Parenting is not easy. It’s so hard that I once considered purchasing the domain name Parentingishard.com — but got distracted by my kids and never got back to it.
One thing that keeps me sane as a parent is knowing I’m not alone. There are tons of moms out there with similar experiences who also carry the weight of imperfect parenting.
When adults “use their words,” they are relieving tension and expressing needs that were otherwise unknown.
While no one truly expects us to be perfect, there is a part of us that silently begs for that standard, and reminds us of when we fail — or when we have missed the mark. I recently came to realize, though, that this little inner voice of mine was doing nothing to aid my parenting; it was actually doing the opposite. This voice that was originally intended to keep me accountable had instead caused me to veer off course as a parent. So I’m trying something else.
Instead of seeking perfection — for my house, my kids, my choices — I am instead seeking peace. None of us wants unrealistic expectations to be imposed on us, after all. They are unattainable and unfair. How much does this pertain to how we parent our children?
I love nothing more than positive, peaceful afternoons with my children, where there is minimal fighting and plenty of kind and respectful choices being made. This atmosphere, more often than not, begins with me. I am the catalyst for many of my children’s choices and interactions. When I’m at peace, they are at peace.
In other words — we must be the change we wish to see. It’s real.
So how do we foster peaceful interactions in our households and families? These four steps are a great starting point, and as a mom, they’ve worked for me.
1.) ‘Use your words.’
When my oldest child (now nine) was about a year-and-a-half old, I heard the phrase “use your words” spoken by another mother to an older child who was having a fit over a toy. As a new parent then, I’d never heard this phrase before and immediately loved it. Soon I began using it.
“Using your words” is a powerful step in changing from unrealistic expectations to a peaceful outlook. When adults use their words to express themselves, they are relieving tension and expressing needs otherwise left unknown. Rhonda Huthmacher, a Charlotte, North Carolina, marriage and family therapist, told me she loves to say, “People are not mind readers. You cannot expect them to know what you are thinking if you don’t tell them.”
Instead of being like the toddler with a meltdown, use your words in a simple, direct way to get something off your chest. Share your burdens with those around you. While your circumstance may not change, acknowledging your struggle with truth and vulnerability makes a tremendous difference.
This is not limited to other adults. Your kids need to hear you use your words and speak what you need. Even something as simple as, “Mom needs a break right now. I’m going to go to my room for a few minutes to calm down, and then I will come back to talk” can have real impact. Communication is key.
2.) Truly listen to what your kids are saying.
One morning last week on the way to school, my daughter got snippy with me when I asked her about what she wanted to eat for a family dinner. After both her brother and I asked her a few times, she snapped back, “I said I don’t care!”
This could have caused chaos in our car, but I took another route, choosing to simply ask my daughter if something was bothering her. She revealed she was upset because we had changed a family tradition that was important to her, and she felt disappointed. I responded, “I can understand that. I can see why that would feel disappointing.”
My daughter needed to be encouraged to “use her words” and then needed to be heard — not told how to feel.
Had I chosen to respond with “Get over it” or some other knee-jerk reaction, she would have felt silenced and controlled, her voice stifled. She is entitled to her feelings, and as a mother, I have a responsibility to hear them without controlling them. Active listening gives us insight into what our children are feeling while bestowing a sense of trust that is invaluable. This type of interaction allowed us a peace of mind that taking the path of frustration, followed by control, never could have.
“Parenting isn’t about what our child does, but about how we respond.”
3.) Take a deep breath — really.
If this sounds simple, it is. When we’re upset or frustrated, our kids feel it, and it only heightens the situation. Our chests get tight and our airways restricted. It’s an all-out visceral fight that can be halted with just one quick action — breathing.
Therapist Huthmacher also swears by “box breathing.” You breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and breathe out for four counts. Doing this a few times alone in a quiet space — and I’m not above using a closet if necessary — can bring your physiological responses back to homeostasis, leaving you with a feeling of calm to help you better address your situation.
4.) Regulate yourself.
This can seem like a lifetime of work. It’s one of the “big ideas” from Aha Parenting founder Dr. Laura Markham that is an important step to peaceful parenting. “Parenting isn’t about what our child does, but about how we respond,” says Markham.
For many, this will take work — and that’s OK. Yes, parenting is hard. But you’re not alone and the rewards are great. The first three steps above can help out in this vital fourth.
Pursuing peace is a worthwhile activity for you and your children. The benefits that will far outlast any situation in which you find yourself. As AhaParenting.com’s Markham notes, “Staying calm enough to respond constructively to all that childish behavior — and the stormy emotions behind it — requires that we grow, too.”
Liz Logan lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her growing family. She is pursuing a master’s degree in creative nonfiction.