In a prior post, The Parenting “Aha,” I share about two authors who write about parenting. The Journey of the Heroic Parent: Your Child’s Struggle and The Road Home by Dr. Brad M Reedy, Phd, and The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting by Dr. 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.
My reading journey has taken me through another handful of books written to parents, by professionals who are also parents, and about parenting—Dr. Becky Kennedy writes to parents of young children mostly who are parenting typical children in her book, “Good Inside: A Practical Guide to Becoming The Parent You Want to Be.” Meghan Leahy, a writer and Parent Educator, shares her humorous accounts of extraordinary events in the experience of the general day-to-day parenting in her book, Parenting Outside the LInes: Forget the Rules, Tap into Your Wisdom, and Connect with Your Child. Dr. Shefali extends her notion of conscious parenting by outlining general suggested steps for creating a blueprint for being more aware and intentional in parenting your child throughout their typical development in her book, The Parenting Map: Step-by-Step Solutions to Consciously Create The Ultimate Parent-Child Relationship. And, Dr. Dan Shapiro adds to Deb Reber’s work on parenting differently wired children by cataloging his 40 years of specialized treatment of children with developmental disabilities and parenting neurodivergent children in his text, Parent Child Journey: An Individualized Approach to Raising Your Challenging Child.
All of these books offer sound and helpful ideas to parents as a whole. Here are some of the top take home points (so you don’t have to read the books unless you crave more).
- In Good Inside, Dr. Becky Kennedy recounts her lessons learned doing parent work. She suggests, first and foremost, look through the behaviors to “the good inside” in your child to remember who they are in this world and in relationship with you as their parent. Aim for the “most generous interpretation” of your child’s behaviors to stay connected to them while you help them solve their way out of being stuck in that problem or behavior in the moment. Also, label multiplicity with your children that “Two things can be true.” You can be mad, act badly and still be good inside. You can love and hate something, etc. This book is a conceptual must-read for parents! The first half of this book holds such wonderful ideas to hold in mind as you build your parenting identity. The second half dissects how to balance behavioral strategies with the primary task of building a strong relationship with your child and nurturing what they have “good inside” to share with the world.
- Meagan Leaghy reminds parents that generally the relationship is the most important product of your parenting experience. Her stories serve as a parent’s trusted, most hilarious ally; they reflect back to us how every parenting experience is unique and none follow within the rules and lines of parenting advice that our culture serves up on a lovely platter at playdates, playground conversations, and children’s birthday parties. She tackles typically parenting problems with humorous advice, a lighthearted kind approach, both of which help us lighten up and loosen up in our own parenting roles. This book is a fun friend for those of us parents who crave graciousness and allyship.
- In her 4th book about Conscious Adults/Parents/Families [The Parenting Map], Dr. Shefali, as she goes by in popular media, delivers heartfelt original writings–both poems and professional excerpts, on the depth of emotion that we can all experience in our own parenting journey. She writes a book that is a great conceptual map on how to be more conscious and mindful in your daily parenting experiences. She takes her in depth professional insights in working with parents of children of all ages, and provides great fodder for working on our own emotional growth while we are parenting. Not only is it inevitable and necessary, but it is worth it. It will take us deeper into ourselves and higher in our lives, AND it will help our children grow into their best selves. This is a great book for those who want to understand why parenting moments cause so much pain AND pleasure, and how to learn as much as you can about yourself while you parent your children.
- Dr. Dan Shapiro’s canon is the “how to” manual for parents of neurodivergent children who feel lost and confused about why more general parenting advice isn’t helping them or their child. His book comprises 40 years of practice experience with atypical children and teaching specialized parenting classes—it culminates in a book that is THE reference book for parents who need answers to complicated behavioral and developmental questions. It offers his customized specific assessment tools (which I regularly use in my practice with parents consulting about their neurodivergent children) for all to use and benefit from, and he breaks down condition specific interventions for parents to consider and methods to try. He gives parents direct advice on complicated issues while still conveying that they are the best persons suited for the job and completely up for the difficult task of parenting their unique child. By acknowledging how complex and hard these behaviors are, Dr. Shapiro both supports and guides us through this challenging journey. This book is THE book for parents who are building a support team to help their neurodivergent child thrive.
And you might ask, what do these texts have in common and what do I do with all of this information? I read all of these books as I was researching my own ideas about parenting my uniquely wired children and providing a better and more customized approach for parenting children with mental health/behavioral issues. I’ve been writing and researching on this topic of Parent Work—consultation and therapy with parents of children in treatment- for almost twenty years. Why? Because it isn’t well formed yet. As a child therapist for the past 25 years, I’ve had to craft my own methods and approach, which draws from a myriad of treatment models and parenting resources. And as information about neurodivergence and neuroscience has evolved, my conceptualization has grown.
