How to be a parent when you don't want to be.
Q: What do you do when you know that you are parenting poorly? Lately, I have not had the patience to really be present for my two kids. I know what to do, but I feel absolutely unable to make myself do it. How do I keep from giving up on myself and them when I have no more to give?
A: Sometimes it’s hard to get the energy up to be the parents we need to be. Sometimes the demands of life take all of our energy out of us. Sometimes there is too much on our plate and it feels as though we have no choices. We may even dream of being able to stay in bed all day or run away from home.
Parenting is hard work. I believe that all parents have times when they feel overwhelmed and ready to throw in the towel. The feeling is normal; we just don’t get to give up! What we can do is allow ourselves to acknowledge our current state, then step back to assess what choices may be available that we have not allowed ourselves to make - for any reason.
The first step is to assess what is triggering your feelings. Do they stem from an over-filled schedule, not enough support, a strained relationship with your child or partner, or not having practiced good self-care?
Let’s start with your relationship with your child. There are times when setting limits and expectations for our kids can create some big parent-child conflicts. It can be exhausting to try to communicate your beliefs and values, while at the same time listen with full respect to your children’s point of view. Keep telling yourself that 80 percent of good communication involves listening. If you practice it, your children will at least have seen healthy role modeling.
We have no control over the meaning others put to what we say. We are responsible for the relationship we have with that person and how we want that relationship to remain intact throughout the conversation and the issue in conflict. Managing conversation and conflict is emotionally demanding and draining. No wonder you are tired!
Communicating your needs to others who can help you is also important. We have schedules, practices, meals, homework, meetings, games, lessons, and transportation to negotiate. It is easy to want more than we can humanly do for our children. We can find ourselves unable to balance all these activities as children take on their schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, with the necessary family time sandwiched in between. Making decisions about scheduling and activities can be easier with support of friends, aunts, uncles and grandparents if they are available. Remember it takes a village to support a family! Are you asking for help and admitting that you can’t parent all alone?
You do have control over the number of activities you can support both with your time and money. You have control over when you say yes and when you must say no. Studies report that 41 percent of all parents feel financially strapped and 33 percent wish they had more unstructured time with their kids.
Consciously try to build in unstructured time to listen and talk with each of your children. This can be done while running errands, shopping, walking the dog, or helping with something around the house. Make it a technology free time — no phones, TV, texting, etc. It might be awkward at first. If so, start with small increments of time and slowly increase the length of time. Role model best and worst parts of your day and ask about your child’s day. Keep it light and positive so you can really enjoy time together.
Allow for time for everyone in the family to have plenty of support, including friends who are positive influences. Friends and relatives who create wonderful memories, help celebrate special events, and are supportive of you and your family, can make all the difference between coping and falling apart. They can be there to take care of things if you need a break, and some of your friends might be the perfect companions for a mental health day or weekend!
We all need support as we navigate parenting. We need someone to talk to when the kids are struggling, and we find ourselves worrying about them. We need times where we don’t have to be strong for others. We need time to have fun, play games, talk about feelings, understand our child’s view of the world and get to know his or her friends. We have to slow down and stay focused in order to be present to their issues.
We need to learn how to take mini breaks. Those might be walks alone, long baths or showers with music as an insulator between you and the outside world. Some people keep journals or inspirational books tucked by their bed, in the bathroom, on the kitchen table, for a few moments of reflection. Sometimes five to 15 minutes sitting outside with a glass of water on a cool fall evening can be just what you need to reset your mood and remember all the love that comes with all the work and worry. If you continue to feel overwhelmed and unable to function as a parent, it may be time to call a professional. Good luck!
The Self-Aware Parent: 19 Lessons for Growing with Your Children by Cathy Cassani Adams
Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood by Becky Beaupre Gillespie
Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery by Judy Arnall