Tag Archive for: parenting stress

“NO!” Do you remember how you felt the first time your child dead-eyed defied you? As a parent of very strong-willed sons, I remember the first time my oldest said, “NO!” when I asked him to pick up his toys in the living room. I was so taken aback I said to myself, “I must have misheard him.” I repeated, “Please pick up your toys.” He matter-of-factly repeated, “NO.” 

As a parent, I had just entered the Wild West. Gone was my compliant, sweet child. He was replaced with this toddler-gunslinger who shot down everything I said. 

How do I make sure I keep my sheriff’s badge during a power struggle with my child?

Remember, you are in charge.

As a parent, you have the authority in your home. You wear the badge. Remember, you also have the life experience and emotional control that your child doesn’t have. Engaging in a “power struggle” with a child gives the power to the one who can least handle it. To remain in charge, you have to keep your cool. Take a few deep breaths and relax that trigger finger. 

No one knows how to push your buttons like your child. It may feel like they are trying to wrestle control from you. (And they are.) But they are also trying to become their own little person. This is an ongoing and sometimes painfully frustrating process, but keep in mind, you are laying the foundation for those tween and teen years when the stakes are much higher. 

Choose your battles wisely.

Everything is not a big deal. Stop. Say that with me. Everything is not a big deal. Keeping your child safe and healthy as they grow is the priority. Worrying that their clothes are not color-coordinated is just wasted worry. A friend of mine created stickers that said, “She dressed herself.” She placed them on her child’s back so she wouldn’t feel judged as a terrible parent whose child didn’t have on a matching outfit. (But why are we even worrying about what other parents think about us?) Ask yourself, “Is my child safe, healthy, and happy? Then, is this the hill I want to die on?

Give your child choices.

The non-negotiable might be getting dressed, but you can say, “Would you like to wear this outfit or this one?” You just shifted the issue from “getting dressed vs. staying in jammies” to “this outfit vs. this outfit.” Your child gets to exert their little will, but only within the options you gave them. 

As your child grows, they are trying to figure out who they are. Allow them to make age-appropriate choices and decisions. You end up with a win-win situation. Your child feels empowered, and the job gets done with little to no conflict. You’re running this town, but the on-the-job stress is manageable.

Be specific and make it fun!

You have to be specific when giving your child a task. They might not be ready to process, “Clean your room.” Break the job down into smaller tasks. Pick up all your books and place them on your bookshelf and report back to me when you’re done. Make chores a game when you can. Use a hula-hoop and place it on their floor; then grab a kitchen timer. Let’s see how fast you can put away everything in the hoop! Then move the hoop to another section of their floor. Can you beat your last time? You no longer have a power struggle with your child. Instead, you have created a fun game!

Don’t be afraid to deputize the universe.

You read that right. Use natural and logical consequences with your child. Let the universe do the heavy lifting. Consider the following:

Parent: Hey, it’s chilly out. You might want to put a hat on.

Child: No, it’ll mess up my hair. I don’t want to.

Parent: Okay, that’s your choice.

✦ Now, one of two things is gonna happen, but neither involves a power struggle with your child. Either your child will be chilly and will want a hat next time, or your child will be completely comfortable without a cap. Either way, you get to sit back and watch your child interact with the universe and learn a life lesson. You avoided conflict with your child. You were the guide to the side, letting your child learn about choices and consequences while the stakes were small.

This “growing-up” process for your child may feel like a roller coaster for you. The ups, downs, and loopty-loops can take your breath away and stress you out. That badge is a privilege and a responsibility. If you are upset and yelling—you’re losing. As the parent, you are the law in these here parts.

Adults are working from home. Students are learning from home. We’re Zooming and following IG stories to keep up with our friends and family. We have become more reliant on technology to earn a living, get an education, and stay connected to loved ones than ever before. 

Even in the midst of our dependence on WiFi, apps, smartphones, and social media, we look around at our family from time to time and say, “We’re texting each other from the next room. If we don’t get control of all this screen time, our family isn’t going to know each other.”

There are studies linking technology to mental health problems like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. People are suffering from issues such as video game addictions. Divorce filings are citing inappropriate online behavior as factors leading to marital collapse. 

Technology is often dictating how we spend our time instead of the other way around. As parents, part of wrestling control away from the screens working on releasing as many dopamine squirts in your brain to get you hooked means setting boundaries with your family.

