Remember fantasizing about having children before, you know, having children? Remember conversations with your spouse about when you’d have kids, how to raise them, and where they would go to school? How children would be secondary to your marriage? How your kids would behave like angels in mass? How your children would never be the child to forget their homework for school? How your teenagers would never misbehave because you’d instill the right morals in them?
The real day-to-day operations are simpler, yet exhausting. Are all of my children currently wearing shoes? What am I feeding the kids for dinner? How can I help my kid pass his spelling test tomorrow? How do I handle the fact that my teenager has experimented with underage drinking? When can I schedule a date night for my spouse and I?
When did parenting get so hard? It seems that the reality of day to day life is much more draining than that fantasies we enjoyed pre-pregnancy. The purpose of this blog is to remind parents of four small tasks that can hopefully provide some relief in hopes of regaining the joyful moments of parenting, rather than survival-mode moments of parenting.
(1) Take a breath—You’re doing great. Much to everyone’s dismay, there is not a Parenting 101 Guide that has all the rules and regulations to being a good Catholic parent. At no point are you required to pass any training classes on parenting. Parenting is something we have to learn on our own, with the guidance and support of those around us. So, take solace in the fact that you are parenting here and now! Often times conversations with parents become negative. Parents are shameful of their parenting, and they judge and compare themselves to other families. This compounds the difficulty of being a good parent because we are not recognizing the fact that parenting is hard. Being a therapist, I have the inside scoop, and I like to point out that every parent feels this way! So, we need to change our attitudes away from what we have done wrong in our parenting, and need to return to the fact that God granted us the beautiful gift to have children, and therefore we are living out our vocation. So remember, breathe!
(2) Model the behavior you want to see. Children are very receptive to the behavior that we have as their parents (for better or for worse). One of the best things we can do for our children is model for them a healthy life. Do we take care of ourselves—eating right, working out, and handling stress in appropriate ways? Do we model the faith—through prayer, attending weekly mass, and living a Christian life? Do we work on our relationships—by having a date night with our spouse, utilizing our support networks, and handling conflict appropriately? We cannot expect our children to do any of the above if we do not practice them ourselves. Some parents see this as selfish, because it is putting themselves first. In fact, it is the opposite because our actions teach our children the importance of taking care of oneself.
(3) Validate your child. You want to know why talk therapy works? Therapists listen, validate, and empathize with the person sitting across from them. Of course, there is more to the picture, but this is a major component. We need affirmation as adults, and guess what? So do our children! Sometimes, we forget what it is like to be three years old when your favorite toy breaks, or eleven when the girls at school insulted your sweater, or sixteen when you’re trying to ward off peer pressure. We are certainly removed from it, but if we don’t acknowledge our children’s feelings and validate them, we are in essence dismissing them. When you’re drinking wine with your girlfriend, or hitting golf balls with your buddies, you don’t look for them to dismiss your emotions, you want their validation that your feelings are reasonable. Our kids want the exact same thing, and we need to be aware of opportunities to support them.
(4) Find your support system—Having friends that are also parents is important because you can support each other. It is comforting to know that you are not the only parent struggling. Be vulnerable enough to ask for support from others. Reach out to family for the same thing. Ask friends, family, or hire a babysitter to watch your children as you and your spouse go on a date. Seek counseling for parenting tips and techniques for yourself.
Ultimately, God granted us children as a gift. He wired us to be parents, therefore we need to give ourselves more credit than we do with this difficult task. If we can remember strategies as fundamental as these four, hopefully, we feel more empowered to live out our vocation as parents.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward -Psalms 127:3