been reminded of the importance of having meaningful supports, solid and specific information about the problems we face, the ability to set difficult limits, and a belief that we will get through this and come out a better, stronger family.
The truth is, life can often be hard. This is a much more complicated time for families than the Leave it to Beaver days, where it seemed like all the questions could be answered, and life’s difficulties could be solved at the dinner table. These days we are bombarded by new ideas, technology and world events; it feels like things are constantly in flux. Over time, we learn that “the only constant in life is change.” But you really can learn to accept this fact, embrace it, have faith you’ll get through the difficult times, face your fears, learn from the challenges, and gain empathy for others going through similar challenges—and come out stronger and better prepared for the next challenge that comes your way.
You Are Not Alone
I want to remind you that you’re not alone. Many of us are going through difficulties. During these times, parents can feel embarrassed and uncomfortable because of their child’s problematic behavior. If you are in this situation right now, you may be feeling more isolated from friends, other families, and support systems. But please know that it’s so important to reach out for help for you and your family. Remind yourself that “there are no perfect families,” and we have no way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors. Try not to “compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” Comparing yourself to others does no good, and the fact is, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors except the people living there.
Keep in mind that when we’re going through difficult times, we often have a vision or preconception of what the solution to our problems will be. We think, “If only my child would stop pushing my limits,” or “If only my teen would stop talking back to me,” or “If only the school would stop calling about my daughter’s behavior.” Unfortunately, things aren’t generally “fixed” that easily, and if they were, we’d all know what to do each and every time to make those “if only” wishes come true. If only love were enough, we wouldn’t need help figuring out how to parent our kids. We wouldn’t need social workers, or guidance counselors, or parenting programs, we would just love our kids out of trouble.
Instead we need to find out what works for us and our families, and to reach out for help. This is different for everyone, but help can come from school, from the pediatrician, from trusted friends, other family members, from counselors and from parenting programs like The Total Transformation. Just reaching out for help is a first step and a sign of strength on your part as a parent. The fact that you have done your research into Empowering Parents topics is an indication that you are ready to change your family’s situation for the better.
Your Thanks Will Come Later
I also want to let you know that even if your kids don’t seem grateful now, you can give yourself credit for loving them and doing what you need to do to make things better. You can start by “thanking” yourself. Instead of judging yourself and beating yourself up about what isn’t going right in your family, try to realize that you really are doing the best you can and you’re taking one step at a time to improve things. Believe me, you’re going to look back at this time in your family’s life and it will be so clear that you did the best you could do: you pushed yourself to do things differently; you learned new ways to parent your children, and you came out of this difficult time a better parent.
Many moms and dads have told me that they received thanks from their children once they reached adulthood. Your child may not give you the grand, insightful speech that you dream of, but instead, might offer an unexpected little gesture of thanks, or you might simply be grateful for the knowledge that because of your hard work and love, your child’s improved behavior has allowed him or her to become a caring and functional teenager or young adult.
The Importance of Gratitude
It’s so important to try to be grateful for what you do have. What we all really want is for our kids to be happy, healthy and able to function on their own in society some day. It’s not really about how much money they’re making or what career they’ve landed in, but rather about what kind of people they become. Your hard work, guidance and consistency now will pay off and help your child become a better person in the future.
My message at the end of this year is simple – we all have strengths and we all have challenges. It’s what you do with those challenges – how you face them head-on, reach out for help to tackle them, move on and learn from them – that has meaning and will improve your life. (DJS)