Three Attributes Every Parent Needs
By Dr. Marcia Boatman, PhD, LPC, CAADC
Occasionally parents need a quick check-up to identify what needs to be tweaked. The world is changing faster with every generation. As great as the ‘good ole days’ might have been, kids need parents to guide them based on the world they live in today. The other day I began to think about how relevant the Serenity Poem is to parenting. As a parent, I came to the conclusion that every parent needs the following: serenity, courage, and wisdom to distinguish.I need the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change It is easy to accept things you agree with. However, acceptance does not require your agreement or approval of a situation. To accept what you cannot change is to acknowledge what is and let go of trying to make it become what you prefer it to be. There are those things that cannot change and then there are the things you cannot change. Parents are faced with great challenges that they cannot change and have to accept. Somewhere there is a parent trying to accept their child is terminally ill, has a mental illness, of is losing their vision. We all understand the challenge with accepting the limitation of our control in those kind of examples, but for the purposes of this I am referring to different kinds of challenges. For instance, somewhere there is a parent who refuses to accept they cannot change the way their child feels about something, or a friendship the parent views as toxic, or traits in their children that mirror the very traits they despise about themselves. Trying to change something you do not actually have the control to change is the cause of much parental frustration and family discord. For parents struggling to accept what they cannot change, serenity is a must. Serenity is a peaceful state of self-control that makes it easier to exhale and accept life. The self-control you gain from serenity helps you to identify what you can change and what you can influence. As a parent, when you continue to force change where you do not have control, you not only increase the blind spots in your relationship with your child, but also run the risk of sacrificing your influence. I believe most parents would agree that you do not want to lose your influence. As children age, they become more influenced by external factors you have little to no control over. Therefore, do what is within your means to keep a tight grip on the influence you do have. The COURAGE to change the things I can Serenity is necessary for acceptance, but courage is needed to change. I don’t know about you, but being a parent is the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s a lifelong assignment of having a deep intimate connection like non-other with a human being. A human being you must protect and at the same time allow them to experience vulnerability so they can learn what you can never teach. A human being you must discipline and at the same time validate emotions you do not understand or agree with and love them no matter what they do. You might not ever be told thank you. You will not always be listened to and you will be lied to at least once. Your motives will be misunderstood and there will be times when you cannot do enough to relieve their inner turmoil. As with acceptance, it is easy to change things you want to change. The Serenity Prayer is referring to those things that we don’t want to change, and we might not be aware that we need to change. As parents, these are changes that make us feel vulnerable or they may contradict with what we learned from our own parents. Consider the following examples of both change and acceptance…
- Transparency. Change what you choose to share with your children. Accept that they’re going to make mistakes no matter how much you tell them not to. Knowing your truth is not going to expedite their stumbling. Some parents keep their past a secret and never disclose age-appropriate, time-sensitive information to their children. This means your child is old enough to know and because of their present challenges, they need to know now. Do your children think you lived a perfect life? Might they be privately struggling with something they are afraid to talk to you about? Identify what needs to change about how you communicate with your children about sensitive subjects. Accept that times have changed and if you are not transparent with your children, there are adults all over the world on line waiting for Junior to talk to them.
- Validation. Change the belief that your child “should not” feel the way they do. Validation is simply acknowledging your child’s emotions and accepting them as valid. Validation is not approval of emotions, permitting unhealthy behavior or dismissing consequences for bad choices.
Feelings are just feelings, not facts, and you cannot control your child’s emotions. You can make Billy stand in the corner for time out, but you will never be able to control how he feels about you while he stands there or what he felt when he broke his little sister’s toy. Do you dismiss your child’s emotions by invalidating their feelings? Here is an example of validating and invalidating statements: Invalidating: “Stop whining, you had no right to break your sister’s doll, so I don’t want to hear it!” Validating: “I know you’re disappointed because you didn’t make the team and you got angry when your sister teased you. I need you to know that being angry does not mean you can retaliate by destroying her property”. If you invalidate a child’s emotions, this increases the risk of them learning to find ways to avoid their own emotions. If they are more emotionally sensitive than the average child, they might use extreme measures to suppress their emotional experience.
- Be at peace with imperfections. Are you trying to resolve the grief associated with your parent’s failures? Don’t be the parent you needed growing up, be the parent your child needs today. Were your parents never present? If so, maybe you have a sincere desire to be around your children all the time, but what if they don’t need or want to be around you as often as what you needed growing up? Be at peace with your parent’s imperfections and learn what your children need from you.
Are you trying to create a 2.0 perfected version of yourself by doing everything outside of your power to prevent your children from repeating your mistakes? This means you are limited in peace and self-control that comes from serenity to accept what you cannot change and the courage to change what you can. A sign is that you come down extra hard on them when they make a mistake that you made, and the mistake does not have significant long-term consequences. If you react too harshly to mistakes that resemble things you did, you need the wisdom to distinguish between issues of acceptance and change in the situation.
- No, you cannot pick their friends. Do you try to keep your children away from kids they enjoy being around? Granted there are times when you have to put up a boundary for safety reasons. However, this is an exception and not the rule. Accept that you cannot pick out their friends. Sometimes friends remain long enough for natural consequences to teach lessons you cannot teach. It can be painful to watch, especially when you see it coming, but there is a lesson in this for you as the parent. Validate their emotions and be there for them while they are learning important lessons about interpersonal relationships and conflict.
And the WISDOM to know the difference The wisdom “to know” is referring to wisdom to discern or distinguish between what needs to be accepted as it is and what you need to change. Wisdom is good insight into the situation. It is recognizing what you need to do. Wisdom is also good judgment to know how to response to the situation. The best way to develop this wisdom is by first recognizing that you need it and then use your supports. Children don’t come with a handbook, so utilize your parenting resources such as local groups, online support groups, books, and videos, other parents, and learning from your own past successes and mistakes.
Article by Dr Marcia Boatman, PhD, LPC, CAADC
Click here for more information about resources https://www.valenciaagnew.com/families/ We also provide a 12-week group for parents and spouses called Family Matters. In the group, you will learn how to apply a variety of skills to address complicated issues of change and acceptance with loved ones who struggle regulating their emotions. For more information on Family Matters click here: https://www.valenciaagnew.com/family-matters/