My colleague, Judy Zexter, and I have had countless personal and professional discussions about theories, techniques and even trends in the world of parenting. Despite the fact that I am based in NY and she has a practice in LA, we’ve noticed that there are common themes, pressures, “shoulds” and contradictions in the parenting world that span the distance between us.
We have decided to share some of our thoughts in our ongoing dialogue given that we continuously encounter parents who question their instincts and struggle with their decision making when it comes to their children. There are definitely some common threads to successful parenting, along with the familiar challenges, but each family is unique in terms of its needs, its expectations and what seems to work best for its family members. Our horizons have been broadened through our professional and personal experiences in terms of how best to foster healthy development in children, while maintaining a sense of satisfaction and confidence as a parent.
There is no one formula, one manual, one approach or one theory that holds all the answers to raising children. We are both often asked for book recommendations, sometimes with a seemingly desperate tone for a “tell me how to do it” guide. It would definitely be simpler if there was one recipe to happy children/parents/families, but the fact is that we all are different, so there is no one guide fits all. The personalities and characteristics of our selves, our children and our family units all need to be taken into consideration as we embark on the parenting journey and make efforts to provide our children and ourselves with a positive and empowering experience. Educating yourself about theories and research around healthy parent/child attachment can provide important tools to help guide, support and reassure you through the parenting process. However, knowing yourself and your child(ren) inclusive of strengths, limitations, sensitivities and temperaments is crucial in determining the most appropriate means by which to foster healthy development and a strong bond with your child(ren).
What seems so important and at times forgotten in the parenting process is to maintain a sense of awareness and consciousness. What we mean by this is to continually acknowledge our children’s emotional states and developmental phases (as well as our own) as we continue to revisit our intentions. What is it that we are trying to achieve as we guide, teach and interact with our children? It is so important to realize how one’s own childhood experiences can trigger reactions that can become automatic responses that may not necessarily match one’s intentions. For instance, if you felt emotionally deprived in some way by your own parents, might you unconsciously replicate this dynamic or perhaps overcompensate for it in your role as a parent? Are these actions really in the best interest of your child and do they truly match what you are trying to provide for them? By acknowledging and understanding reactions (triggers), you can then respond with awareness and mindfulness. In this way, your child’s needs are very present in your relationship and you can act according to your identified objectives and motives. It’s hard to steer clear of the “should” frenzy, proclaimed by other parents, specialists and authors. Learning to fully consider who you are and who your children are as well as developing the capacity to trust your own instincts can make YOU the expert of your family.
Judy Zexter, LCSW http://www.judyzexter.com/