“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.” –Sue Atkins
As a parent of an amazing, smart, high emotionally IQ kid, I am terrified. The world our kids are navigating feels big, unmanageable, and chaotic. Suicide rates are up. Self-harm rates are up. Anxiety and depression rates are way higher than they have ever been. Pornography use and shared sexual images are the norm – and yes, I’m going there because this life our kids are living is REAL and HARD. In a world of constant connection and instant access, we are raising a generation of disconnected kids. Good kids…but kids that tune out instead of leaning in – because the tuning out is much easier than dealing with the hard stuff. And excuse the sarcasm, but where do they learn that coping skill from? They learn it from their parents.
This is not a blog about parenting, because honestly that’s not my expertise. I have read all the books, combed the internet a million times for strategies to be a “good” parent. All that research keeps me from doing the one thing that can affect our kids’ mental health the most – starting with myself. If I’m distracted by gaining knowledge to help my son, I don’t have to look at my own emotional junk. I can just keep researching and focus on “fixing” my kid, instead of healing myself.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers because, honestly, I’m in the same boat as the rest of you. My expertise lies in the human brain and psyche, and I still struggle with being a parent daily. However, I do know that I am a better parent because I am a healing person – notice that I didn’t say “healed”. Healing is a journey, and our brains are tricky. When I can think of myself as constantly healing emotionally, it leaves room for imperfection and growth.
Some tips to start your family’s healing journey:
Stop reacting and start acting.
If you’ve been around my blogs and social media content for very long, you’ll know this is my mantra. Being a parent provides a special place in our brains for reacting out of our own emotional trauma. When my kid gets sad or emotionally overwhelmed, I must take a breath and check my own emotions. Am I acting, or am I just reacting from my own emotional junk? My son and I have created a beautiful emotional dance where he pushes my emotions, I JUST STOP TALKING, he says “you’re thinking aren’t you”, and I say “yep, give me a minute so I don’t react”. This has not been an easy journey, but the emotional skills to communicate and learn for both of us have created space for a different conversation and a more healthy interaction.
Apologize when you do react.
Our culture of the “parent is always right” is just not true. You are not perfect, and you will make mistakes. What I know is when you admit you react, and you will, the power of emotional healing is going back to your kid and apologizing. This beautiful interaction does several things at the same time:
This action retrains the brain. It creates new connections to help your brain recognize the reaction and creates new neural habits to begin the process of acting.
It tells your kids it’s okay to not be perfect. Modeling is the best way to parent. By regrouping and replaying the reaction, you are actually giving your kid permission to not be perfect. What an amazing gift!
It creates space for natural connections between you and your children. This is the most powerful way to parent, in the moment and through situations that are natural and not forced.
Throw the Mom Guilt out the door.
There is no room in my life for Mom Guilt. To be clear, this is an everyday struggle. The language I use in my head abut my parenting is shocking to me when I hear it. I would certainly never say those things to a friend so why would I say those things to myself? I try to recognize the thought and counteract it with something positive. Here’s an example: “You are such a bad mom” becomes “I am doing the best I can today with the capacity I have. I’m going to do <insert action> to change this scenario”.
If you are considering getting your child coaching or counseling, you need to be seeing a coach or counselor yourself.
As a social worker, we are trained in understanding systems. If your kid is struggling and you send them to a coach or counselor, the change you want to see will not happen unless your family environment changes. Period. Families are a beautiful part of our lives, but if your kid is struggling, odds are your family is struggling too. Without healing yourself, you cannot expect for your kid to find emotional healing.