Here are eight tips for setting boundaries in your family so technology can increase family togetherness and not cause a disconnect.

Set boundaries so technology serves a positive purpose in your family.

Technology can educate, connect, and entertain us in healthy ways. Boundaries help ensure that technology doesn’t take away from any of those positive things. Make sure a screen is never the only source for educating, connecting, and entertaining.

Be a good role model.

Boundaries can’t be one-sided. “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work. Yes, there are some perks to being an adult; being a technology-distracted parent isn’t one of them. Telling your kids not to bring phones to the dinner table while you sit at the dinner table and text is not a good plan. As a leader in your home, you must first lead by example

Protect your family.

Setting technology boundaries helps protect your family’s connection, safety, and both mental and physical health. Whether it’s cyberbullying or anxiety, establishing boundaries can work to safeguard your family’s wellbeing.

Make a plan.

Create a family technology plan which includes the purpose, boundaries, and consequences. Enforce consequences unapologetically. This can be as simple as taking away their game controllers or reducing their allotted tech-time.

Incentivize technological responsibility.

Encourage your family to make good decisions through rewards that are meaningful. Trips to the ice cream shop, extra tech-time on the weekend, choosing the movie on family movie night—anything that brings attention to good decision-making regarding technology usage reinforces the behavior you want to see. 

Designate tech-free time.

When possible, replace tech-time with family time. Make space for family movies, game nights, and family meals. Setting aside time before bedtime, when devices are off, will help the family connect and increase everyone’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Don’t compare.

Focus on what’s best for your family. Don’t compare yourself to other families. No two homes are alike. It’s one thing to seek advice from other families, but keep your family values front and center.

Educate your family.

Invite your children to learn what you’re learning about the pros and cons of technology. Our family has watched documentaries, television specials and read information together. Being informed has helped our family understand the potential effects of technology on our mental health, relationships, and even our brains. This helps us hold each other accountable and helps us stay focused on the most important thing—our relationships.

Boundaries don’t have to be restrictive. Good boundaries will help your family enjoy relationships with each other by protecting you from potential distractions. Setting boundaries in your family is your way of putting technology in its place. Gadgets are not more important than your relationships with the people you love. Messing with those relationships is a boundary that you can’t give technology the freedom to cross.

I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

Image from Pexels.com

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

Stop beating yourself up, and use these tips to be all there!

Does it feel like you’re at war with the clock? Like you don’t have enough time to do all the things on your to-do list? Struggle with finding time for yourself? Feel disconnected from your kids?

If you answer any of these questions with a “yes,” welcome to parenthood! Being a parent is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs. You have so many things on your to-do list. Often, we are spouses, employees, caregivers, dietitians, Uber drivers, and teachers for our children “going” to school digitally. With so much on our plate, we become overwhelmed and stressed. This easily can turn into not being really present. We feel disconnected from our children, ourselves, and from our lives.

How do you reconnect and become a more present and “in the moment” parent with your kids?

1. Put down your phone.

It’s so easy for us to be engrossed in our technology (i.e., social media). When you do, it’s easy to see other people’s photos, videos, homes, and compare them to yours. You may ask yourself: “Why doesn’t my house look like theirs? Why doesn’t my family look this happy? What am I doing wrong?” 

The average adult spends 11 hours per day in front of some type of screen while they check their phone every 10 minutes. When you put down your phone, it allows your attention and focus to be placed on what is important to you (your children). It allows you to prioritize time with your children, your family, your spouse, and even yourself. I encourage you to take an honest look at how much time you spend on social media (IG, FB, Pinterest, etc.). Once you have that amount of time calculated, invest that time in doing something that brings value to your life. 

2. Be intentional in spending quality time with your child. 

Whether it is when they wake up or during your bedtime routine, create space for intentional and focused time with your child. Quality time doesn’t have to be a big planned activity. It’s really the little sweet moments that matter like telling your child you love them, placing a note in their lunch box, playing with them, or reading to them. As they grow, allow them to read to you, have a snack together, tell silly jokes. It can be easy to start with 5 to 10 minutes, then work up from there. When you are intentional with spending quality time with your child it increases the bond between the two of you

Things You Can Do First Thing In The Morning To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Lovingly rouse them from sleep.
  • Wake them by singing a good morning song.
  • Cuddle in the bed with them. 
  • Ask them what are they looking forward to today. 

