There’s a movie clip that we joke about in our family about the ups and downs of parenting. Watch it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx2A5j2NjMw
For me, this scene reminds me about the hard-earned rewards of parenting “AHA moments.” They don’t come easy, they aren’t always completely recognizable or blissful, and they often are enshrouded by many other feelings and complications. YET, the pure AHA moments often provide us a portal into our own growth as a person through our parenting. And what do we know about feelings? Feelings amplify our experiences and make them more memorable. And when processed, feelings can enhance our learning and propel us into a new growth area.
I see my job as a specialized child/teen therapist of 25 years to help parents find their ways or notice these parenting AHA moments. Why? So that they can use them for the benefit of their family, and so that they can live a fuller life as a parent. Most of us parents frame these moments as when we get to feel proud, content, or happy about our child’s growth, and we see it converge when we are experiencing a special moment with our child. But, wait, aren’t these moments really something more? I try to help parents view and see these moments as a window into themselves. When we experience big feelings with our kids, both joy and pain, we often get to know parts of ourselves or see aspects of our children that we weren’t aware of before. It can feel both new and familiar at the same time. By using our feelings as guides and then instruments, we can promote growth in ourselves and perhaps with our developing children, too.
While there are thousands of parenting books out there that give us new strategies as parents to try, not many focus on the developmental process of parenthood. Galinsky’’s six stages of parenthood gives us a rough outline to consider. (See chart below). I’ve fleshed out a couple more stages in this model, which includes the nuances of tween/teen development. [Stages of Psychosocial Development]
Lately, I’ve been reading books that explore the reciprocal growth of both parent and child. Here are two I highly recommend: The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child’s Struggle and The Road Home by Brad M Reedy, Phd, and The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting by Shefali Tsabary. Both of these books highlight how parenting is more than a task; it is a developmental path, especially when viewed with a growth mindset. Both of these authors discuss how parents can find one’s self through parenting. They both mark that the central task of parenting is learning how to think and feel alongside your child. Tsabary debunks many modern day myths about parenting including:
- Parenting is about the child.
- A successful child is ahead of the curve.
- There are good children and bad children.
- Good parents are naturals.
- A good parent is a loving one.
- Parenting is about raising a happy child.
- Parents need to be in control. .
Reed goes so far as to assert that, “good parenting is good living.” He takes lessons learned in going through his own family’s crisis and professional experiences in helping countless families in crisis to assert the notion that parenting a struggling child can even offer undiscovered gifts that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. In working with many twice exceptional children, I see this, and I get this! Parents can feel so much shame that their child is suffering due to a particular mental health condition—and they can simultaneously recognize their child’s unique mind, incredible personality, and amazing gifts. They struggle to get past the myths that society puts out there about parenting and mental health issues and they stay stuck in a shame cycle of ….”What did I do wrong?” “How did this happen?”
When I treat children/teens and work with their families, I walk parents through a series of “what if?” questions about their child and parenting:
What if their child’s mental health condition has nothing to do with their parenting? What if they hadn’t thought about getting their child mental health support? What if they were parenting in a different time or place where they couldn’t access help? What if they didn’t cause this problem? Yet, what if they are the key to helping solve this problem with the struggling child?
And then we work on “what now” answers/plans:
What can they do now to understand the problem at hand? What can they do now to help support themselves well? What can they do now to help their child cope and learn new skills? What can they do now to arm themselves with the skills they need to thrive through this struggle?
In my work with families, blissful parenting isn’t the goal. The goal is to move through the pain AND joys of parenting their particular child. Feelings are often the glue in our relationships. When processed, feelings can motivate, connect, and propel us up and out of a problem. When we aren’t fighting and resisting our feelings and trying to make ourselves and our children happy all of the time, we have an easier time accepting what there is to feel about ourselves and our children’s struggles. From a practical standpoint, this acceptance allows us to be much better problem solvers with our children during times of crisis or upset. From a growth perspective, these feelings can be integrated into our whole experience of parenting and can be big connectors in our growing relationship with our child. Think about it, what do you remember most in life? You remember the big joyful moments and the big painful moments most!. These big moments promote bonding.They glue us together.
So, What’s the “AHA” really? I think the AHA is looking up in a moment when you are feeling a lot alongside your child and noticing, “Wow, I’m here with you…..I’m seeing you for all that you are, all that you feel, and all that you are experiencing right now! And, I’m experiencing all of myself in this moment with you.”