Parenting is hard. Exhausting. Confusing. Exasperating. Lonely.
Even with all those adjectives, that’s an incredible understatement. I want to acknowledge and normalize the difficulty, and I want you to know that you are not alone. We all know those parents who make it look effortless and easy – even if it’s just how they portray their lives on social media. Those portrayals are rarely true, and all parents are struggling in some way. I work with parents every day in my office who are having the same challenges and struggles you are, and I’m here to offer some hope.
You’ve been hearing a lot about connection this week through the videos and posts. I can imagine it almost sounds too easy. Just too good to be true. But connection is going to be your new parenting superpower! It is vital for both you and your children. No matter where you are on your parenting journey – a parent to a newborn, a toddler, a teenager, a foster parent, a single parent, an adoptive parent, or an auntie/uncle who longs to be a parent – these words are for ALL of you.
Connection is a need we all have. We were designed to feel safely connected with others. When our kids feel safe and connected, they are better able to listen – even when they don’t like what they are hearing. They will desire to listen and respect you. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t what those things to be true!
When parents feel connected, we can see past behaviors to what our kids feel and need. We can get curious about what’s going on underneath the behaviors.
If we feel connected to our children, they are no longer a problem to solve, but someone we deeply understand.
I can hear you protesting. How on earth do we find the time and capacity for connection? Life is busy. You’ve got work, school, homework, dance recitals and baseballs games! You’re just trying to survive – who has time to connect??
I want to offer one idea to help you start small. This journey will be all about baby steps. Today, I want us all to start with curiosity. Let’s learn to be curious with ourselves and our children (and our spouses and friends and co-workers!).
Here are a few examples of how to be curious when your children behave in a way that is baffling and challenging:
Is your child melting down at the grocery store because they are maybe overstimulated or hungry or they missed their nap?
Did your toddler just hit their sibling because maybe they felt scared or maybe they wanted to play with their sibling (to connect) but the sibling just wanted their toy?
Is your child refusing to go to bed because they are longing for more snuggles or back scratches (connection)?
Is your child refusing to drink out the red cup (because they really wanted the blue cup!) because they have felt out of control in most other areas of their life today?
Is your child quiet and unresponsive you when you pick them up from school because maybe they have been working super hard to be “good” in school all day and now they are exhausted.
Is your child mean to you or a sibling because maybe someone was mean to them at the playground and they just don’t know how to process that?
Getting curious means asking lots of questions. What need might you child have that they are not able to express in this moment? Is there a need underneath the challenging behaviors? Did something happen to them at school or day care and they don’t know how to process it or cannot verbally express it? If we can reframe behaviors into opportunities to connect and understand our children, we’ll have children who feel safe and loved.
Children can be conditioned to respond to coercion or connection. Whichever way you choose to lead, your children will respond. Humans instinctively rebel against coercion but are drawn to connection. You get to choose which way you want to lead! Both ways are hard and will require work, but one way will lead to a child who feels more understood and parents who feel less exhausted.
When you are connected to your children, they will know and believe that there’s not a single thing in life you cannot figure out together. Remember that our children are humans too. Humans who long to be seen and known and loved. But we don’t always know how to ask for what we need, and we all struggle and seek connection in different ways. Take a moment to think about how you might seek connection in ways that result in you and your child both feeling more seen, known, and loved.
Now go and get curious!
Rebekah McKinney, LPC , RPT
I consider it a great privilege and honor to journey with others through life’s challenges, adventures, setbacks, and celebrations. Life can be full of trials and unexpected circumstances, but when we have the support of another person, the impossible becomes possible again. I believe in the power of hope and healing, and I desire to come alongside you to help you find both. I would love to help empower you to find the tools you need to get un-stuck and walk through the season you are in. I also serve as a Clinical Associate at our center, assisting with the children’s therapy and neurofeedback program.