Things You Can Do At Bedtime To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Read them a book.
  • Ask them about the highs and lows of their day. 
  • Give them backrubs and back scratches.
  • Snuggle up with them.

Your child will begin to look forward to and anticipate the time that you will spend together. Try for quantity time and quality time and mind your mindset while you are with your child. Make sure all of you is present.

3. Take time for yourself.

If your tank is empty you have nothing to give and won’t be present. As parents, we have been told that our lives should revolve around our kids. Parents feel like it is selfish to take care of themselves. It’s really not. When you take care of yourself, you are creating greater capacity to give your energy to be with your child. Taking time to get enough sleep, eating right, exercising (running, yoga, biking, walking, hiking), or writing in a journal, all help put you in the right frame of mind to be an engaged and present parent. 

4. Bring them into your daily life.

There are many parts of our lives that we can incorporate our children into.

Exercise: If you walk, run, or bike, get a baby carrier and take them with you. Put them in their stroller for a walk around the neighborhood or park. All the while, talk to them about what they see: the tall trees, the falling leaves, insects, and animals.

Cooking: Set up a small table for your child with child-sized utensils. Allow them to play with pots you’re not using. If your child is an infant, place them in their seat where they can see you. Cook while having a running conversation with your child. Talk to them about what you are doing. Ask them questions about their thoughts and feelings. 

Work: If you are having to work from home with a young child, create a “workspace” for your new “assistant.” Give them paper, crayons, and washable markers as supplies. 

Household Chores: Your child can sort clothes by color to place in the washing machine, take clothes out of the dryer, and carry clothes to the correct room. Give your child the responsibility to feed and water the family pets. 

If you’ve been beating yourself up as a busy parent, STOP.

Kids aren’t looking for perfect parents; they are looking for present parents. Don’t allow the stress of “Am I doing enough?” hamper you from enjoying what you are doing. Spending quality time being present with your child should trump your feelings of guilt and stress about not spending enough time with a child. 

In reality, working moms today are actually spending more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. Father-child quality time together has almost tripled in that same time period. Please give yourself a break. Make the most of all the moments you have with your child. You can do it!

Is It Normal To Have A Bad Day With Your Kids?

Sometimes bad days just happen. And it's ok.

Is it normal to have a bad day with your kids? Do traffic lights seem to turn red when you’re in a hurry? Does your baby seem to poop in their diaper two minutes before you need to leave the house or, worse, in their potty-training underwear? Does your 5-year-old son say they have to use the bathroom five minutes into a long road trip?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

No one wants to have a bad day, especially when little people depend on you for their wellbeing. And we do everything we can to prevent our little people from having bad days. But guess what? Sometimes they happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There are days where you’re less patient, more irritable, snappy and short, tired, or sluggish. It’s part of life. You’re human, and life happens. We experience stressful seasons at work, deal with pain and loss, and have unexpected circumstances pop up. Sometimes, you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You’re not your usual self, and you take it out on your children. You fuss at them for being a kid. You over-punish them for making too much noise. Or you snap at them for bothering… I mean wanting your attention. Maybe I’m projecting my experiences and the experiences of the parents I know onto you. If so, I apologize.

Let’s not even talk about your kids having a bad day where nothing you do seems to help. Those days where your 4-year-old is just constantly whining, your 6-year-old breaks everything he touches, and your 8-year-old can’t get along with anyone, including you.

I could give you story after story of my bad days, and bad days my seven kids have had. In fact, that’s how I let go of the pressure of not having a bad day. I talked to other parents in the same season or a little further along in their parenting journey, and heard their stories. I saw their laughter. And most importantly, I noticed their relationship with their child wasn’t negatively affected by their bad days. In some cases, the relationship seems to have been strengthened by them.

Crazy, isn’t it? Bad days can strengthen your relationship?

Some of our bad days have resulted in laughable memories, like the time my spouse, myself, and my 3-year-old daughter were at a friend’s house. We were filming a promotional video about parenting. Ironic, to say the least. I was frustrated because work was stressful that day; I got home late, they weren’t ready to go, we were stopped by every traffic light, I got pulled over for speeding, and of course, we were late. And my daughter cried while we were there for a solid hour and a half. 

To this day, we don’t know why. (I’m still not sure how we got the filming completed. She wasn’t scheduled to be filmed, thank goodness.) She was having a bad day. I was trying to pacify her bad mood in the midst of my own frustrations with no success.

