REFLECTIONS ON PARENTING
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LEARNING TO BE AN IMPERFECT PARENT
Image by Timothy Eberly
By Deborah Owen-Sohocki
To all parents and caregivers:
I have struggled in parenting over the years. This column is to share and reflect on the mistakes I have made and what I have been blessed to learn from these mistakes.
At first it was hard to practice the courage to be imperfect because I had been raised to do things perfectly. I got love when I did things “right” (things that pleased my mother) and shame and disapproval when I didn’t.
Though I didn’t want to do this to my own two boys, I did do it to myself, and therefore to them just by thinking there was a right way to parent. Of course, I had no clue as to what that was. Because of a cultural construct I had grown up with, I judged myself and my boys on the basis of whether their actions made me look bad—in my eyes or those of another.
Have you ever been embarrassed or ashamed by something your children did? I sure have.
There have been times in the past when I was so embarrassed or tired or exhausted by what I considered to be misbehavior, or when I took their behavior personally, that I would have happily thrown them out the window.
One time when my boys were three and four, we were at a grocery store. There was a long line and the boys were becoming rambunctious as they sat in the cart. Nothing I said or did calmed them down. I felt as if everyone was looking at us and I felt ashamed. And then, to make matters worse, the boys started reaching for the candy and begging me to buy them some. I did not and they began to fuss. I quickly paid for our purchases and got the boys out of the cart as we started for the parking lot. As we walked to the car, I asked Ben to hold Joshua’s hand and I reached for Ben’s. Instead both boys took off running. At that moment I was so upset I wouldn’t have cared if a car had hit them. And as soon as I thought that, I felt so guilty.
Have any of you reading this column felt guilty for angry thoughts you have had in relationship to your children?
That incident was the beginning of my long journey to find a more effective and loving way to parent.
I have since learned that my own self-regulation is the first step: that I need to find a way to calm my anxiety about being a bad parent, a failure.
This anxiety prevented me from connecting with my children before correcting them. Children are very sensitive to what we as parents are energetically sending out. If they perceive that we are angry or embarrassed by them, do you think that causes them to want to listen to us? If they perceive we are rejecting them rather that their behavior, they may act out even more or become people pleasers. If they become people pleasers, then they are in danger of being controlled by their peers as they get older.
I now know that it was a blessing in disguise that neither of my boys became people pleasers. Though at the time I just wanted them to be what I considered “obedient”. Not to question me, to do what I said. And both boys constantly challenged me. I was a single mom by the time they were 8 and 9. Their dad was abusive and it took me 10 years to leave the marriage.
Each time they challenged me, I became rigid and autocratic in my parenting which would backfire because I couldn’t keep up whatever extreme punishment I came up with and then I would slide into being permissive with no follow through.
This dance between being an autocratic parent and then a permissive one definitely was not working and as my boys moved into the teen years, I was struggling more and more as a parent.
I remember crying myself to sleep at night asking God for wisdom. I knew that deep down I loved my boys but I did not have the wisdom to love and discipline them effectively. I felt I was such a failure.
Then I came upon two books: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World and Positive Discipline which led me to take a training called Developing Capable People.
During the training, I began to understand the importance of having a relationship with my boys where they perceived that they belonged and were significant (the belief that they were capable, they were here to make a contribution, and that they had influence through their power of choice).
It had never occurred to me before that my job as a parent was to create opportunities for them to perceive belonging and significance—that this would lead them to believe in themselves and develop healthy self-esteem.
This new awareness was a huge jolt to my system. For the first time I felt hope and that there was a way forward from all the pain I had been experiencing as a parent and from all the pain I was inflicting emotionally on my boys.
As I devoured the books again and again [my original books had water and food stains on them because I read them everywhere—even in the tub] I discovered that in order to help my boys develop as capable people, I, their mother, also had to develop as a capable person also—that I needed to model it for them—not just say words. It is then that my focus of change began.
I also realized that it takes courage to be imperfect—to realize that one has made, and will make mistakes but can always learn from those mistakes—to look for solutions rather than blame. I began to realize I had a choice and could change the way I had been conditioned by my mother in my own childhood.
So, as I bring this first column to a close, I invite you, dear Parents and Caregivers, to have the courage to be imperfect and to see any and all mistakes as opportunities to learn—to look for solutions rather than blaming yourself, your children, or others.
Practice this and let me know how it goes.
Until next month, may you be filled with courage as you continue your parenting journey.
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Note from Editor:
We invite all parents and caregivers to send in parenting topics they want to know more about. Please submit your thoughts below in the comments section. Thank you!
Deborah Owen-Sohocki is a licensed psychotherapist, teacher, author, and energy worker. She is also a certified HeartMath® trainer and coach. She is deeply immersed in Adlerian Psychology and has discovered how it can help free people from their enslavement to the past and empower them to step into the becoming of who they really are. She teaches internationally and nationally, a three level Adlerian training to support others in their continued growth in helping themselves and others. She is also a Master Encouragement Consultant. Deborah loves sharing this training because it encourages others to develop more courage in living and serving others. linkedin.com/in/deborahowensohocki