Almost everything you buy comes with instruction manual. Even the super obvious items, like a blow dryer or a water bottle, have directions for use, care, cleaning, and tips for optimal functioning. And whenever I see these instructions, I always feel a bit like, “Do the makers of this think I’m an idiot?! Of course I know to plug the blow dryer in before use, and to not use it while taking a bath!”
And yet, one of the most important things you’ll ever acquire in your life comes with zero instructions. As you are discharged from the hospital, you aren’t given a free copy of a “child-rearing bible” with everything from “what to do with toddler who won’t eat” to “how to handle separation anxiety from a school-aged child” or “how to stay calm when my teenager is acting out.” It’d be so helpful if there was an index containing every single topic relating to kids ages 0-18 (at least!) that you could thumb through to find the keyword for your crisis of the moment.
Alas, there is no such manual that we come home from the hospital with. Many, or most, pregnant mothers take a handful of prenatal classes – to learn what to expect at every week of their pregnancy, how to craft their ideal birthing plans, what kind of questions to ask when interviewing pediatricians, as well as breastfeeding, swaddling and tips for sleeping through the night. But hardly any parent takes a class on actually how to be a parent.
Parenting is often a combination of intuition, how they were raised (or the opposite of how they were raised), advice (often unsolicited) from friends, family, in-laws and information we find on the internet or books. And of course, parents rely on their immense love for their child to get them through challenging moments. And some of what we do works, some doesn’t; we do trial and error, in the hopes that we have more successes than failures and that we aren’t giving our kids too much fodder for their future therapist.
While all the above-mentioned guidance is helpful and can help through struggles, it sometimes isn’t always enough. I mean, you wouldn’t ever accept a job that you had no education, training, or previous experience in, right? But that’s often what parenting can feel like. So, sometimes we need to get training.
I got a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and before I was able to utilize it to work towards my licensure as a therapist, I was a full time stay at home mom for over 8 years. My feeling then was, if my education in psychology helped me be a better mother, then it was worth it. Well, it turns out, 17 years after getting my degree, I finally got licensed as a therapist. And while I take my parenting very seriously, and actually do have the education and background to prime me for it, that still didn’t mean I always knew what to do, nor did I always feel good about how I handled something. I found myself getting frustrated with the day-to-day stuff. I would raise my voice, which didn’t always result in effective discipline. I sometimes felt more disconnected rather than connected to my daughters.
A few years later, as I was on a quest to discover tools for my own growth, I stumbled upon mindfulness, which is the practice of living in the present moment, developing greater awareness and learning how to accept what is. Practicing this greater awareness also allowed for greater ability at managing difficult emotions as well as how to respond and not react. Through deepening both my professional and personal mindful exploration, I got very passionate about mindful parenting. This seemed, in part, the closest answer to “where was my guide on how to parent?” I learned tools that shifted the entire culture in my home with my girls. This is not to say I no longer got triggered, but my ability to notice those triggers, with less reactivity, increased. As did my ability to have greater compassion for whatever my daughters were experiencing, as well as compassion for myself when it was really challenging. I was also then able to role model the very behaviors I was asking of my kids. I realized it didn’t really make sense to scream at my kids to calm down, when I clearly wasn’t calm.
If any of this resonates with your parenting experience, I am offering a parenting workshop on Sunday March 26th 1-5pm at the Bay Area Mindfulness and Therapy Center. Parenting with greater awareness, compassion and presence is a 4-hour experiential workshop highlighting such tools as finding the joy amidst the chaos, learning to respond instead of react, embracing the unexpected challenges of parenting and developing effective discipline that decreases yelling and frustration. If you are interested, please visit www.mindfulnessandtherapycenter.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited and pre-registration is required.
Joree Rosenblatt is a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Bay Area Mindfulness and Therapy Center in Danville. License #93545
**This article originally appreared in the February issue of Danville Today