We look back on that day and laugh. It was stressful at the moment. I struggled for a few days because the cat was let out of the bag with everyone there… We’re NOT PERFECT PARENTS. We were late. I was clearly flustered. And my daughter cried forever. 

What eased my struggles?

A couple of days later, I was talking to several parents who heard the story. They started sharing their bad days. For 20 minutes straight, parents kept adding their stories, sharing their experiences, and laughing. 

On its own, this may not have been spectacular. Some of them were older parents (aka grandparents) who were talking about their kids: friends of mine that I have the utmost respect for as people, friends, and citizens. I could see the richness of their parent-child relationships. I could see the love, emotional connection, respect, and care in their relationships. And, I could see that the best relationships often happen through the bad days. 

My 13-year-old daughter and I still laugh about that “horrible” night. And when we do, she and her six siblings start telling stories of some of my bad days.

Days I may have fussed at them for no good reason or gone overboard in punishment for a minor offense or an offense they didn’t even commit.

  • I realized having a bad day was not a reflection on my parenting skills. 
  • Bad days haven’t altered my course of life or my children’s. 
  • I wasn’t always to blame. And even on the days where I was the catalyst behind my bad day, it didn’t make me a horrible parent.

In the midst, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously as a parent. My kids have learned that their parents are human and make mistakes. What’s most important is the relationship, not getting everything just right. I don’t ever wake up planning to have bad days. In the midst of the bad days, I often don’t realize it’s happening. 

Sometimes there’s acknowledgment and apologies that follow a bad day. Sometimes there’s laughter. 

There are often talks where we have to correct behavior and help adjust a mindset. Sometimes there are consequences my children experience because how they were feeling doesn’t excuse the behavior. 

With experience, you learn ways to shorten a bad day and help your child get through it. 

Bad days are part of the relationship-building process, and they will occur with anyone you’re spending that much time with. Remembering that will help you use your bad days to embrace everyone’s humanity. Ultimately this strengthens your relationship, one apology and one story at a time. And if not, call my kids; they’ll make you feel a whole lot better about your bad day.

Image from AdobeStock.com

,

Is My Stress Level Affecting My Child?

What you do with your stress can make all the difference.

Walk into a crowded room and ask for a show of hands from anyone who has not felt stressed-out in the past six months. If you find a hand-raiser, pull them aside, and ask their secret. My bet is not one hand will be raised. Truth is, we all experience stress at varying degrees, and many times it overwhelms and overtakes us. As parents, we have to ask the question, “Is my stress level affecting my child?” 

The short answer is, yesbut there’s more to the story than that. Bear with me here. 

LET’S EXPLORE STRESS

Most people think stress is bad, and we should do everything we can to eliminate it from our lives. The less stress, the better. I admit: I’ve thought this for many years. However, that’s not entirely true. 

Let’s flip the script somewhat: Stress actually plays an important role in our lives. By definition, stress is the normal reaction the brain and body has when change occurs. You know about change: the boss assigns another project, the overdue bill arrives in the mail, the in-laws announce they’re coming for dinner (not that this would ever stress me out personally… in case anyone asks).  

And we experience responses to stress in different ways: increased heart rate, heavier breathing, cloudy thinking, jitteriness, headaches, stomachaches… the list goes on.  

Nevertheless, stress is vital. Without it, we couldn’t avoid dangerous situations, meet deadlines, or have a competitive edge. 

  • Our eyes wouldn’t dilate for a wider sight range to look for danger. 
  • Your breathing wouldn’t speed up, carrying oxygen to the brain for sharper mental acuity. 
  • And your heart rate wouldn’t increase, giving you a boost of energy to meet a particular challenge. 

These are all good things. But here’s the kicker: our brains and bodies are only meant to experience these bouts of “good” stress for short periods of time, enough to work through whatever change is going on. Stress turns “bad” when we camp out in these responses for a prolonged period of time. 

Our brains and bodies aren’t designed to handle this well. Matter of fact, our brain can actually restructure itself and function in a chronic state of stress. (Doesn’t that sound wonderful?) Have you ever met someone who seems on edge, stressed out, ready to snap? More than likely their brain has trained itself to stay in that “fight or flight” mode. And this has some terrible effects on body, mind, emotions, and relationships. 

What this all boils down to is not whether or not you have stress (nor necessarily the level of stress, although that plays a part of it), but what you’re doing with your stress. 

