By Megan Stonelake
“I know how I want to parent, but I just can’t quite seem to get there.” Amy is a mother of two small children. She’s tired, stressed and frustrated. Despite her best efforts, her current style of parenting doesn’t match the picture in her head of the mother she wants to be. She’s stuck, and she came to my office looking for a new perspective.
As a therapeutic parent coach, I often meet with parents just like Amy. Through this work, I’ve identified five common barriers women face in their efforts to be the best version of themselves.
Issues from the past
This is often the crux of my work. Parents who have deep wounds from the way they were raised often know they want to do better with their own children but are unsure how. Embarking on the difficult process of forging a new path can be intimidating and vulnerable.
It’s easy for these mums to remain patient when everyone is calm. However, when their three-year-old is in the throes of a meltdown, it may feel very different. In these cases, a parent may be triggered by an implicit memory from the past. Implicit memories are those that we don’t consciously recall, and there’s data to suggest they continue to inform our decision-making long after an event has passed.
For example, a mother may have consistently been punished for crying when she was very young, and she now experiences discomfort when her own daughter expresses strong emotions. This mum might not have any awareness that her own early childhood is impacting her parenting in those moments, and her body could be reacting to a memory that she doesn’t even realize she has. She may only know that she loses her temper with her daughter, yells at her, and then feels badly afterward. Meanwhile her heart is racing, her brain is telling her to fight or flee, and she’s reacting without thinking.
Addressing this common barrier doesn’t have to involve delving into the past. With education, parents can learn simple mindfulness and emotion regulation techniques. These small practices can enact powerful change.
Suggested reading: Parenting from the Inside Out.
I recently spoke with a mum who began a story by saying, “I was such an awful mother yesterday”. She proceeded to tell me a story about an interaction with her son which she felt she didn’t manage well. We problem solved and created a plan for how she can handle similar situations differently in the future. Yet I’d argue that her behavior wasn’t actually the problem; we all have moments with our children we wish we’d handled differently. Her belief that a single moment of yelling at her son made her an awful mother was far more problematic.
These types of automatic thoughts can flit through our brains without our even being aware of them. They can also be incredibly harmful. The more space we give negative thoughts in our mind, the more we believe them to be true. When I witness negative self-talk in parents, I challenge them to examine the thought to determine whether it’s helpful and true. If it doesn’t meet both criteria, we begin the work of reframing the faulty belief.
Our thoughts inform our feelings which inform our behaviors. Taking the time to challenge faulty beliefs can lead to powerful outcomes. This isn’t the same as taping an affirmation to your bathroom mirror. Changing our self-talk creates new pathways in the brain, ones in which we reinforce messages that are productive, useful, and based in reality.
Our thoughts inform our feelings which inform our behaviors. Taking the time to challenge faulty beliefs can lead to powerful outcomes.
Suggested reading: Negative Self-Talk: 9 Ways To Silence Your Inner Critic.
A lack of boundaries can leave us feeling like we have little control. We might have difficulty standing up to family members who criticize our parenting practices, or we may find that we’re always agreeing to help a friend even when it’s a burden on our own family.
I’m a people pleaser, and boundaries have always been a struggle for me. It has taken many years, therapy, and several great books to learn that I don’t have to say yes to everything people ask of me. And here’s the really astonishing part: I don’t have to explain my “no”. It’s only recently that I’ve realized I can just say no. No excuse required! This was truly a revelation, one I’m perpetually relearning.
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