As a parent coach, and a parent myself, I’m a keen observer of parents and how they do the incredibly important work of parenting. One thing I’ve noticed is that some parents seem to have a much easier time than others. Have they just got ‘easier’ kids? Do their children never melt down, always say ‘thank you’, and never get into a wrestling match with their siblings? I can’t be sure, but I very much doubt it. I think these parents have either intentionally, or for some without even realising it, stumbled upon the secret to enjoying parenting: perception.
The secret to enjoying parenting: perception.
The way we see things matter. We live our lives through the lenses of our beliefs. It impacts how we feel about things, the decisions we make, the relationships we choose, and ultimately the life we create for ourselves. It therefore makes sense to deduce that the way we see our children will impact how we respond to them and even how we feel about parenting as a whole.
Our perception shapes our parenting and ultimately impacts our relationship with our children. It also changes the things that our children will one day believe to be true for themselves – the beliefs they will inevitably pass on to their children. The powerful potential in this virtuous cycle is what lights me up inside: I want to break my own generational patterns and be a change maker for the next generation, and I want to empower other parents to do the same.
Common misperceptions most parents struggle with
Let’s look at two quick examples of common misperceptions I often catch myself having, and also see many other parents struggling with, and how we can possibly reframe these to help shape our mindsets and ultimately the way we show up as parents.
Belief #1: 'My child is too old for…'
…Diapers, tantrums, separation anxiety, her lovie, throwing toys, annoying her sibling (fill in the blank for you…) This, in my opinion, is the most common challenge parents face: age-inappropriate expectations. I’ve had so many conversations with parents that go something along the lines of: ‘My child simply refuses to listen to me. I know that they are able to put their shoes away because they have done it so many times in the past, but on some days they simply want to test the limits and they’ll challenge me just to get a reaction. It’s infuriating!’ I hear you. And yes, it can be incredibly triggering when you feel your requests are being ignored, so let’s get curious here.
Ask yourself: ‘Are they really being spiteful or manipulative at this moment?’ ‘Are they trying to push my buttons or is there something else going on here?’ ‘What is actually true at this moment, i.e. is my child hungry, overstimulated, bored, scared, or uncomfortable in a new environment?’ It helps to challenge ourselves to dig deeper than just their outward behaviour. I invite you to become a scientist of your child’s feelings and why certain behaviours might be showing up for them. Remember, all undesirable behaviour stem from a perceived unmet need and if we are able to find this need, we will be so much more likely to respond to them in a way that feels good to both us and our children.
Also helpful here is to understand a little bit more about how our children’s brains develop. Brain science is fascinating and so helpful in changing the lens we see our children through. Our children’s brains are still under construction. In fact, according to the latest research on this topic, their prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that helps them access logical thinking, reasoning, impulse control, and the ability to think before they react) will only be fully up and running when they’re 25! (Insert mind-blown emoji) This said it’s simply not helpful to expect our children to always be able to access these higher parts of their brains. Just like we don’t get frustrated that our children are not able to swim the first time they get into the pool, we need to remind ourselves that they are still learning and growing. They are not actively trying to defy you and your rules, they are in fact doing the best they can with what they have access to at that moment. Now, please don’t hear what I am not saying – children do need boundaries, they absolutely need strong, confident leaders to teach them what is acceptable in society and to grow into their full potential. Understanding their brains does not give them the reign as you sit back and simply watch the chaos unfold. It does however help us to enact our boundaries from a place of compassion and understanding, rather than resentment or a fear of losing control. Let’s try another one…
Belief #2: ‘Others have it easier.’
Let’s face it: parenting is hard. For everyone. Everywhere. No parent escapes the whining, the tantrums, the sick child that only wants to be with them, the constant overstimulation, and the exhaustion. We don’t always get to see some of these tougher moments in the parenting journeys of our friends or the people we see at the park or the ones we follow on social, but I can almost guarantee you that they happen for them too.
How comparison affects you as a parent
Comparison steals our joy. It convinces us that we have it harder, that our children are more difficult, or that we are not good enough parents, all of which impact the way we feel about parenting.
Ask yourself: ‘Is this really true?’ ‘Are my children more difficult than other children?’ ‘Am I not good enough?’ Journaling about this often helps in finding what’s actually true for you, but allow me to add some colour to your thought process – In the moments when you find yourself comparing your child or your parenting to others, I invite you to start affirming what’s true: ‘This is hard, and I can do this.’ ‘My child is not giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time.’ ‘I am strong and capable.’ ‘I trust my child’s process. This may look different to her friends’ and that’s OK.’ ‘This is developmentally normal.’ ‘I am a good parent, having a hard time.’
We are wired to a negativity bias – we pay closer attention to our mistakes and to what is difficult with our children than to what is working well.
Make it your mission to find examples of your good-enoughness. Don’t allow yourself to only focus on and think about the times you mess up or the times your child is having a really hard time. But rather be intentional in giving just as much airtime to the moments you do show up calm in the midst of a meltdown, the times your children actually enjoy one another and make each other howl with laughter, the quiet snuggles, and quick prayer before bedtime.
As you intuitively already know, there are so many more misperceptions that make parenting trickier than it needs to be. And as we get curious, we might be surprised to find the ones that we have been clinging to all this time.
Final thought from the parent coach
I want to leave you with one final thought: what you focus on grows, and what you starve dies. In parenting, what you focus on matters. What are you feeding? What are you starving? What things get your time? What are you letting in daily? What are you reading? Who do you allow to speak into your parenting? Do they speak life? Do they leave you feeling encouraged and uplifted, or flat and hopeless?
I invite you to reflect on this concept in your life, to write down the things that you are feeding and starving, and to challenge yourself if this is really in alignment with your values. Because ultimately the things we feed will shape our perception, and our perception and beliefs will determine our actions.
Focus on the good and the good will grow.