My early years of parenting seemed to be a cascade of stress that built throughout the day, as I tried desperately to deal with the out-of-control behavior of my youngsters: sibling conflict, messes everywhere, arguing, not listening, and so on. Unfortunately I was often using my own out-of-control behavior to try to manage theirs. By the end of the day, feelings of discouragement and resentment floated in a sea of stress chemicals in my brain.
I gradually accepted that I couldn’t eliminate the craziness. But as I learned to focus on my long-term goal of raising “world-changers” instead of managing the immediate crisis, it created a whole different response (and brain chemistry) from me that was often rather satisfying.
So how can parents trade in that parenting stress for a nice “satisfaction buzz”?
1) Decrease stress: Dump the impossible, short-term goal of control.
It’s a well-known principle of business that “If you have lots of responsibility in your job and little or no control you are going to have more stress” (StressStop.com). If you’re like many parents, you feel it is your responsibility to have well-behaved kids (now that’s a huge goal!). But since you can’t actually control the little darlings, you actually have an impossible goal with no power to achieve it – a sure-fire setup for stress and anger. Find a truth phrase that will help you let go of the unattainable goal of controlling your kids, and hang on to that truth for dear life: “Craziness happens.” “We’re a work in progress.” “They are responsible for their choices, not me.” “I can be okay when they are not”, etc.
2) Shift to a positive focus: Clarify your long-term desire.
Working toward a positive goal gives a nice little satisfaction boost to your brain. So list the top challenge area in your family (sibling relationships, technology, work habits, etc.) and write down what values and skills you hope your children would possess in that area as they grow into young adulthood. Then list specific parenting strategies that would help develop those values and skills.
3) Boost satisfaction: Celebrate out loud with your kids!
Even a small step of progress toward life-long values and skills is worth celebrating. So if your child resolves a little tussle, or decides to get off the screen and play outside… Celebrate! It will pave the way for more small steps, and feel quite rewarding for all.
Photo Credit: Lightstar59 iStockphoto.com
In our home, here’s how this process looked related to our top issue of sibling conflict:
- We had to let go of the impossible goal of siblings that didn’t ever hurt each other.
- We established a long-term desire of growing young adults with intimate, authentic, well-reconciled relationships. From that desire flowed diligent effort to build connection, empathy, and conflict resolution skills.
- We celebrated when they resolved a conflict without bloodshed, or did something kind for each other.
This change from stressful impossible goals to proactive training was transformative in our family. Guiding our kids towards the wonderful relationships they now have as young adults was one of the most rewarding things we did as parents. A lot less stress and a lot more joy along the way!