Parenting is the hardest job I’ve ever had. It is way harder than working with even the most difficult situations or feelings in the therapy room. Why is this? As a therapist, I am trained in particular techniques and coaching strategies to help my clients grow. And, they are paying me to help them so even though some might have resistance, they are often at least a little bit willing to hear reflections or recommendations.
Not true with my kids. Despite all of my years of training and experience in the clinical world, my children are not my clients and I am not an impartial expert brought on board to help them. The dynamics are different. The rules are different. And the relationships certainly are different!
The biggest distinction I have noticed between parenting my own children and being a coach or guide for other people’s is that I don’t bring a set of preconceived notions or expectations about who my clients “should” be to the therapy room. And, although it is sometimes hard to admit, this isn’t true of parenting my own kids. They disappoint me, upset me and test and challenge me everyday. I have to be honest with myself about these feelings and learn to temper and manage them in order to give my kids the space they need to learn from their mistakes and to grow. One of my main roles as a parent to stay consistent and fair in my beliefs, and to continue to plant the seeds of healthy thinking and behavior.
Parents of children in therapy often share their disappointment and sadness with me; the content of which is mostly about how hard parenting is emotionally and how their image of the family they were hoping to create is really just a fantasy. I would say that this is one of the biggest struggles in my job. Helping parents see that their job is to create the safest environment, the healthiest atmosphere for their children to thrive and grow, and with the firmest values and beliefs. A parent’s job is NOT to create the most perfect person a child can be.
To me, it is a myth that one of my responsibilities as a parent is to push my children to achieve their greatest possible potential in all endeavors. Really, I see that task as unrealistic and way too much pressure. I re-frame this commonly held belief for my own parenting. In my mind, my job is to plant the seeds for my children and to create the healthiest and best conditions for my kids to water and tend to the seeds so that plants and flowers (their internal experience and outer behavior) can grow and thrive. It is my job to teach my kids to tend to their gardens, not garden for them!