Q: I am exasperated with my children. It is feeling like a very long summer vacation. I can’t wait for school to resume! I am tired of the constant whining and bickering, and the drudgery of parenting. How can I find more joy in my family life?
A: The frustrations of family life have many root causes, but perhaps the following thoughts could lead you to an action plan that will address the source(s) of your struggle:
Address unrealistic expectations of child development. If you find yourself experiencing the same struggles over and over again, consider that these situations could be a reflection of perfectly normal and expected developmental behavior by your child. Learn about age-appropriate behavior by conferring with friends who have children the same age as yours, seeking the advice of your child’s pediatrician and/or researching a well-regarded website about child development. In addition to ParentMap, I can recommend the ages and stages information provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Talaris Institute Parenting Counts website.
Determine if temperamental incompatibility is a factor. Temperament or personality differences can play a huge role in the amount of conflict experienced by and within a family — whether the conflict happens between siblings or between parent and child. Some family members may be introverts who require alone time to re-energize; some are extroverts who need to talk and be around other people to recharge. Some might have low energy, and some might have high energy. Some might be highly sensitive — and this can include sensitivity to temperature/comfort, sounds and emotions — and some have a high tolerance for stimuli.
Parents should consider the temperament traits of each family member, and then learn about common triggers for conflict corresponding to them. Doing so will enable parents to work with each family member to manage themselves and to respect each other’s temperamental differences. (For parents of spirited children, I highly recommend the book Raising Your Spirited Child Workbook.)
Honestly confront anger at your family situation. As a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, it might be easy to lament the “glory” days of working outside the home; parents who work outside of the home experience their own deep parenting frustrations. If you are struggling with parenting because you would rather be doing something else, then consider your options. For some parents, being able to take a break from kids can be helpful. That break could take many forms: getting outside for fresh air or exercise, focusing on something other than children (employment, volunteer work, socializing with friends, hobbies), or getting outside support from a family member or a close friend, hiring childcare help, etc.
If you are experiencing anger resulting from hard feelings towards a loved one or a family predicament, I encourage you to seek out wise counsel from a therapist or other trusted ally so that you can find healthy and effective ways to deal with the situation at hand.
Acknowledge that your anger affects your children. Take a look in the mirror the next time you are angry so that you can see what your children see when you are flooded by strong emotion. This look can be very scary to a child — no matter his/her age. Learning to address the source of your anger will result in your building up healthy emotional reserves, which will foster more patience with your children. Being able to genuinely smile at your children will go a long way towards helping them feel better about their family life, too. (Resource: The Mayo Clinic provides some helpful information on anger management.)
Cultivate coping skills for when life brings parenting challenges. Finding more effective ways to address your child’s difficult behaviors can be very helpful. Perhaps learning a new way to manage your child’s temper tantrum, disobedience or hurtful behavior will give you a more positive outlook on parenting.
I encourage you to discover why your child is having the difficult behavior in the first place, and then work to help your child manage his/her frustration. This approach will go a long way towards helping your child learn a new way to “be” in the family. (Resource: Youth Eastside Services offers a number of courses on Positive Discipline you may find helpful.)
Bolster your emotional reserves by building up your physical reserves. Get more sleep and eat healthy foods! Concentrate your best parenting efforts on the hardest two hours of the day. Sometimes parenting challenges feel global, as if the difficult moments last 24 hours. It is more likely that the difficult phases have a much shorter duration. Creating a parenting plan and then implementing it to address the hardest part of the day will help make the rest of the day go better.
Parental happiness is an important part of raising healthy, happy kids. Do all that you can to find it.
Jennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.
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