Getting yourself out of a parenting rut by managing expectations and recognising your triggers.
There is a lot of parenting advice out there , memes and quotes on staying calm, being patient, the need to establish and maintain boundaries and not rise to our children who can be frankly inconsistent and unpredictable at times.
As an Early Years professional, armed with the other knowledge I have about child development, brain development and with my general experience I find this advice well meaning and useful.
However as a Mum, parenthood comes with an emotional load, and if you are feeling at all at a loss with how to cope with a certain stage of your child’s development or you feel at all ashamed of how you’ve been dealing with it (let’s be honest, we’ve all been there), then memes and quotes will make you feel worse.
As parents we need to help ourselves understand how to do these things (set boundaries, remain calm etc), not just be told we need to be doing them.
From my experience, there are two things we need to consider and do in order to help ourselves when we are in a parenting rut.
Firstly, in order to understand why our children are doing certain things we do need to try and understand their particular stage of development. Put simply we expect too much. Our expectations are way off a lot of the time. We expect too much from ourselves and in turn we expect too much from them.
We really need to manage our expectations and question actually “what CAN they manage at this stage?” Are we asking our children to do something simply because we need them to be able to do it because we are under pressure ourselves? This is the beginning of a cycle of disappointment from both sides and suddenly we find ourselves flailing around with our child in ‘the rut’ feeling totally out of control. This situation is like trying to swim upstream with no life jacket whilst both you and your child struggle to communicate with one another about how to get to shore. You will both feel disconnected, tired, worn down and no further ahead. We are the adult so we should be guiding our children upstream, aiming to connect with them as much as we can. We can only do this if they feel and if they are fully understood. What can they be expected to do at their age? Are you expecting too much from yourself and them?
Recognising your triggers
The second (very important) thing we need to think about as parents are our triggers. For me this has been in years of working out and muddling through, but it has been so worth it.
In what situation do we mostly go from 1-10 in anxiety or rage or stress? Whether or not we are the type to scream and shout (fight), lock ourselves away (flight) or just shut down (freeze), there are some patterns that will be presenting themselves that make us feel this way.
These triggers will normally relate back to when we were children and how our parents reacted around us in a similar situation. Giving some time when these feeling of rage or anxiety come over you to think about why they have suddenly come on so quickly will enable you to begin to unpick these responses and start to change them. This won’t happen over night but being consciously aware will help you to overcome the ‘rut’ or the cycle of behaviour/ response that is happening.
Perhaps you feel immense anxiety about your child climbing at the park. Perhaps loud ‘fun’ and screaming and laughing induces stress. Perhaps you get in to a rage when you have to repeat something more than once. Maybe you just don’t understand why your child won’t get dressed in the morning. None of us are perfect. Perfect parenting is a fallacy. We are all a mesh of our own experiences and upbringings and with this we will try and do our best as parents ourselves.
I can bet if you start to think about your triggers you will be able to relate them in some way to the way your parents behaved in similar situations. Maybe they couldn’t bear noise in the house, perhaps you were shut in your room when you were desperately sad, maybe you had to finish everything on your plate or your parent saw it as a personal insult. Perhaps you weren’t allowed to climb and take risks.
Think about where you might be repeating these patterns. How did you feel as a child? Were those responses helpful or necessary? What could you do differently now as a parent? What would you have wanted or needed your parents to do in that instance? Try that.