HELPING CHILDREN LEARN HOW TO COPE DOESN’T HAPPEN WHEN WE TRY TO FIX THEIR PROBLEMS.
And yet, parents do it all the time. I personally happen to be a frequent offender in this department. Even though I teach my clients about this parenting strategy all the time, it’s amazing how often I still catch myself falling into the same trap when it comes to my own kids.
Maybe you can relate?
As soon as I heard her voice, I could tell she was stressed. Like lots of freshmen, my daughter’s first semester in college came with a bit of a learning curve.
In an effort to lighten the mood, I quipped, “What’s up, sweetie?”
“Mom, why couldn’t our side of the family have some of the math genes? How come Aunt Jenni’s kids got all of them?”
“Hhhhmmm… don’t know what to tell you baby girl,” I said. “I guess my liberal art genes must have beat the snot out of all the math genes. To be honest, there probably weren’t that many to begin with… I doubt it was a fair fight.” She was clearly not amused.
“Mom, I think I’m going to fail Algebra.”
From that point forward, she launched into a lengthy description of why Algebra was so super hard and why she wasn’t going to pass.
HERE IS WHERE I MESSED UP.
Despite knowing better, it only took a millisecond for me to pop on my “I can solve this” Mom hat. For every reason she tossed out, I countered with a possible solution.
After all, what are parents for? Right?
My brilliant suggestions went something like this…
Have you considered a tutor?
Maybe you should talk to your professor?
Perhaps Aunt Jenni (who is actually good at math) could coach you over Facetime?
In the midst of all my epic problem solving, it turns out I was also having a pretty harsh conversation with myself in my head.
You know what I’m talking about, right? That little voice that loves to point out all the ways you’ve dropped the ball when your kids are suffering. Not to mention the sizeable serving of GUILT, which is typically accompanied by a good dose of feeling like a FAILURE in the parenting department.
It went something like this.
“Crap… why didn’t you see this coming? You should’ve pushed her to take that extra math class her senior year, or maybe you should have gotten her into a better high school with more AP classes. That’s what a good parent would’ve done. AND btw what were you thinking? Why didn’t you insist on taking a tour of the tutor labs on campus so she’d know where they were? At some point, you knew she’d need the help? What kind of mother doesn’t prepare her child for college?”
Like a lot of parents, I hated seeing my daughter upset and stressed. And the guilt was kicking in. Surely there was something I could do to make it okay.
The more I tried to solve the “flunking Algebra” dilemma, the more she dug in her heels and insisted it was hopeless.
Which is pretty darn ironic…if you think about it. I am, after all, a seasoned professional listener. And yet, when it comes to my kids, I can be pretty dense.
After a few minutes of going back and forth… it finally occurred to me, we were getting nowhere.
So I tried a different approach… “Man sounds like Algebra really sucks.” I said, “It’s got to be so frustrating to put time and energy into something and not see any results.”
Almost immediately, I heard a huge sigh of relief on the other end. “Thanks, Mom,” she said. “I just really needed somebody to stand in the suck circle with me.”
IF YOU WANT TO RAISE HAPPY, SECURE, RESILIENT CHILDREN, YOU NEED TO LET GO OF THE GUILT.
Standing in “the suck circle” with our kids sucks for us as parents. It’s just not a comfortable place to be.
Whether your children are two or twenty-two, watching them struggle or hurt is never ever easy. As a matter of fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs we have as parents. It’s agonizing, gut-wrenching and usually leaves us feeling incredibly helpless.
AND… when it happens, the GUILT is never far behind.
In that moment, what I realized was this… when our kids are struggling, it sets off a powerful need in us as parents to make it okay.
Sometimes our need for things to be okay comes from a desire to protect and shield them. But sometimes, making it okay is really more about us than it is our kids.
This is especially true when it comes to divorce. Splitting up tends to create a lot of guilt for parents. My guess is just like me… you too, probably have a little voice in your head that rakes you over the coals when your kids are stressed, distraught or upset.
Maybe you’re feeling guilty over not being able to keep the family together or how your children’s lives have changed. For others, it might be connected to your kids going back and forth between two homes. It could be you have a coparenting relationship that is riddled with conflict, and you hate that your children get caught in the middle.
Sometimes, in an effort to diminish that guilt (and shut that little voice up) you might fall into the trap of:
Dismissing the upset: “Hey let’s not sit around and be sad about Dad not showing up. Why don’t we head over to the arcade and play some laser tag? That ought to cheer you up.”
Instead of: “You were really looking forward to seeing Dad. I know you miss him.”
Fixing the problem: “If talking to Mom before bedtime is making you homesick, maybe she needs to stop calling.”
Instead of: “You seem homesick after talking to Mom. It’s tough not having her here to tuck you in.”
Putting a positive spin on things: “I know it’s hard having two homes but how cool is it to have two birthdays, two Christmases and extra vacations?” or “This really is for the best. In the end, we’ll all be much happier.”
Instead of: “I know things aren’t the way you want them to be. I’m sorry this is so hard for you.”
Avoiding the issue and not talking about it at all.
Instead of: “Acknowledging your child’s truth and validating their feelings.
THERE ARE LOTS OF THINGS ABOUT DIVORCE THAT SUCK FOR KIDS. LEARN TO BE OKAY WITH THAT.
Here’s the deal… there are lots of things about divorce that suck for your kids.
When things are tough, it’s normal (and healthy) to feel sad, upset, frustrated or angry. In those moments, our children don’t need us to fix it, make it better or spin it. What they really need is for us to stand right there next to them in “the suck circle” and be a witness to their truth.
When we do, we have an opportunity to reassure our kids that:
- Their feelings matter.
- It’s okay to talk about how they feel.
- We’re strong enough to handle their upset, sadness, or anger.
- They don’t have to be emotionally responsible for us.
- Our story doesn’t have to be their story. (While divorce may have made things better for us, we understand it may feel different for them.)
The other thing that’s important to realize is this… Divorce won’t be the only challenge in life that your children will face. As they grow up and move out into the world, they’ll encounter other situations that may really suck.
HELP YOUR CHILDREN LEARN THEY CAN HANDLE HARD THINGS AND STILL BE OKAY.
Keep in mind, acknowledging their truth not only validates their feelings, but it also helps them build a sense of self competency. A belief that they can handle hard things and still be okay.
If you’re like me… you’ll have your days when you don’t get it right, the guilt will get the best of you, and the little voice will sound off.
In those moments, do your best to take a deep breath, tune out the voice and tune into your kids.
Watching your children struggle totally sucks. Yet when we can stand in the “suckiness” with them, we are giving them a true gift. The gift of being seen, being heard, and being valued.
What’s been your biggest struggle parenting your kids through divorce? Do you have a “suck circle” success story to share? Chime in below. I’d love to hear it!
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Until next time,