So back to the kids. Is your stress level affecting your child? Of course it does—and how it affects them depends on what you’re doing with the stress. 

THE EFFECT OF PARENTAL STRESS ON CHILDREN

Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind In the Making and researcher at the Families and Work Institute, has shown that parental stress (or more accurately, parental distress) spills over onto our children. Galinsky’s research indicates children almost have a sixth sense when it comes to detecting parental distress. Maybe you’ve experienced this with your own kiddos. They pick up on the tension in your facial expressions and the worrisome tone of your voice. And the worst part is, children mimic your tension and behavior. If you are freaking out, even just on the inside, they are more prone to play monkey-see-monkey-do. 

To further the point, University of Maryland researcher Nathan Fox and his colleagues looked into how parenting styles affect how children regulate emotions and deal with stress. An interesting finding of his showed that one of the least helpful characteristics were parents who are alarmists. These are parents who see danger everywhere and predict the worst-case scenarios in their minds. They make regular use of the phrases “You are going to hurt yourself” or “Be careful!” or “Please don’t fall!” These parents have worry written all over their faces and wear their distress like a bright orange caution vest for their children to see. 

The big takeaway point here for parents is not Don’t Get Stressed; rather, parents need to model how to handle stress in healthy ways. In Galinsky’s words, “…you matter—and that includes how you convey stressful situations to your child.”  

SO WHAT’S A (STRESSED) PARENT TO DO?

  • Keep in the forefront of your parenting mind that the idea is not to eliminate stress, either from our own lives or that of our kids, but to learn to deal with distress in a healthy way. It’s very tempting to want to shield our children from the stressors of the world, but those stressors serve to bolster your child’s development. Megan Gunnar, researcher at the University of Minnesota and considered to be the foremost authority on stress and coping in children, says, A childhood that had no stress in it would not prepare you for adulthood. If you never allow your child[ren] to exceed what they can do, how are they going to learn to manage adult life—where a lot of it is managing more than you thought you could manage?” 
  • Model healthy ways to cope with your own distress. One of Nathan Fox’s latest studies found that when parents have someone to turn to for support during stressful times, it has a positive effect on their children’s social development. The big lesson is, have a healthy support system available for you. And be sure to practice self-care. When you regularly do intentional acts of taking care of your mental, physical, and emotional health, not only are you mounting fortifications to guard against distress, you are also showing your kids how to build those same guardrails. 
  • When you are having a bad day when distress might be getting the best of you, use this as a learning opportunity for your children. Say something to your kids like, “Today doesn’t feel like a good day for me. Sometimes mommies and daddies have bad days when they feel worried about certain things. That’s okay—I know that everything is going to work out and that I don’t have to feel this way all the time. Here’s how I’m going to help myself feel better today…” And then, share with them how you’re going to work through the stress you’re feeling. Voila!—a stellar teachable moment. 
  • On stressful days, let your kids know that it isn’t their fault. Since children often do have that “sixth sense” to indicate when you’re feeling stressed out, it can be easy for them to feel responsible for it. Ensure them that sometimes bad days happen to both children and adults, it’s nothing they said or did, and we all have the power to overcome the feeling of being fearful, worried, or anxious. 

One final thought:

If you’re married, do everything you can to handle marital conflict in a healthy, respectful way. We know from research that when handled poorly, parental conflict, is emotionally and physiologically traumatic for kids. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and researcher, tells us that even kids as young as six months can detect when unhealthy conflict is happening, and it has a negative impact on development. For some great information on how to handle marital conflict in healthy ways, take a look at this blog, this one, and this one, too

So, does your stress level affect your child or not? Well, yes. But maybe the real question is, does how you handle stress have an effect on your kids? It certainly does, and the effect can be either positive or negative depending on how you’re handling it. Times of stress, those inevitable changes you experience that cause your brains and bodies to respond in certain ways present opportunities to teach your children valuable lessons for adulthood. Show your children the power they have to control stress rather than have stress control them. And it begins with you.

Image from Pexels.com

I see the mom walking down the street with her 4-year-old daughter paying more attention to her cell phone than her daughter, and I think, “Put your cell phone down and pay attention to your daughter.” I see the mom at the grocery store at 1 AM with her 2-year-old son and I think, “That’s ridiculous.” I see the 6-year-old talk disrespectfully to his parents at the soccer field and I think, “If he were my son, that’d never happen.” And let’s not mention the thoughts that have gone through my mind when I see the temper tantrum in the grocery store line next to the colorful Skittles that the child wants and can’t have.

