Raising Kids Is Tough – Find the Joy, and Kids Will Notice!

A persistent myth about parenting is the blissfulness of it all. In reality, parenting is a mixed bag that includes intense, fleeting surges of joy mixed with lots of worry and fatigue. Sadness and disappointment rear their heads occasionally, too. Most parents understand this and trudge on. However for some, childrearing becomes a great source of discontentment that has a ripple effect on child behavior and development. The following ideas may guide parents in their ability to understand sources of dissatisfaction and ways of navigating through the rough waters while noticing when it’s the “fun part.”
Cycle of Unhappiness
Sometimes when parents seek consultation with me about child behavior problems, it becomes apparent over time that the child is reacting against parental stress and irritability (or an insecure relationship). It is impossible for parents to hide displeasure from a child. At some level he or she feels it and self blame or develop anxiety. Kids may act out, or test the limits so parents will have to be present and set firm limits (the predictability of response to bad behavior may actually be a comfort). Because of the reverberations of mood, it’s best for parents to be emotionally aware of themselves.
Clinical depression is often referred to as the common cold of mental illness since it is so well, common. But it is surprising how even among severely depressed people the idea of clinical depression is never entertained. Research on the spread of depression from parent to child abounds. What we have learned is that both genetics and parenting style are responsible for this transmission. In other words, depressed parents often have depressed kids.
Today there are various medications for depression along with therapeutic techniques such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) to effectively treat depression. A parent who treats his or her own depression may save her own child from this fate. Mood disorders are treatable medical conditions, not a character flaw.
Among parents of children with special needs, the stress is higher than for typical kids and mood problems in parents may be more significant (along with marital problems). This includes parenting kids with severe, as well as milder, disabilities including learning differences, attention deficit disorder and high-functioning autism. Parents of special needs kids should allow themselves to grieve. Admit that adjustments in expectations and acceptance may be a genuine relief (and not an excuse to ease up).
Ghosts from the Nursery
Parents may explore how their own childhood experience affects their parenting. Those who were emotionally neglected may feel conflicted or even resentful about giving things to their child that were denied to him or her in childhood. Awareness of how stress may trigger resentment may be helpful. With therapeutic assistance, coping and acceptance of childhood grief may be healing.
Adjusting the mindset
It’s wise to identify what we can and cannot control. Parents can’t directly control children or anyone else. All we can control is ourselves and certain aspects of the environment. Self awareness and coping are things we can get a handle on. Look at expectations, schedules and consistency of routines. Can some things be altered in the realm of expectation or scheduling? Think about whether there is balance. Is there time for parents to be together without children, or by themselves? Also, consider the need for relationship repair. Carving out time each day for parent and child to be completely present to each other is exceptionally restorative.
Scholars of positive psychology have discovered that the happiest people are those who are mindful or aware of the present. Challenge negative thoughts – work toward happiness by acting cheerful even if you are not. Take time to be in the moment and know when the joy is happening. The kids will notice, too.
Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933.

Join Our Playdate

Get our parenting e-newsletter and they won’t run with scissors.

Latest NOLA family-friendly stuff

Special needs in NOLA