The thing about that little voice in our heads, that we all have, is that it is very often right. When you need to do a bit more exercise, you are probably right, when you don't eat that last piece of chocolate, you were probably right. When you don’t feel like a ‘good’ parent, you are probably right. We know ourselves better than almost any other person does. The trick is to know exactly how right your evaluation of yourself is.
A client of mine, Amber, has two great kids. Her youngest daughter is close to age to her older brother. Emma is a spritely 6 year old and her brother is 7. As a parent, Emma recognises that she often invests a larger proportion of time into her older child. This can be because her older boy, Quinn, is able to better articulate himself and his needs, but also because Amber has parented a 6 year old before, quite recently in fact, but she has never parented a 7 year old. There are new parenting skills that she is learning and they can detract from the time she invests in her relationship with Emma.
Amber, like all of us, has a fairly set amount of available time and energy to parent. Within that parenting 'budget', she has space for both children, and for learning the new skills required to parent at different stages. She has space for the administration and coordination of house and daily kid life.
Amber notices differences between her relationship with Quinn, and her one with Emma. In one of our coaching sessions we talked about how Amber notices cues from her younger daughter, indicating the connection ‘tank’ between the two of them is low. Amber also revealed that from time to time, she has a thought float across her mind that perhaps her connection with Emma could be stronger. Within moments of noticing that thought, Amber feels guilt. Terrible guilt. Her mind races and she wonders where she needs to pull ‘time’ from in her parenting budget, and how she can address it. Her mind whirls and her body flips into fight or flight. Then she cycles into overwhelm. "I can’t do anymore than I am doing, what more does she want from me" is one of her common thinking responses.
This is one of the reasons Amber came to me. She wants to understand how she can better connect with her child, and some practical strategies to strengthen their relationship.
Here are my tips:
1. Believe yourself – Amber and I agreed that best thing she did, was to notice her thoughts and believe that there was enough truth in them for her to take action. As a side note, I asked her why she took action, and she replied that she didn’t want to have any regrets on the way she was parenting her children, when they were grown. So she asked herself what a 60 year old 'Amber' would advise, and then she came and found me.
2. Notice – I asked Amber to become a detective. She needs data so that she can make an informed decision. I asked Amber to start to hunt for clues that indicated what was working well in her relationship with her daughter, and what wasn’t and how she knew those evidence points to be true. We need to work with evidence, so that we can make good choices and changes.
3. Discuss – Find yourself a pair of capable ears and start to lay out your evidence. Look for gaps between what you would like and what you have. Now you have something concrete to work with. Don’t forget in the hunt for what isn’t working, that there is a lot that will be working well. Don't devalue what you are good at.
4. Implement - Identify 1 thing you could do differently. Keep it achievable, you want to be successful. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest differences. In Amber's case, she decided to spend 20 minutes with Emma each night with the sole purpose of spending time together and having fun. Did you know that laughter releases as much stress as being angry? It’s also a wonderful tool for connection.
5. Evaluate – After two weeks of doing things differently, Amber went back to her evidence and compared now versus then. Together we identified a second action for her to take, where she and Amber spent an hour on the weekend doing something that Emma loved, seeing the butterflies or colouring, together. Amber’s only job was to follow Emma’s interest. Child led play. We also noticed that Amber’s relationship with Emma had improved in leaps and bounds, after an initial decline. It's important to note that there can be a decline at first. Often kids have an emotional release after a greater investment in them. Stick with them and read this and this for extra help.
6. Celebrate – Notice that great work that you are doing by investing in growing this most special relationship. You are doing a wonderful job.
If you want to chat with me about parenting, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How do you notice and repair your relationships?