Judging other people’s parenting can be intense and destructive to my well beingand it just plain isn’t fair to other parents. When we judge others, we’re sending the message that we’ve got all the answers. Any parent knows this just isn’t the case. Why do we judge other parents and how can we stop?

We judge for many reasons:

  • We parent differently. Breastfeeding vs Bottle. Educational decisions. Kid’s use of technology. Our natural tendency is to see those who parent differently as wrong. Because if they are right, then I’m wrong. Instead of just seeing them as different. There’s usually more than just two ways of parenting. 
  • We develop strong opinions about our beliefs regarding what is the best way to parent. Some of those strong opinions can lead us to judge others who have different beliefs.
  • Our rush to determine a person’s character. Research has shown that someone’s character is more important to us than what they know and their sociability so we rush to make a judgment on their character. We parlay our own circumstances, environment, and experiences onto parents we’re judging without considering that we’re looking at a moment in time without full context. Dr. Elizabeth Hall in Psychology Today says that we take a behavior and instead of thinking about how the situation may dictate the behavior, we attribute it all to the person’s character. For instance, we see Mom letting her 5-year-old use the cell phone and we make a snap judgment about the mom without even considering that they could be communicating with a grandparent at the moment.

When we judge we make ourselves less approachable. We also separate ourselves from the authentic parenting community. We’re less able to help others and to receive help. Even if a parent is in the wrong and could use the help, who wants to listen to someone who looks down on them or thinks they are better than they are?

How do we stop judging other parents?

1. Recognize we all make mistakes and have limitations.

We have all forgotten to pack extra diapers. We’ve all snapped at our kids because we were tired. We’re all learning as we go because no matter how many kids you have—they are all different and we’ve never raised this particular child before. We’re all flawed parents.

2. Reflect on what it’s like to be judged yourself.

You know the defensiveness, shame, and frustration you felt being judged even though you knew the person judging didn’t know your story. Remember what it’s like to feel misunderstood and inferior

3. Remember, you never know everything about a parent’s situation.

You are judging a snapshot in time. Everyone has a story that influences their experiences. You don’t know their story. You know your story. And you don’t know the decisions you’d make if you had their story. (This is a great story to underscore this point.) 

4. Limit what you consume on social media.

Information on any and every parenting decision you can think of can be Googled. (I didn’t say accurate info.) Facebook and Twitter are full of parents’ best versions of their kids. Social media feeds are designed to keep giving you what they know you’ll like and agree with, strengthening your belief that what’s right for you is right for everyone. See social media for what it is. A snapshot. Most often, a snapshot of what people who are most like you want you to see. 

5. Get to know the parents when possible.

Before you judge, get to know them. This doesn’t have to take lots of time. You may find you share a lot in common. You share insecurities. You’re both doing the best you can. You both have challenges, though different, yet still challenges. You may find out that they’re working two jobs or just left the hospital visiting a sick grandmother. Care about the person.

6. Offer help when appropriate.

Keep the attitude that we’re all part of one big parenting club, doing the best we can. It’s with humility and empathy that a small gesture can calm the nerves of an overwhelmed and anxious parent. Offering to watch her grocery buggy while she tends to her little one lets a mom know you support her. Offering a tip that helped you through a tough time says no one expects you to be perfect. 

We stop judging other parents by training our brains to think of how we can encourage others through the parenting journey. I used to judge (and still do if I’m honest). When I do catch myself judging another parent, I am training myself to offer encouragement when possible, to ask questions and hear their story, or simply to replay in my mind many of the mistakes I’ve made as a parent. (There’s plenty to choose from.) We do what we do because we believe it’s right. Give others the freedom to do the same.

You overheard something. You saw something. Maybe you had a gut feeling. So you just came out and asked your teen, “Are you having sex?” You were greeted with a “duh” face and a “yes.” You kept your cool and said, “Can we talk about this? Soon?

Now you are processing a bunch of emotions and running scenarios through your mind. 

And you’re thinking about that talk. What are you going to say? Then what?

You can get through this! Let’s take these in order:

Your Emotional Response:

This could be hitting you in a deeply personal way: Maybe because of your religious values. Maybe because you don’t want your teen to make the same mistakes you did. 