I like to think about The Parenting Pathway when I work with parents who have their child in treatment with me or one of my colleagues. For me, it isn’t a map, because a map is a more exacting course. And, we know that twice exceptional kids or children who are differently wired don’t follow maps. It is a parent-child journey, as Dr. Shapiro purports, which needs both behavioral strategies, a growth minded philosophy and a depth perspective as outlined by Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Tsabary. And, it requires a whole lot of humor and alternative creative thinking as modeled by Meagan Leaghy.
Here’s an example that might help you understand how I think The Parenting Pathway can help all of us parents who are aiming to help their different child thrive, not just survive. Last spring, I hiked part of the Camino del Santiago in Spain. It has been a goal of mine since I saw the movie, The Way with Martin Sheen. For personal reasons related to the loss of a family member with addiction, I connected with Martin Sheen’s character’s pain and how he used his own pain and pushed through to make that trek to honor his son’s quest. As it happened, I was able to take time off to experience this glorious journey as a “pellegrino,” (i.e pilgrim which means wanderer, traveler, explorer). I have come to conceptualize parenting as a pathway and understand it in a similar fashion as one can understand a pellegrino’s quest to make a pilgrimage. Here are some parallels to consider:
- Parenting children who are unique is best when it is a parallel process–a side by side journey. Parents are on one path; and children (whether atypical or not) are on their own path. Once our children are big enough, we realize we can’t walk it for them. Yet, we want to be there with them, and for them.
- When traversing the camino, the path ebbs and flows with difficulty. Some parts are steep and rocky, other parts are flat and rolling. We climb up, and make it to the peak. And, we ascend. In parenting, some parts are hard, some parts are easier. Yet, it is always changing.
- Some aspects of parenting are better with company. When walking the Camino, it helped to hike with others at times and know that thousands of others had made the trek, all for different reasons. I met a man who took a break from chemotherapy to walk the Camino. I met an older Canadian brother/sister duo who hiked a week annually and joyfully walked (or road at times) as they enjoyed each other and all of the other travelers. They rested under trees, and used any prop they could (i.e walking sticks, shade clothes, even taxis when necessary!) in order to complete their hike for the day. I met others who were on a spiritual quest seeking understanding and freedom after a big event. Just being with those fellow peligrinos was inspiring, comforting and motivating. None of us had to do it the same way or for the same reasons. Yet, sharing and supporting each other enhanced our experience immensely. Parenting is a lot like that.
- Parenting is also often a solo job, even when partnered. I often refer to it as an internal collaborative job with a wholly separate product–a growing (hopefully thriving) kid. And when our child isn’t thriving, we feel PAIN. I think that is why so many parents will bring their child into therapy and then often make their way into their own work, either through coaching, parent work or individual therapy. As parents, we will do what is most hard for our children. That is a fact! We love them so much that we will find the strength (usually or eventually) to get them help that perhaps wasn’t obtained for us. And when our children are struggling, we blame ourselves–and, sadly society often delivers us shame. Yet, most of the time parents don’t cause their children to have mental health problems. While it often isn’t our fault that our children have mental health needs, it is our responsibility. And most of the time, parents’ own pain over seeing their children struggle or dealing with the consequences of their children’s behaviors, will lead them to get their child help. Given that the biggest job in our entire lives is often solely up to us, we do need better guidance and support than just a vast amount of parenting advice from parenting books and “professional parents’” opinions. We need a clear pathway to follow that isn’t reduced to a simple set of parenting strategies.
- Parenting is both an inside and an outside job. How we parent is often reflected to the world. Often we are judged or measured by parenting guidelines that are more appropriate for neurotypical children. Therefore, we are overly aware of what parenting method or trick we are using and whether it is working or failing. And what is true about most parenting tactics, it is often trial and error and very unique to our particular child, family and parenting identity.
- More importantly, parenting is much more of an inside job than any of us expected. These authors outline that point very well. Nobody ever told us how to prepare to parent our children, and they certainly haven’t guided us in how to parent our children who have mental health or behavioral issues. The first phase of parenting a child who is differently wired, is coming to terms with their needs and accepting how the world doesn’t meet them well and certainly doesn’t understand our parenting struggles. Deb Reber does a great job outlining this in her book, “Differently Wired,” and teaches classes to parents of neurodivergent children on how to support this form of specialized parenting. She purposts that all parents of unique children really must become fierce advocates for their children to thrive in a world that overlooks, rejects and fails our children at times.
So you might ask, how do I create The Parenting Path? And what does it mean that parenting is an inside job? Well, first it helps to know that you can craft a path that both guides and follows alongside your child’s unique developmental path. But first you have to see parenting as a developmental process. You also have to work to understand and accept the unique profile of your amazing and oh-so difficult child. Hence the book summaries and suggestions above. Go ahead, dive into learning about yourself as a parent and the good stuff under the difficult behaviors your child is showing you and the world. And stay tuned, as I share more about how to step onto this Pathway in the next post about A Parenting Portal.