What happens when the fantasy of how we hoped we would be as a parent, meets the reality of our child?
I was sharing with my partner this morning that I really imagined I would never yell at my child(ren). He knows me so of course he chuckled and said, “You are kidding right?”
Last week was a great week here at Compassionate Parenting Solutions. Every parent who called was from my favorite parenting approach – RIE® Resources for Infant Educarers. Our conversations were deep and rich. Most of the calls were about toddlers. I had some lively and robust toddlers last week. My favorite type of toddler. I had a scratcher, a biter and a compulsively climbing out of a crib-er. The parents were doing everything “by the book”. Doing the “right” thing and the behavior was still happening. Each parent said the same thing – It is not working!
The best part of our conversation was busting up the idealization we can carry as parents. The idea that if we have a “parenting philosophy” we follow, that we will solve our child’s behavior.
First the definition.
Idealization – When the idea of something is better than the reality.
We parents are searching like never before in the history of parenting for answers and support in parenting. We find a book, we find a “method”, a theory, a class and we think – Whew. Now, if I can just follow the script it will work out – right?
Yeah. Until the individual child shows up and then the answer is – well maybe. Sometimes. Or perhaps – not on this particular child.
Here’s the deal: In theory, theory and practice are one in the same. In practice – not so much.
As I tell my parents, I am you. I am just like my clients. I have had the same struggles. I am looking for answers (albeit teen answers) that fit my individual children and how I parent one doesn’t always work on the other. How I parented last year does not work this year.
Here were a few of my fantasy busters.
- I raised my voice at my 8 week old son.I became obsessed with finding sleep solutions when my fantasy mommy was blown out of the water pretty fast through her own sleep deprivation. It wasn’t a yell but it was a pretty desperate tone for sure – PLEASE sleep! I implored. If you don’t sleep, I can’t be a good mommy.
- Toddler push back and testing boundaries. I full on yelled at him one day in toddlerhood. OK more than one day. Here again it was HIS behavior that needed to stop in order for me to feel sane. No, he was just being a typical toddler.
- Teen attitude. As a teen – forget it! I have yelled at him in a way that some parents might know. The one where you are sure you just hemoraged a vocal chord. He was upstairs looking down at me from the landing. It was perfect. He said, Look who is acting like a child now. As angry as I was in that moment, I couldn’t argue with the truth.
All three of these situations put a subconscious pressure on my child, to behave in a certain way, in order for ME – the mommy – the adult in charge – to be OK. It is not up to an eight week old, a toddler, a teen or anyone else on this planet to be a certain way in order for me to be OK.
What perpetuates fantasy parenting.
- Thinking that if we follow a method or a “parenting theory” that we will see a consistent results in our child’s behavior. Growth and development are about constant and rapid change. And change, although it is continual in the child thru adolescence – doesn’t look anything like consistent behavior. At each stage of development it is as if your child has a completely new and changed brain. A new person shows up regularly in the crib, out of the crib, in the home and out in the world. If we really see our child as an individual we can start to predict and pattern certain behaviors. But anytime we do that, they will bust up our expectations and surprise us. Growth is surprising. This is the beauty of it all. We don’t look to the child, and definitely NOT to their behavior, for consistency. We bring consistency to them – they do whatever the hell they do. And it is up to US – the grownups – to stay consistent in our behavior.
- Comparing our child to other children OR comparing ourselves to other parents. That is a trap. A wonderful therapist/spiritual teacher of mine called it “The Poop Room.” It is that place we go, that is sure to make us feel like shit. We know it and we walk into the room anyway. We turn the handle, walk into the poop room and every time we think – Wow, how did I end up here again? I feel like shit. The comparison trap is a great indicator that we are doing idealization. And idealization is a great indicator that we will end up in the poop room.
Comparisons do one of two things.
- They either make us feel better. And if we are feeling better than – compared to someone’s worse than – we are bound to fall and be on the bottom once again. We can’t authentically hold a “better than” space for long.
- Or they make us feel worse. And who wants to feel that? Who wants to look around and feel less than or worse than what we see in our comparison to self?
But either way, comparisons are not based in reality. When we compare ourselves to anyone, no matter how well we know them, we are comparing our insides to their outsides. We are comparing our whole experience to their partial experience. We can only see so much. Until we live in their shoes, in their lives, in their homes, in their relationships and with THEIR families – we don’t know their reality. So if we compare we are only comparing to a partial reality.
Partial realities and partial solutions don’t work on our whole child.
My understanding of development, helps me in understanding your child’s perspective. I come up with creative solutions that will help you and your child navigate some of the tricky spots we all face. And some of this support I provide is mostly because of this one factor – your child is NOT my child.
We are so close to these children of ours and we can’t help it, we are attached to their outcome. And that leads to another place where we can have blind spots and idealization slips in. We become so attached to the future outcome for our children that we can miss what is happening in the moment. And we become so focused on the behavior of the child and what they are doing – we miss seeing who they are.
Because of my work, it makes me an especially dangerous parent. Dangerous because I can start to think I know shit. My teenager is here to remind me weekly – Mom there you go again saying stuff that will never happen – because you don’t know ANYTHING. And I think and sometimes I have the presence of mind and heart to admit it and tell him – you are partially right.
Both of my children live in a world that is an alternate universe to my own. It is THEIR teen world. All I knew was my teen world and that was a long, long time ago.
We are parenting our children for an unknown future. Our information is already obsolete. ~ Magda Gerber.
We don’t have to have all the answers right now, today, for our children. They just need to know we are looking. We are searching. And we are doing so on their behalf and our own. This is what grownups do. We search for solutions. We strive to be the best we can be. We continue to face reality and understand – we never stop growing or growing up. And by doing this with “self compassion” and kindness toward the self, we model this for our children.