Maybe because you know all the possible consequences. Let’s face it—you may have just found out that you don’t know your teen as well as you thought you did. Maybe you are running through everything you did as a parent and trying to figure out where you went wrong.

You are going to have to sort yourself out first. Feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, and confusion are totally understandable, but they are not a healthy place for you to camp out and you are going to have to let go of them if you’re going to move forward with your teen in a healthy, productive manner. Remember, your teen might be trying to process a giant payload of emotions right now and you need to be able to help them.

Your Emotions In Perspective:

The reality is that you could have been The Best Parent Ever©  and your teen could still choose to have sex. (Biologically—they are ready, hormones are racing through their body, they occupy a culture preoccupied with sex, their peers might be exerting pressure on them, alcohol or drugs may have diminished their capacity to choose.) 

The flip side is also true. You could be the kind of parent that doesn’t know where their teen is at 11:30 on a school night and your teen could choose a life of chastity up until their wedding day. 🔎 Teens are young adults who make choices of their own despite our best parenting efforts. Let yourself off the hook and let’s start moving forward.

The Scenarios Running Through Your Mind:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Was your teen pressured into this?
  • Were alcohol and/or drugs involved?
  • Do they even understand “consent?”
  • Are they or did they get someone pregnant?
  • Do they have an STD now? They think they are invincible!
  • What is the legal age of consent in our state?
  • Is this relationship serious or was it just a “hook up?”

These are all legitimate questions. And you’ll get to them in time. But first and foremost, you need to be thinking about your teen—their mind, heart, body, and that talk.

“That Talk” or “Your Opportunity To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Teen”

☆ When you feel like you have your emotions in check, your mind isn’t racing, and you can find a time and place where neither of you will be distracted or interrupted, then it’s time to talk with your teen. Remember, this is a chance to build a deeper relationship with them. Some rules: No lecturing. No interrogating. No “How could you’s?” Got ‘em?

You want to be a parent that your teen feels like they can move toward. (Literally and figuratively.) This means paying attention to your body language, the volume, and tone of your voice, reserving judgment, actively listening, communicating compassion for your teen, and having a true dialogue with them.

You need some goals. 

This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. Remember not to interrogate but to probe gently as you actively listen to their responses. Don’t try to cover all of this in one talk and be done with talking to your teen about sex. When it comes to sex, you want your teen to have a healthy mind, heart, and body. 

You want them to understand that once sex enters the relationship everything changes and gets complicated. “Do they really like me or just like having sex?” “This was an expensive date—does it come with ‘strings’ attached?” “If it wasn’t for the sexual part of our relationship, would we still be dating?”

1. A Healthy Mind:

  • What are their thoughts about having sex and how do they believe it will impact their relationship?
  • Do they understand where you stand on them being sexually active and why?
  • Do they understand the risks of and responsibilities that come with being sexually active?
  • Have they thought toward the future and understand the impact that having many sexual partners will have on a future committed relationship?
  • Do they understand how their life would change if they got someone pregnant or became pregnant? 
  • Do they understand consent and the legalities involved?

2. A Healthy Heart:

Do they:

  • Understand the role that sex plays in a relationship?
  • Know the signs of a healthy relationship?
  • Recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship?
  • Know the signs of an abusive relationship?
  • Have smart boundaries in a relationship? Are they strong enough to enforce those boundaries?
  • Know what to do if they feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do? (Do you have a codeword or phrase that they can use in a call or text that indicates they are uncomfortable and need out of a situation?)
  • Understand how to work through guilt and forgive themselves if they regret having sex?
  • Have the self-awareness to recognize the signs of depression, anxiety, and stress in their life?

3. A Healthy Body:

  • Do they understand they need to be tested for STDs & STIs? 

(No matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)

  • Do they understand that they will need a pregnancy test and visit to a doctor? (Again, no matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)
  • Do they know how to protect themselves against pregnancy and STDs, even if you have expressed that you don’t approve of them being sexually active?

Follow-Up:

Your teen might have been in a heightened emotional state while you were having this conversation about sex. It might take a few days for them to process what was discussed. A couple of days later, you might want to ask them what thoughts or questions they have about your talk. Remember, this was not a “one and done” conversation. Keep the dialogue going by being an “askable” parent. Let them know they can talk to you about whatever, whenever. 

★ Make sure your teen knows you love them no matter what. 

First Things First Resources:

Other Resources:

Image from Pexels.com