Re-thinking the Rules of the Road
Can you make your job easier by re-thinking the rules of your parenting road?
The fall is upon us, with cold, grey rainy days alternating with the high contrast glorious sun-filled days displaying stunning palette of yellows, oranges and reds. This week, as I put my gardens to bed for the winter, I thought about the cycle of letting go, decay and new life.
This past spring, I planted a cut flower garden for the joy of flowers. I started the plants from seed, cautiously hardened the tender seedlings off, and then with great trepidation and care planted my very wee plants into my garden. Such little plants. So much dirt and space between them. I second guessed myself. Did I plant enough? Too many? The “right” kind of plants?
I kept reminding myself to have a “just try it”, experimental approach. Be open to learning. Maybe somethings will work well, maybe some things will not. Next year, I can change things up based on what happens this year.
As someone who is challenged by wanting projects to turn out perfect – planting a cut flower garden without guarantee of a summer of blooms – was hard. I had to trust the work I’d put in – from education to good compost – would translate into the bouquets of flowers I dreamed of.
Plans vs. Real Life
Are you curious how my garden turned out? Well, here’s the thing – lots of flowers grew. I had great surprises of colours and textures. I was able to share bouquets of flowers with friends and family alike. BUT it was not what I expected. Some flowers did not grow at all, some grew but not big enough to harvest. It was not what I had imagined.
Lately I have been thinking about parenting – it is not what I imagined either. I imagined joyful times of baking cookies, making crafts together, smiles and laughter. While I was fortunate enough to enjoy many of these moments, and for that I am grateful, they tended to be the highlights amongst the messy house, the repetition of “use your words”, the tears, challenges and meltdowns.
I had to re-think many of the ideas and expectations I had for my role as a parent, some of which I didn’t even realize I held. Some applied to just me, and what it a “good mom” does. Some applied to the whole family. To this day, I feel a sense of shame to admit that I rarely read to my kids at night. I was just done with them. Exhausted. No patience left. In my mind, a “good mom” read stories every night.
Parenting Road Signs
Its funny to think about where we absorb messages and expectations of what it means to be parent, and to parent. Even as simple as – is parent a noun or a verb? Or both? In the course “Bounce Back and Thrive” (BBT), which Muskoka Family Focus is regularly offering (for FREE!), we talk about the “hidden road signs” or beliefs that we hold. These beliefs may be ones we deliberately choose for our family like every person in the family contributes to the work of the house (chores), or they may be ones we don’t realize that we hold, or act from.
Are there any “rules of the road” you may be following? Some examples are “I want people to think the best of me”, or “Showing my feelings is a sign of weakness” or “It is my job to make sure every one is happy”. Finding these hidden beliefs requires paying attention and being “on the lookout” for them.
One day I came to realize how heavily influenced I was by characters in stories like the Berenstain Bears. I had expected that my daughter(s) would be wee versions of myself, while my son would be a mini of his dad. Why does this matter? Well, when we are not aware of our own hidden expectations and rules, we act blindly, and without questioning.
The rules we are following may not serve us or our families well. In my mini-me example, I was surprised at how much I simply expected my daughters to be most like me, to share my strengths and interests. In truth, while my daughters and I do have much in common, the kid most like me is my son. Acknowledging this “rule” (affectionately now thought of as the “Berenstain Bear effect”), I could see the ridiculousness in it, and embrace my kids as individual humans with their own strengths, interests, personalities that may, or may, not overlap with their parents.
Re-thinking the Rules of the Road
Have any “rules of the road” come to mind for you? When they do, write them down, then ask yourself, if “the rule” is helpful or harmful. Is there a counter-belief that might be more effective? For example, “I want people to think the best of me”, might be shifted to “I want me to think the best of myself, and my parenting choices”. Do you feel a difference? For me, the focus on being true to myself helps me let go of other people’s expectations and focus more purposefully on my own.
“Showing my feelings is a sign of weakness” could be “showing my feelings is a sign of strength, and key to raising emotionally intelligent children”. This would require me to be brave, and dance with the expression of feelings and emotions my kids have.
Perhaps, “It is my job to make everyone happy” may turn into “it is my job to raise good humans, and that can be uncomfortable at times”. Daniel Siegal uses the phrase “name it to tame it”, so simply naming the possible discomfort will help me deal with it.
Re-thinking the Holidays
With Thanksgiving behind us, and Christmas approaching, I wonder about your holiday “rules”. Are there “rules” for you about what makes a good holiday? And do those rules remain true? From gift giving and receiving to holiday traditions, there are so many spots where unexamined rules may be driving your holiday planning and commitments.
The holiday meal is one I’ve been re-thinking lately. Our family feels pretty neutral about the big Turkey dinner, and values time to play together. So, in the last few years, we’ve tried to talk about what we want our holiday to look like – a big turkey dinner with all the fixings (and all the work?) or something simpler to eat and a day full of board games?
Re-thinking is a gift you give to yourself and your family. Re-thinking the “rules of the road” puts you in the driver’s seat of your parenting adventure. You get the chance to re-consider the rules that have been handed to you by your own parents and the community at large. In re-considering, you can choose what serves you and your family well, and what needs to be let go. Embrace an experimental mind-set… the adventure just might surprise you.